Are Transformations Still On Course?

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Posting date: 30 April 2020

The UK is now in its sixth week of lockdown and for most private sector companies, transformation has either slowed, or been abandoned completely. Reducing non-critical spend and improving cash flow has been top priority over the last few weeks. We have seen organisations slash contractor numbers and heavily utilise the Government’s furlough scheme.

With such a heavily reliance on contractors for transformation, the majority of our clients are seriously concerned about how they reengage with their alumni, once the market picks up again. We are already looking at severely delayed transformations, so the time and cost spent on hiring, on-boarding and knowledge transfer (to fresh blood), will only delay things further. Others are questioning the use of contractors at all when business returns, opting instead to use consultancies to deliver projects through a Statement of Work agreement.

I wanted to get a snapshot of how transformation programmes are progressing during the pandemic, so I reached out to three transformational leaders whose programmes are still continuing, and have shared their thoughts below. 

Transformation Programme - Insurance

Whilst this transformation has slowed a little, it hasn’t stopped – particularly on the task-focused elements of the programme. There have of course been areas of reprioritisation, and the business has shelved some of the more ‘fun’ and creative elements of the programme due to the difficulty of getting people together to co-create. Along with everyone else, the programme team has been moved to working from home and offered flexible hours. The UK workforce has adapted well to this, but there have been issues with the move to remote working for their offshore partners in India who support the programme. As a country, India doesn’t appear to be as well versed in remote working and some partners have taken time to acclimatise. This may have a negative long-term impact and push the programme off track.

Looking at the positives, the assumption is that working from home will become more normal, and this may actually increase productivity longer-term. There is also an expectation that those impacted by the crisis may now be more open and less resistant to change, having had to learn to adapt to this situation relatively quickly. The pandemic has also given the business time to rethink its approach to the programme. It’s now looking at building relationships with new suppliers, bringing in more senior resources, and taking advantage of recruiting high quality staff who are furloughed or no longer required in other organisations.

Transformation Programme – Retail (Fashion)

Things are still progressing on this transformation programme, but at a much slower pace. The plan and the budget have been side-lined for the time being, so the business is having to take a far more opportunistic approach. This means looking for sequences of activity that can be usefully strung together. They have been in a lucky position where some of their factories have stayed open, so orders are still being completed, and the business has taken full advantage of that. Where staff are available, they plan to stitch together a “hotchpotch” of completed projects into a programme. They feel this opportunistic, fragmented approach is better than stopping completely.

So how are they going to kick-start the programme when normality returns? Of course, that depends on the appetite of the Board, and on cashflow. The Board has shown courage in agreeing to the opportunistic approach as described above, but ultimately it will be driven by customers’ behaviour/confidence and their needs for the business’ products and services. Over the coming months it’s expected that all transformation/change activity will become much more focused on the short term, and therefore leaner - unless the Board feels there are opportunities it wishes to take. Any programme is a response to the prevailing circumstances and opportunities, and these have obviously changed dramatically.

Transformation Programme – Facilities Management

The business has agreed to pause all large change programmes and defer them until an appropriate time later in the year. This has allowed its operational teams to concentrate on operational business, which is where they believe their focus needs to be at this time. This big increase in demand for operational change has ultimately caused a prioritisation issue on resource allocation. Whilst the change programmes are still important, without a greater level of organisational stability and operational focus, delivery is difficult due their complexity. Thus, operational projects will continue to be priority for the foreseeable future. 

When larger change initiatives eventually restart, priorities will be determined through the portfolio. They will review the original scope and ensure that considerations from both inside and outside of the organisation are reflected. Not knowing when the organisation will be in a steady state again makes it difficult to plan any restarts properly. The organisation is already planning for a return to ‘normal’; it’s just a question of when.

So, what now?

The next few months are going to be interesting for transformation leaders. They could potentially be looking at a very different landscape in twelve weeks’ time; with revised budgets, reprioritised projects and depleted resource plans.

One of the biggest factors at play here is knowing when the Government will lift the restrictions on lockdown. Once this is agreed and businesses know when their workforce can return, the real planning can start. Until then, those that are continuing to deliver change and transformation programmes are responding to more short term business priorities, with a heavily reduced workforce.