interview with liri andersson on successful change

below is an English transcript of my interview on the subject of successful change in organisations published in Hermes Newsroom. the original piece in German can be found here

what does business in a fluid world look like?

today I tried to change a train ticket. the answer was no, not because they did not want to help but because the it system did not allow them to change my ticket. in a fluid business world I would never get such an answer. in a fluid business world the ‘system’, be it the organisation, its processes or the technology, is built around ’doing the right thing’ for customers, employees and other stakeholders. this business ’system’ is built around passion, trust and transparency, it’s open-minded, fast, flexible and willing to try and learn, it’s collaborative and it always says thank you to the people contributing to its success. achieving this is how organisations will realise the necessary agility, innovation and relevance needed to be successful in a fluid business world.

what is the key factor contributing to successful change in an organisation?

because we are moving away from occasional change management initiatives to the management of continuous change, the ability to change must be built into a firm’s DNA, and the ability to change must be built into its structure and processes.  successful change is not something you pull out of a hat when needed; it’s something you prepare for so that when change is required the system does not reject it. a corporate culture is all pervasive, it touches every part of an organisation, so as far as I am concerned there is no better tool for successful change than having the right corporate culture in place that makes the necessary transition possible – and the right corporate culture is one that facilitates success in a fluid business world.

what is the most frequent mistake made by companies in their quest to change?

forgetting about the people, because change is all about people. we can define a great new vision, we can identify a new untapped niche in the market, we can invest in sophisticated technology, we can define the ideal corporate structure, we can design the most powerful strategies, we can basically do everything right and the change initiative will still fail if we forget about the people. there is no such thing as too much time dedicated to making sure people understand what you are doing and why, and ensuring their buy in. this requires of you to constantly communicate across functions, and at all levels of an organisation. when I say communicate I don’t mean an occasional PowerPoint presentation at a meeting, I mean grabbing every opportunity to get your vision and message across, and when I say communicate I don’t just mean speak, I also mean listen, as in really listen!

what role does digital play in change initiatives?

absolutely none unless the strategic analysis conducted by the business has identified that digital does play a role. digital can be the driver behind the need to change. digital can also be the facilitator of change as much as it allows an organisation to customise, drive efficiencies, and facilitate new solutions. but digital is a word that only has a meaning if connected to something of value to the market or a firm, on its own it’s about as useful as a chocolate tea pot. so the role digital plays in a change initiative is the role of helping achieve the strategic objective, in this case change.

what is your approach to change that has contributed to success?

first of all I need to come clean about one thing, I really don’t like change. as a child I would sulk every-time my father would change car. for someone who does not like change I seem to have done a whole lot of it in my life, and I even made change the business I’m in. hence my approach to change is human. I can empathise with how hard people find change, I can understand the underlying fear that comes with change, and I can feel with every poor of my body what I’m asking people to do when I ask them to change. so my approach is simple, I remain human throughout the whole change process… I say simple, yet I’m constantly surprised as to how many people forget to be human in business. yes be demanding, be efficient, but be human, it’s a recipe for success, and this beyond the quest to change.

what is your recommendation to Hermes in view of the business challenges ahead?

the battle in this increasingly competitive environment will be won by organisations with the right people – they are in my opinion the only sustainable competitive advantage. hire true talent, nurture the one you have, be loyal to them and reward them with what they value, because the future of Hermes depends on them fighting and winning your battles – everyday!