Tick-tock! | What my first job taught me about change  

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I left school when I was 16.

The year was 1988 and all I wanted to do was see the world and make some money.

The school at that time had some local work experience jobs lined up for pupils who decided to leave.

Those qualifying had their names put in a box, which were then chosen by the headmaster in a strange little ceremony in one of the classrooms.

Each pupil could then pick which job they wanted.

The jobs were a mix of shop assistants, working on a milk-float, a local abattoir, farm work and the ‘golden ticket’ – a job in a bank.

I still remember how the cards of fate fell on the table for me that day.

Amazingly, my name was picked second (the person who was chosen first chose the milk-float) and I went for the bank job.

Fortunately my manager at the bank asked me to stay on after my 2-week work experience period, it was my first proper job.

This was in one of the bank’s regional head offices, just up the road from my house.

There were 3,000 people who worked there – the place was huge.  It had its own golf course, social club, pool tables and a time clocking system called ‘flexi-time’.

I thought it was the most amazing place I’d ever been to.

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Here’s me at the time with my first car, the benefit of an ultra cheap bank loan. It was a beauty!

I worked in the Finance Department as a ‘Branch Equipment Clerk’.  A grand title.

There were 10 people in my team and our job was to perform a rolling cross check audit of all of the equipment in each bank branch to ensure we still had what we had on record.

At the start of each year, we’d start the process again. It was the finance equivalent of painting the Golden Gate Bridge.

Each Monday morning, a fresh batch of microfiche was delivered to our team desk.

This was really a database of all of the equipment in all of the branches.  I was responsible for branches in town names starting with the letters A-D.

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This is the kind of microfiche machine I used.

The records we checked against were giant A3 printouts that hung in a massive 20ft corridor of printouts that would could only be moved by rolling giant handles to move each set of shelves along.

The highlight of my day would be if I found a discrepancy somewhere which was called a ‘CODE 6’.  I would then need to write out a branch enquiry form (in triplicate) to investigate what had happened to the equipment.

This would then go off in an internal post bag to the branch in question and then I’d wait to see what had happened over the coming weeks.

I’d spend weeks communicating with branches like this as it would go back and forth. We had to follow the standard process – it was thankless, frustrating and boring work.

This really wasn’t what I intended with wanting to “see the world”. I needed an escape plan…

Executing the plan didn’t happen overnight. With the encouragement of a supportive manager, I took the hard way and studied for two evenings a week for three years at a local college before going on to university.

The way we do actual ‘work’ has changed massively over the years and will continue to change as new technologies evolve.

I bet my CODE 6 form from all those years ago has been replaced by some other process, maybe some form of self-certification by each branch, perhaps automation of some form, or maybe the audit is now conducted the same way with humans aided by computers.

Who knows?  The point is that work and tasks like these offer ways to make businesses more efficient and their people more productive.

And with the nature of work changing, the way people change their businesses is changing.

This is leading to challenges and opportunities for those involved in transforming businesses.

Here are a few things that I’ve seen and heard of from catching up with old friends and colleagues recently in a wide variety of organisation sizes and industry sectors on the nature of transformation and change;

  1. Companywide initiatives set up to focus on topics such as ‘digital transformation’, without clear, practical guidance on what that actually meant for people in the business.
  2. Failure to align ‘analogue’ business process change programmes with ‘digital’ requirements of new technologies, such as fully exploiting the full benefits of cloud based technologies.
  3. Transformation projects and programmes set up in ‘pockets’ within the business without proper co-ordination and common leadership between the programmes.

What’s going on?   Many things – but at the end of the day, I think it comes down to one thing:

Pressure.

Be it from internal or external to the business, the pressure to raise performance is increasing.

I read a a fascinating article recently arguing that businesses today have less and less time to design and execute business plans – suggesting businesses cannot make any meaningful business plan beyond 2 years.

21st

If this is generally true, and I see no reason to see why not, this will have a huge impact on transformation efforts and in turn means the time window to transform is going to be even less – I would estimate 18 month’s max for a significant transformation programme so the benefits can start to kick in and be felt to kick in.

This means the pressure to deliver will be huge.

And now consider this: I recently read a startling fact that the average tenure of a FTSE 100 CEO is just 5.25 years.

This isn’t long.  And the usual remit of a new CEO will be get some early wins under their belt – typically to drive growth, achieve greater stakeholder returns, maximise efficiencies and drive up employee and customer satisfaction, the list goes on – the main headline being that they need to quickly transform the business.

And whether it’s a new CEO or a business with no or a couple of changes in the top team, most large, complex organisations will be looking to release the pressure in some form or another.

This will be by getting to grips with how they can help their businesses transform to become more streamlined and efficient. They may wish to exploit new technologies such as the cloud and adopt digital transformation techniques for example.

These both provide massive opportunities for organisations to transform. But it needs to be done right – to ensure the gains are locked in and the business can reap the benefits of the change.
So, here’s the thing:

It is critical to give people clear guidance on how to transform the business. Here are three things that need to happen to help RELEASE THE PRESSURE when embarking on major transformation:

  1. Have a clear transformation strategy and execute it within 18 months. Sell it and get it agreed by the top team, share this with the business and stick to the plan. Easier said than done, but this is critical.
  2. Keep things joined up. All key changes need to be orchestrated by a single area, not by multiple areas. It needs to be joined up so people see there is a design and method.
  3. Help people ‘see the way’. Signpost the way and give people clear guidance on what the transformation journey looks like and how they will get there.

The world of work is changing massively.  And when I think back to my younger self, grappling with microfiche and writing out code 6’s in triplicate, even from my view from the cubicle as an accounts clerk, the speed of change was arguably much slower than today.

Growing pressure to increase performance means the window of available time to drive transformation and change is closing – the need to help the business change efficiently and effectively has never been so critical.

 

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