Challenging the norm: Do you really need a ‘Big Bang’ Transformation, or is improvement enough?

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Ross Dawson, Partner within the Operations, Procurement & Supply Chain practice at Eton Bridge Partners, argues that organisations are in a state of stagnation. They know that change is needed but fear the impact of ‘transformation’ because they haven’t had the expert and pragmatic approach that interim managers can bring; from diagnostic and consultancy skills, through to implementation and acceptance of change.

Change is the norm now that we live in an increasingly volatile, uncertain and complex world. The only credible solution for addressing this, it seems, is by implementing deep and dramatic business transformation.

This solution has largely become the accepted narrative of our day and a key part of Eton Bridge Partners’ business – except, are organisations so keen to chase this change that they’re missing a trick?

They may recognise they need external expertise, but consultancies wave the vision of best practice, wonderful technology, etc., rather than a first step to good practice, which can be an 80:20 solution – 80% of the potential prize for 20% of the effort and investment.  In searching for the ‘Holy Grail of Best Practice’, are businesses failing to look at what they already have and assess their processes with a dispassionate set of eyes?

I believe this is firmly the case, because if there’s one – often underappreciated – benefit we find clients report back to us from hiring interim managers, it’s that they challenge ‘accepted norms’. Instead, they will actually take a much more balanced look at a business, to see what transformation might or might not be needed at all.

Many of our clients are utilising interims to provide an intelligent ‘gap analysis’ to identify issues that organisations might be suffering from – but they won’t simply confirm a consultancy-led approach that would take the business down a lengthy path of huge expense and disruptive change.  By having a broad and deep base of experience, and an ability to hone in on issues unseen by those working there day-to-day, interims can often show how to avoid change where it’s not needed.

We recently placed an experienced Interim Supply Chain Director, Alastair Charatan, with one of our clients as the business was conflicted as to whether it had reached capacity in its distribution centre. Alastair used a mix of tools and analysis to understand the flow of the operation, their pinch-points and warehouse usage, and showed how extra capacity could be created without the need to move to a new, larger site.  Alastair’s change programme could deliver significant benefit through less intrusive changes such as vertical storage and other more pragmatic, and rapid process changes.

Within 6 months of his arrival, the vertical storage is now in operation which has freed up floor-level picking locations, and has therefore improved pick face availability, in-full order fulfilment and customer service. The advice and successful change programme has saved two-years’ potential turmoil and a multi-million pound cost of moving warehouse.

Many of our clients have also assumed that a huge and costly technology upgrade would be imperative to enabling the change. With Alastair’s client, technology change is a second stage of the transformation. The client has avoided a considerable cost by going for a tier 2 solution, as well as upgrading existing systems rather than going for the shiny new one. The timing of this change is also important as significant, and rapid benefits will be delivered in the immediate lower-investment changes. These first changes are specifically designed to work without the new WMS (Warehouse Management System) – even the sophisticated vertical storage equipment. This has the benefit of taking pressure of the WMS project – they’re not waiting on that before anything improves, so they can ensure they’re absolutely thorough in the set-up and testing process.

Of course, it’s not surprising that the lure of big change is there. Problem-beset companies are often excited by the thought of ‘chasing the rainbow’, and the exciting magnitude it could bring. However, if they partner with consultancies – those who always want them to attain ‘best practice’ standards ­– then this can become magnified. The truth is, ‘best practice’ can simply be a tail to chase – and one that is not always necessary (or desirable for cost/ return reasons), for many organisations.

In this time of market challenges, competitive pressure and unknown future trade deals, change needs to happen. Change is often good, despite the bad press.

Where interims can support is by cutting-through the grey. They typically observe, and place themselves directly on the ground, to see what actually needs to happen, and most importantly, translate that into a deliverable plan using people from the business to support the activity. For want of a better word, they work ‘with’ the business, as its ally. During this era where businesses are watching the pennies and wondering what the future holds, bringing in interims to impart knowledge, and therefore spread the process and conclusions of their deliberations, enables the business to learn as they go along and adopt change because they believe in it. We receive significant feedback from our clients on how our interims empower the business, by ensuring it’s set up to thrive long after they’re not there.

So as businesses look to the New Year and start to wonder about the scale of the change, they need to stay competitive. Perhaps the message should be this – stop and take a step back.  With the right review and the right interim, an achievable business change programme can be developed, and delivered more quickly with less investment than you might expect.