Why Successful Growth and Transformation Initiatives Must Start With a People Strategy

Why Successful Growth and Transformation Initiatives Must Start With a People Strategy

by John Stewart
June 14, 2021

One of the most important parts of a successful growth strategy or transformation initiative is to start with the critical, but often-overlooked, talent and cultural aspects that can influence an organization’s performance. 

Although it can be easier to pay attention to improving processes or technology as you work to promote growth or increase efficiency, it is at least as important to pay attention to the people who will need to accept and carry out any desired changes.

Yet many business leaders, in fact, only react to cultural or talent issues in response to an obvious problem. Similarly, talent-related issues often become the weak point of a growth strategy or transformation initiative because the intangible cultural effects are easy to overlook. 

Develop a Culture Plan

For example, it’s relatively straightforward to compare the cost of two technology platforms, but identifying people and cultural issues is less obvious (and potentially uncomfortable for the organization’s leadership).  Instead, successful organizations take the time to develop a corporate culture plan and values that go beyond basic steps such as hanging posters or taking periodic surveys about employee attitudes. 

To create and maintain an effective people strategy, you need to develop plans to help employees improve their skills and contributions and to help managers understand the factors that influence the motivation and performance of their team members. 

Put Your People First

Any successful transformation initiative starts with a detailed assessment of the organization’s processes and technology, but many organizations include people as an afterthought in that assessment. Instead, it’s critical to examine your talent and culture in the earliest stages of a change effort to understand the capabilities and motivations of key performers and to identify potential obstacles, such as resistance to change. 

Understanding the causes of that resistance, in turn, can help the organization address employee satisfaction issues that may not be related to a growth strategy or proposed change initiative but could hurt their implementation.

It’s also important to consider potential cultural issues when you’re describing a proposed organizational change to the affected stakeholders. Simple steps such as providing the same information in a variety of formats (like short videos as well as emails and internal messages) account for different learning preferences and increase employee understanding of the reasons driving the proposed change and the expected benefits. 

This, in turn, can increase employee adoption (and the success of the initiative) by reducing the chance that an employee doesn’t get on board with a new effort simply because he or she doesn’t understand it. 

Taking extra time to explain the proposed changes to leaders who demonstrate resistance can also pay dividends. In many instances, involving reluctant leaders early in the planning process can provide a degree of ownership that in turn leads to active support. 

Warning Signs of Cultural Issues

At times, identifying the factors that can hinder individual or team performance may include issues and uncomfortable questions that many executives would rather not ask. In some cases, leaders would prefer not to explore sensitive issues with colleagues who are also friends. In others, they may not want to hear about organizational shortcomings or may be afraid of getting an answer they don’t like.

Some common signs that you need to pay more attention to cultural issues include:
  • High attrition rates. Benchmark your attrition against industry norms. A higher than expected turnover rate can indicate cultural issues within your organization.
  • A proposed or recently concluded merger or acquisition. Blending two companies inherently creates potential tension as executives sort out their role in the combined entity.
  • Rapid growth. As an organization grows organically and adds personnel, it can be easy to overlook cultural and people issues in the rush to meet surging demand.
Similarly, the array of changes that many organizations are forced to take in response to major disruptions like the COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity to consider cultural and staffing approaches that can last into the medium and long-term future. 

For instance, many companies had to shift their workforce to remote and alternative schedules seemingly overnight, which increased flexibility but potentially diluted team cohesion. Organizations also turned to contract workers or hired permanent employees beyond their traditional geographic locations. Leaders have to evaluate these practices and identify ways to capture the benefits while balancing the potential shortcomings. 

These conversations and any resulting changes are likely easier to discuss and implement because people understand they’re in response to a significant external event, rather than internal motivations they may not trust. Similarly, an organization’s response to the pandemic may have identified preexisting talent-related weaknesses that they will need to address.

Your people and culture are vital to your growth and transformation initiatives. Creating effective people strategies and paying close attention to cultural considerations at the outset of these efforts will help you set your organization up for success.

To learn more about managing change in your organization, contact our Strategy and Transformation experts.

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