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If you’ve ever tried to drive even just a slightly transformative piece of work through an established organisation, you’ll be familiar with the challenges and frustrations it can cause. Years of legacy platforms, systems, structures and thinking have created layer upon layer of organisational complexity.

However, for a business that doesn’t have the benefit of being born in a more adaptable, digital and customer-centric age, transformation is simply necessary to remain competitive. Yet often those who are trying to drive change (not to mention positive outcomes for the business and its customers!) are met with resistance, roadblocks and a lack of serious support from leadership.

In this post we explore six of the more familiar challenges, and some tips to overcome them.

“That’s just not the way things are done here.”

More often than not, achieving different outcomes requires new approaches and capabilities. As a result, figuring out what opportunities will deliver a strong proof of concept – and returns for the business – isn’t always clear. Particularly when you’re dealing with key stakeholders who are none too comfortable with a disruption of the status quo.

Proven examples from outside your own business can be invaluable in this scenario. Case studies, information on market trends, and highlighting where like businesses have implemented similar changes with great outcomes will strengthen your case. So will making it clear how your initiative addresses the biggest and most pressing pain points and needs of the business and its customers.

“No, it’s customer insights you should talk to. Or maybe the digital team? Actually, I’m really not sure who’s looking after that now…”

Finding the right people to consult within your organisation when developing the case for new initiatives and capabilities is often just the first of many hurdles. As most businesses have historically organised themselves around product lines and functions rather than customer needs and experience, ownership of tasks, channels, data and, well, the customer, has become increasingly blurry. And complicated.

This is actually my favourite challenge, as it’s the easiest to turn into a positive: genuine cross-functional collaboration is built on trust, credibility and strong relationships. Having to talk to a number of people to get to where you need to go offers you the opportunity to build all three as you go. And in so doing, get to heart of what really drives a person or team, making it easier for you to shape your interactions and approach with them. While that may amount to many meetings and consultations, the value makes it all worthwhile when it comes time to actually pull things out of their silos.

“We need to focus on hitting this month’s target. Then we can talk about new ideas.”

In the age of the empowered and connected customer, business as usual won’t be usual for long if priority is given to the business (and short term KPIs!) over customers. But sadly, many businesses continue to behave as though the transformation towards becoming more responsive and customer centric can only happen at the expense of short-term success. In so doing, they often block attempts to make even the most incremental changes.

While it would be wonderful to just change KPIs, this doesn’t happen overnight. Some of the biggest wins come from the smallest of changes. Social data and customer intelligence can be extremely useful in highlighting opportunities for quick wins, so whenever possible find a way of surfacing the voice of the customer to back you up. Try to find existing projects or activities that you can piggyback on rather than launching totally new initiatives. While big change might be the goal, sometimes demonstrating a number of incremental improvements can be one of the easiest ways to get there.

“My team actually looks after that… Why don’t I just let you know if I need your help?”

Part of the reason people are so resistant to change is because it can pose a threat to their power within an organisation – power that may have taken years to build. But initiatives that focus on great outcomes for the customer tend to be cross functional, meaning you’ll likely have to enter into a colleague’s turf in order to get things moving. This threat (perceived or otherwise) is often met with resistance, or in the very least, a lack of helping hands.

Power and ownership are tricky beasts, but they can be tamed. Navigating power structures is often about ego. People can feel threatened for a number of reasons, not least of which that your project might reveal weaknesses on their part. Find a way to show colleagues how the work you’re doing will help them deliver on the customer outcomes the whole business is (meant to be) working towards, while also achieving their own goals.

“Add it to the list, we’ll discuss it in committee.”

Prioritisation committee: two words that can make even the most resolute among us want to crawl into a corner and weep. Of course, businesses can’t implement all the change, all at once, all the time – so prioritisation of initiatives is important. However it doesn’t stop the sinking feeling you get when you know, even though you’ve done the groundwork and developed a strong case, your initiative will now have to compete against more familiar, legacy pieces of work for precious resources.

The combination of relationship building and a strong business case are your best hope for success, but if I had to pick the most important element, it would be the relationships. Invest the time to engage stakeholders across the business ahead of time, getting them bought into your idea and the potential it holds for the business. Ensure they’re informed of the detail, comfortable with the language, and clear on what you’re trying to achieve, so they can speak to it confidently when it comes up for discussion. Reinforcing those relationships with a strong business case that clearly demonstrates the need, opportunity and likely return for the business and customer will put you on excellent footing.

“Can I phone a friend?”

Finally, while you may feel like you’re alone swimming against the tide, there are many swimming with you. Within your own organisation (and in countless other businesses) there are people trying to drive change, better outcomes for customers, and improved results for the business.

From sharing insights into how they’ve overcome setbacks; to different methods they’ve used to develop an impenetrable business case for more innovative, or unfamiliar initiatives; down to the language they might have adopted to better align with senior leadership priorities and drivers – calling on the experience of others can make all the difference to your success. Seeking out your own personal brains trust for practical (and sometimes moral) support should be high on your list of priorities.

“Say that again?”

So to wrap up, there are six simple steps you can take today to make your efforts less painful and more valuable:

  1. Relationships relationships, relationships. Make it a priority to know your colleagues, their concerns and their objectives. Whenever you can, build alliances and trust across the business.
  2. Use examples from the outside, to shine a light on what’s needed inside. Arm yourself with case studies, market trends and data from your industry.
  3. Find opportunities to plug into existing projects and processes to demonstrate small incremental improvements – paving the way for the bigger ones.
  4. Get comfortable talking to people about how your work will have positive outcomes for their own.
  5. Develop business cases that focus on the benefits and outcomes for the business and its customers, not just the process.
  6. And find a buddy. Or some buddies. You are not alone!

Author: Nat Swainston

Nathalie Swainston has more than a decade’s experience at the intersection of marketing, people and technology, working across digital, experience design, brand and marketing and community engagement. Nat understands that genuine customer centricity sits with no single department or team member – but when adopted by the whole organisation, it provides a rare opportunity for businesses to deliver increasingly valuable, relevant products and services to customers, regardless of industry. Moreover, she knows that change cannot be achieved in an organisation in siloes, and no technical solution can make up for the challenges presented when the necessary processes, behaviours and alignment is lacking.

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