The Living Service Programme developed at Tesco, an international retailer, was designed to improve the motivation and morale of the company's 220,000 employees. The UK's Department of Work and Pensions had to change the way its staff worked before it could start on an even harder task - encouraging people in receipt of state benefits to move away from the traditional means of collecting their allowances (in cash from local Post Offices) to cheaper, more secure payments directly into bank accounts. Transport for London and London's Metropolitan Police had to overcome long-standing cultural barriers to joint ways of working in order to make London's buses safer.
In all these cases, there were substantial obstacles that had to be overcome:
Divisions and boundaries. A decade after Michael Hammer and James Champney, the gurus of business process re-engineering, exhorted companies to break down the barriers that divided their organizations, many of those barriers remain intact today. Tesco discovered that the strong leadership established by its head office made its store staff feel marginalized and demotivated. Rather than sending out orders from the centre, it initiated a network of local ‘firelighters' whose role was to encourage other store-based staff to take the initiative. But to these ‘traditional' barriers, we can now add external ones, ones that prevent organizations working together. The Metropolitan Police's Transport Operational Command Unit was the first project in Europe where police and civilian authorities collaborated, on such a large scale, in this way.
Complexity: As organizations become more interdependent - internally and externally - the number of potential stakeholders proliferates. A feature common to all three of these cases is the effort required to reconcile different agenda and win over a wide variety of interested parties. With 13 million customers to convert from paper to electronic payment, the Department of Work and Pensions had to liaise with the companies that manage transaction processes across the UK's financial infrastructure, as well as the points of service delivery - the Post Office and retail banks. On top of this were politicians, trade unions, other government departments - and, of course, the customers themselves.
Low expectations. One of the axioms of modern management thinking is that the pace of change is increasing. Employees, we reason, resist change because so much is changing. The experience of Tesco suggests that we are wrong to make this assumption. Here, one of the reasons for the programme's success was its difference: it did not feel like ‘yet another head-office initiative', but a new departure. The approach at Transport for London and the Department of Work and Pensions reinforces this: neither of these projects was small in ambition. The Transport Operational Command Unit project was an unprecedented move to bring two public authorities together in order to solve a problem that cut across conventional transport/policing boundaries. The Payments Modernization Programme at the Department of Work and Pensions represented an overhaul of a system that had been in place since World War II. The scale of change helped galvanize those involved as it was evidence of senior executives' and politicians' commitment to solving a problem, rather than patching it over in the hope it would disappear.
‘Even at scale,' concludes a spokesperson for Tesco, ‘it is possible to unlock the immense potential in individuals that will facilitate a cultural change.'
With all this in mind, change management consulting sounds like a contradiction in terms. If an organization has to change, how can external input help? Surely this is the equivalent of ordering someone to be empowered? Indeed, change management consultants often find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. They have to facilitate rather than impose, and the moment they tell someone to do something, they have failed. However, because the most effective facilitation is often very low key - helping people find solutions rather than giving them easy answers - it runs the risk of becoming invisible. Because clients are encouraged to think the new ideas or techniques they acquire from the consultants are their own (thus avoiding the notinvented-here syndrome), there is a danger that they look back on the consulting process and question its value. What did the consultants actually do? Surely they, the client, have had these ideas all along? Indeed, the familiar complaint - that consultants borrow clients' watches in order to tell them the time - may have its origins here. You have to ask why the clients did not know to look at their watch in the first place.