Empowered frontline managers key to transformation success

09 August 2022 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read
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Business transformations often prioritise structural or technological changes – while failing to empower staff to help implement or improve on them. A new study suggests that even as many organisations claim to prioritise ‘people power’ in their organisations, only 30% even granted frontline managers autonomy when it came to key projects.

As the digital revolution pushes on, businesses of all sizes are operating in a period when technological and methodological agility are essential to achieve success. When deploying a business transformation however, leaders may have insight into what is required from a technological and business point of view; but they need to ensure that these changes are embraced by their workforce ensuring success from the outset.

This is a potentially fatal mistake. A mounting body of evidence suggests that by failing to empower, up-skill, or change the collective mind-set of employees when adopting new ways of working, many transformations fail to get the most out of new ways of working.

Level of autonomy of managers and success rate of transformation projects per country

Helping illustrate the importance of this, a BearingPoint study of over 5,000 projects across 150 leading organisations has found that those who succeed in transformations are largely those who help staff adapt to changes. Around 60% of best practice organisations empower their people for change.

Claudia Carr, Partner at BearingPoint, commented, “There are many factors which support the development of resilience within your workforce. It starts with culture and is enhanced through learning and collaboration. Resilient organisations recognise the importance of soft skills, starting from hiring and as part of continuous development programs. The ability to manage change, communicate, collaborate and problem solve are all critical skills when navigating change. We see resilient organisations as those supporting the development of these skills, not only with their leaders but throughout the organisation.”

However, the study also concluded that even these organisations cannot afford to be complacent. The management consulting firm found that many organisations recognise themselves that they could still do more to create an environment for their people to be successful. For example, while BearingPoint found a clear correlation between manager autonomy and the success of transformation projects, it was rare that companies delivered manager autonomy.

Initiatives desired by line managers to be supported during the implementation of transformation projects

In terms of frontline manager autonomy as it stands, while it was the highest of the countries examined, the UK still only saw 30% of managers given a say in the implementing of changes. In contrast, 22% of French companies delivered on this front, and only 19% of German firms. Due to this, the UK saw the highest level of success in transformations – at 42% – while one-quarter of projects outright failed in the other economies.

If this is to improve, managers polled by BearingPoint suggested that communication was a key gap. Around 55% wanted more information during a project, while 45% wanted clearer guidelines and desire to collaborate more, and 39% wanted access to specific expertise while implementing change projects. If they are provided with a clear purpose and vision, along with the flexibility to respond and structured around multi-skilled teams empowered to make decisions, they clearly feel like they will be in a better place to help their company succeed in its change drive.

Andrew Montgomery, Global Leader Government and Public Sector at BearingPoint, explained, “Our insights support the view that organisations which have been the most successful in managing their workforce during and post-pandemic are those that have recognised the importance of resilience as a core characteristic in its people. Their workforce strategies include specific outcomes related to creating an environment where people can develop, be supported and be empowered to become more resilient. And the indicators are that investment in these areas can lead to tangible results in terms of retention, employee wellbeing and performance.”