Getting ready for change in a fast-moving market

Ten years ago, major change in business – be it to the corporate identity, strategy, working practices or physical location – would naturally generate a sense of insecurity throughout an entire organisation. Change management then would entail bringing in a team of external consultants. These projects were often undertaken sporadically and reluctantly, with little to zero end benefit resulting for the business.

Given today’s constantly changing and fast moving market, if companies employed the same tried and tested methods to cope with change today, they’d be hiring consultants every day. Organisations just wouldn’t be able to keep-up, without ultimately, the bottom line being affected.

Modern businesses need a more sustainable and flexible way to manage change – an agile culture where employees can work flexibly anywhere and using the technology of their choosing. Obviously change and its impact on business, to whatever degree, is inevitable. How you deal with it, makes the vital difference. A ‘knee jerk’ response versus a well thought-out, strategic plan can mean a world of a difference. To help mitigate the impact of future uncertainty, future proof the organisation and be ready for whatever change may come. The key is to accept that it is part and parcel of being in modern day business and be open to opportunities to innovate and improve as and when they arise.

Continuous technology innovation and the proliferation of connectivity and mobile devices has delivered opportunity, changing both the way entire organisations can deploy a flexible working culture and in turn how ‘hyper connected’ consumers can be reached via new communication channels and touch points. To become an organisation that is ‘ready’ for change, it is important to be adopting the kind of technology that will enable discourse and ideas generation from top to bottom within the organisation.

The technology you own should reflect an open culture. Many organisations still rely on legacy IT systems and in turn have rigid processes in place which can stifle a business’ ability to effectively manage change. Organisations need IT infrastructures that encourage flexibility and can enable to new ways of working.

At Vodafone, our own technology has helped us create a flexible workforce where people at all levels have the opportunity to give their input and have ideas implemented. Staff can work where they like and can even set their own hours, which is great for morale and actually increases productivity.

At the core of these working practices is cloud infrastructure. The Cloud is an ‘always on’ technology meaning it is accessible whenever it is needed. It is scalable too, so businesses don’t have to buy more office space if they want to grow, and it has the flexibility to cope easily with the ebb and flow of demand.

For example, retailers who adopted the Cloud had a much easier time of adapting to the peak business period around Black Friday, whereas shop chains with old systems suffered bottle necks throughout the supply chain, missing out on sales and revenue.

Gearing your company culture to thrive on change will open up your business to new directions you never thought possible. It will help you to out-manoeuvre rivals, create efficiencies and, in general, lead to better products and a service that end-users will love.

Conversely, businesses that fail to prepare find themselves gradually slipping behind. This won’t happen overnight, but as dynamic fast-paced organisations seize upon prospective sales channels and change tack quickly to avoid becoming stale, others will find it increasingly hard to keep up.

Even in this fast moving business environment, legacy corporate structures still endure across many industry sectors. In these environments, hierarchies are rigid and communications channels are blocked by gate keepers. There remains a hierarchical structure and creativity from the bottom up is stifled.

It goes without saying that these conditions act as a drag on change and slow down innovation. Old structures prevent the free-flow of ideas and the chance for younger employees, such as graduates, to get their voices heard. What all this means for individual companies will differ depending on factors such as their industry sector and their strategic priorities, but all agile companies have certain elements in common.

They will knock down partitions – real and metaphorical – that block different tiers of management from communicating freely with each other, hierarchical structures should be no more. Middle managers will be responsible for energising the people below them and “managing up” to the business’ leaders, encouraging everyone, whatever level in the business to get involved.

Top bosses will interact and engage with their frontline employees, not just their colleagues in the boardroom.

Ultimately, it’s time to turn our thinking about change on its head. It isn’t something awkward that should be feared, but something that companies simply must embrace; a chance to make things better for our businesses, our people and ultimately, in turn our customers.

Whether you succeed or fail in this new environment will depend on how you respond. Will you embrace change or fear it? It takes strong leadership to take the former path, but being bold now will be rewarded in competitive advantages to come.