The strategy for a successful customer-centric change

Those who know me have heard this sentence many times before:


From almost 20 years of experience in small and large change processes I can say with certainty: there is no standard procedure for change. But there is a recipe for success, which is: be strategic but flexible, systematic but adaptable.


Why is this important?


Every company is different, every team is different, every person is different. Change only happens for two reasons: Fear or conviction. In CX we want and have to strive for the latter. That means we have to be responsive to people, understand and work with cultures and subcultures. When I look at the big change projects I have done, there is one constant: 


What works in one company, doesn't necessarily work as well in another company. 


Even if it is the same industry, the companies have a similar size and organizational structure, you have to get involved in the culture: at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the change process. But that doesn't mean that you are haphazard. A systematic approach is central to success. You simply have to be able to move flexibly within it. Nitin Nohria and Michael Beer (both researchers and professors at Harvard Business School, Nohria is also the current Dean of HBS) wrote as early as 2000 that 70% of all change initiatives fail. 

In their research, they found that the reason for most of these failures is that managers in their rush to change their organizations end up in a pile of initiatives far too large.


How does a successful change process work? With these 4 steps you lead a systematic but flexible change process. 

  1. Segment the organization. Which groups can be identified? Starting points are the organizational structure, the process organization, countries/regions, roles, projects, stakeholders and last but not least informal groups.
  2. Determine for each relevant group what they need to be able to do in which change phase. A change process is a maturing process that takes place in several phases (I will discuss this in a blog article in early September). Using Human Centered Design is a set of methods that is not relevant for every group. Furthermore, it is already at the "application level" of skills, i.e. already well into the change maturity. Before that, you have to get people to want to apply something, otherwise they won't do it, let alone maintain it. But having a common understanding of experience is something everyone needs to know.
  3. Determine how you will proceed to give the defined groups the skills they should acquire in each phase. Ideally, the plan should last several months. For a Customer Centric Change, this could be 10-18 months, which would allow the organisation to reach the next Matura level.
  4. Divide your plan into waves, implement the first wave, see if the group is where you want it to be. Then check: What worked? What didn't? Match wave 2 and implement it. Then check again, adapt, and so on.

This way a plan is created that has a structure, a systematic approach, but is flexible at its core. That's why I like to compare it to a Rubik Cube: I create a strategy for how the colors come together. Then at some point I realize that I have to change my strategy, adjust it and keep on turning. Look at the result again and adjust again. That's how it feels for me between the change waves. Each tile is a team, a skill, an empowerment method. These are the fixed elements. But in the process I have to be adaptable to bring them together correctly.

Managing change processes is one of the most difficult disciplines of all. But step by step and with the guidance of an experienced person, this process can also be managed successfully. From my practical experience, I can only agree with Nohria and Beer: charging too much at once is the biggest risk in change projects. In this way, you produce resistance to your own project yourself. But if you do it the right way it is a wonderful process. It is very satisfying to observe when employees understand the goal, carry the way, implement the methods.

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