I spoke with business transformational specialist Peter Mullins, former CEO of SAI Global, about what leaders can draw on to drive a change management strategy and the role of technology in organisational change.
Implementing a change program initiative across the whole spectrum of a business can prove testing for organisations. What do leaders need to focus on?
Starting with the CEO and the divisional managers, through to the departmental managers and team leaders, everyone must believe in that change program. If they don’t, you basically have a cancer within your organisation.
One of the biggest issues with a change program is how do you fight the fires and re-engineer what you're trying to do. And there’s doubt that it’s hard.
How does one manage the people aspect of change management?
I think the first thing you need to do is to identify your best and brightest in the organisation – from your senior levels right down – because they actually know what’s wrong and what needs to happen to improve it.
Then you get those people out. Now, the first reaction that most people have to that suggestion is “but my best and brightest are the people that are actually running the business”. Yes, they’re right. There’s no doubt that that will be a strain on the organisation, but you’ll find two things will happen.
First, some of the people who maybe you haven’t recognised as being your best and brightest are actually very competent and will step up to reduce some of the strain.
Second, don’t underestimate how quickly the improvements will start coming through. So, while you might have to take a step back, in no time at all you’ll be taking multiple steps forward in your change program.
How important is technology to any sort of organisational change?
Inevitably, technology is incredibly important, but it’s of lesser importance in my view than the people and process. You must get those elements right first.
If you want you to expand or change your business away, I think the first thing you want to do is make sure that you have a robust business to expand, and that means having clearly defined processes.
We live in an incredibly fast-changing world and it’s a world that, by and large, is driven by technology so one can never ignore the importance of technology. However, within your company, technology is only an enabler and it’s ultimately only going to be as effective as the people in the processes you put around that technology.
You can have the best technology in the world but if you don’t have the right people and processes, that technology will never be as effective as it could be.
What companies have succeeded in implementing consistent processes across the business?
If you look at companies that have done this very successfully, it’s McDonald’s. Whether you love them or hate them, they’ve been incredibly good at expanding into about 150 countries around the world.
They’ve been able to achieve this through repeatable processes so, in essence, your experience in Istanbul in getting a Big Mac is probably very similar to that experience in New York.
What separates excellent leaders from mediocre leaders?
Excellent leaders make sure they are continually learning and have an aptitude for being good listeners. A leader is only as good as the information they take in around them. Always listen and make sure you’re reading and learning. That’s a given. I think the other thing is do not be frightened of change.
Excellent leaders are bold and have a ‘get in and do it’ approach, but proceed with the knowledge that they’ve acquired from multiple sources.
Given what you know now, what advice would you give your 30-year-old self?
If I was talking to the 30-year-old me, I would give two bits of advice. One is always to keep an open mind – I think that's terribly important. As soon as you become stuck in your ways or become dogmatic about something you inevitably will be wrong. The second thing is make the hard decisions fast.
Too often we sort of know what needs to happen and that might be replacing a person or promoting somebody. However, sometimes leaders don’t act fast enough and normally one regrets not having made that change.