Six complex human factors for successful transformation


Every decision must hold the human element at its centre.

By Lyle Cooper: EY Africa People Advisory Services – HR Technology

As the pace of business competition and disruption increases, there is an ever-growing need for business to continually adapt to survive. In the past, the pace and scope of change were slower. This allowed organisations the luxury of incremental change, and major transformations were uncommon.

Now, business transformation and adaptation are constant needs for all organisations , but success is far from guaranteed.

The people (human resources) function of the organisation, as the holders of the relationship between the business and its employees, is a crucial component in any organisational transformation. People ultimately determine the degree of success any transformation will achieve, so it is critical that every decision holds the human element at its centre.

There is a tendency among many senior executives and more quantitatively oriented professionals to believe that HR is easy, that cold logic and a reliance on gut feel are all that is needed to manage people.

This mechanistic thinking may have been part of the industrial revolution, but it has no place in any modern organisation. Harsh, uncaring and bombastic management styles that veer into bullying do not result in lasting business success.

Recent research by EY and the University of Oxford explores the emotional cost of failed transformations and what it takes to get them right. The research highlighted that giving specific focus to a series of six complex human factors can increase the probability of success to more than 70 percent.

They are:

  1. Inspire: Workers ranked leadership as the top driver regardless of the success or failure of the transformation – while leaders ranked leadership as the main driver of successful transformations. Leaders need to have the courage to acknowledge that they may not have all the answers and demonstrate the humility to look both inside and outside the organisation to find them.
  2. Care: Plan for the emotional journey of both the workforce and leaders. If you understand the emotional state of the workforce throughout the transformation journey, you will be able to identify the early warning signals when things are going wrong and adjust to get the transformation back on track.
  3. Build: Use technology to bring the vision to life.
  4. Empower: Transformations are traditionally thought of and managed as linear journeys. Our research suggests this is not the case. There will be ups and downs, twists and turns, stops and starts. The key for leaders is to provide both the structure and discipline, as well as the creative freedom to explore and innovate.
  5. Lead: Foster courageous leaders who constantly work on improving themselves.
  6. Collaborate: The legacy approach of a command-and-control, top-down hierarchical culture with leaders setting the vision and workers executing, struggles to adapt and adopt change at the pace that the modern economy demands. As a leader, you will need to develop a culture that fosters connectivity and creativity. Provide a safe space where new ways of working – both digital and agile – can emerge to nurture innovation, engagement and fulfilling work.

It is important to co-create new ways of working and empower workers to redesign and redefine their own work, both in terms of what work and behaviours need to shift and how work gets done.

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