Actively engaging frontline staff is key for successful transformation

01 March 2017

Actively engaging line managers and frontline staff are key parts of the wider organisational transformation puzzle, a new report finds. Keeping frontline staff in the loop about the current situation, as well as providing clear communication about transformation objectives, among others, are paramount to winning their engagement.

Organisational transformations processes contain a host of potential pitfalls that may impede change or transitions, often in a time in which businesses are already under stress. Transformations have a tendency to not produce results as desired, with poorly planned and executed transformations potentially leaving disengaged staff, lower productivity and resentment in their place.

In a new report from McKinsey & Company, titled ‘The people power of transformations’, the firm surveys a range of organisations to identify some of the features that set successful transformation efforts out from the rest of the pack. The surveyed involved nearly 1,500 participants whose company has undergone one or more transformations in the past five years. Respondents work across regions, industries, company sizes, functional specialties, and tenures.

Employee engagement at organisations transforming

The research found that for a transformation to be successful, the whole business needs to be engaged in the transformation process. Of the respondents involved in successful transformation, almost every category of employee rank was found to be more engaged than those at all other organisations. At C-suite level, for instance, the research notes 94% of CEOs and senior leaders are engaged at successful transformations, compared to 83% at all other organisations. Chief human-resource office involvement levels were also found to be higher, at 67% for successful transformation organisations and 54% for all others.

While considerable differences were too noted in terms of the involvement of transformation offices and officers, active engagement of the lowest levels in an organisation, line managers and frontline employees, is revealed to be particularly important. Line managers for instance, were seen to be visibly engaged at 82% of organisations where there is a successful transformation and 57% at all other organisations. Frontline employees were found to be visibly engaged at 73% of organisations that successful transformed compared to 46% at all others.

CEOs involved in transformation efforts

CEO-buyin to the transformation process remains strong, reflecting the understanding that C-suite involvement in ushering through a transformation remains a key pillar for the success of the transformation. In total, 63% of respondents say that their CEO was ‘very engaged’ in their most recent transformation, while 22% say that they were ‘somewhat engaged’.

Respondents also noted that their CEOs played a number of key roles throughout the transformation process, 63% said that they ‘strongly agree’ that their ‘CEO is a visible advocate of transformation’, while 59% said that they ‘strongly agree’ that their CEO ‘communicates compelling change stories to the organisation’, while 53% of respondents ‘strongly agree’, and 24% ‘somewhat agree’, that their ‘CEO communicates connection between transformation objectives and overall performance goals’.

Companies with successful transformations communicate with and engage the front line

Organisations that are successful in their transformation efforts tend to engage their lowest level staff. To better understand how this is achieved, the firm asked respondents about the actions they have taken to engage frontline employees in transformations.

Clear communication was found to be one of the key conditions for successful transformations as opposed to unsuccessful transformations. 79% of respondents at organisations that successfully transformed said that their organisation communicated clearly on the need for transformation to frontline staff, compared to 42% of respondents at failed transformation efforts. A clear set of transformation objectives was noted at 79% of organisations where transformation was reported as successful and at 36% of organisations at which it was unsuccessful.

The importance of line managers is also not to be underestimated in the transformation process, the research found that their ‘visible engagement and/or commitment to transformation’ was evident at 68% of organisations that successfully transformed and at just 29% where transformation was reported as unsuccessful.

Frontline employees differ from others in their views on how to engages them in transformations

The research also sought to identify what frontline employees see as the most important ways to engage them in transformations. At companies with successful transformations, clear communication on transformation objectives is shown to be the most effective, at 42% compared to all other respondents. The visibility of CEO engagement was slightly less effective at companies with successful transformations for frontline staff, than at all others, at 38% and 46% respectively.

Regular access to information on the transformation progression was, however, noted as being considerably more effective at engaging frontline employees than at all other organisations, at 30% and 16% respectively.

Successful transformations more likely to move senior people around

The research also explored the HR practices, regarding reorganisation and redundancies, observed at organisations that reported a successful transformation compared to respondents observing an unsuccessful transformation. The conclusion is that successful organisations are slightly less likely to keep senior leaders in the same role, at 50% and 53% respectively, however they are more likely to move them around the organisation, at 23% and 16% respectively, and correspondingly less likely to have them move on, at 15% and 25% respectively. Successful organisations were found to be slightly more active in acquiring new talent as part of the transformation, at 12% and 6% respectively.


Managing the demand for change in project management

16 April 2019

The forward-looking nature of project management means that regardless of the type of project, thorough planning and risk assessment are essential to ensure it is delivered on time, on budget, and in line with the client’s requirements – while delivering the expected results. Consultants Eman Al-Hillawi and Peter Marsden elaborate in the article below. 

However, it is important to recognise that in this fast-moving working environment, and with projects increasing in scale and complexity, a degree of change is inevitable. Putting the right mitigation strategies in place early on can provide project managers with much-needed agility, allowing them to respond quickly to any new issues that arise.

When the goalposts move or project managers are issued with an unexpected client request, adopting a holistic approach is essential to ensure that changes are implemented successfully the first time around, reducing the risk of any problems arising in the future. Rather than considering the demand for change in one area of a project in isolation, it is important to conduct a full impact assessment, taking into account any knock-on effects on people, processes, systems and infrastructure. For example, a sudden need to digitalise a key HR process may have implications for recruitment, or the need to upskill existing staff through new training programmes, or both. 

Implementing a Portfolio Management Office (PMO) can also enhance project managers’ ability to spot interdependencies and better manage unforeseen changes. Where a number of projects or programmes are being undertaken simultaneously, this function is particularly useful, providing stakeholders with increased visibility and driving intelligent decision-making. For example, spotting an unexpected delay to a particular project could enable resources to be reallocated across the portfolio at an early stage, helping to drive efficiencies within the business and keeping budgets on track. 

Managing the demand for change in project management

As part of their efforts to make the most of available resources while keeping costs under control, project managers should consider using blended teams wherever possible. By combining the organisation’s existing employees with different skills and experienced project managers, it is easier to ensure that the correct levels of skills and resources are utilised at each stage of a project. Furthermore, this method can provide the additional flexibility needed to respond quickly to new developments without unnecessarily prolonging project timelines or increasing costs. 

It is worth bearing in mind that introducing some mitigation strategies may require an initial cost outlay and, as such, effective communication with stakeholders from the very beginning of a project is key. One example is to allocate a contingency budget to the project. This helps to facilitate the project manager’s ability to address key issues that require unplanned spend, without the need to undergo a time-consuming budget approval process. By educating all involved parties about the inevitability of change during projects, it is possible to put buffers in place, both financially and in terms of the project timeline. Over the course of a project, this should enable project managers to react quickly to change and take effective action without compromising on the timescales and delivery of client objectives. 

Likewise, where project delivery is reliant upon large and diverse teams, clearly communicating the impact of unexpected changes, and the required response, is also vital to ensure everyone is on the same page and disruption to day-to-day processes is kept to a minimum. When curveballs to project delivery occur, a failure to brief the team on how these should be addressed could also have a significant impact on levels of motivation and morale, which in turn has the potential to have a negative impact on productivity across a project. 

While meticulous forward planning will always be an essential element of project management, it’s equally important to recognise that to a certain extent, change is unavoidable. The ability to respond effectively to new developments as they occur is therefore vital. By making change a central part of discussions with stakeholders and clearly communicating with all parties on a programme, project managers can take new issues in their stride while continuing to deliver exceptional results for clients. 

Eman Al-Hillawi and Peter Marsden are principal consultants at business change consultancy Entec Si.