The president of a well-established health sciences company was faced with the need to change the way the organization interacted with its customers. Customers reported that the organization had grown far too complex to do business with, compared to its major competitors. The executive perspective was that the company possessed an urgent need to change… but was concerned that middle management had grown too conservative and rigid to lead, or even accept, significant change. We put together an approach that demonstrated that middle managers could and would engage in constructive ways to invigorate the organization.
The approach consisted of a six week process, the goal of which was to recommend what changes should be made, complete with a business case and implementation plan. A set of four respected middle managers and four excellent customer service staff were put on the project team. The schedule was challenging and the expectations demanding.
The first week, while producing several critical outputs, was largely focused on training the team in the business and change management skills and methods required to be successful. Each week thereafter for the remainder of the project, the team presented key findings and recommendations at a scheduled executive briefing on key deliverables. At the end of the process, the president and his leadership team committed to the well-detailed strategic change effort.
Five key attributes of this approach enabled the success of the team:
- Substantial and visible executive expectations and support from the senior leadership.
- Careful selection of the right initial team members.
- A challenging but flexible and highly disciplined approach to the initial work.
- A customized approach to the work consistent with the culture of the company.
- Effective partnering between our external resources that brought experience and discipline to the internal team.
This positive start convinced senior management that the organization was capable of successfully addressing the customer service issues that threatened its survival.
Within 100 days the team implemented a series of process changes that positively enhanced the customer experience while lowering the cost of service. Over the course of the next eighteen months, organizational changes and new systems made more significant change feasible. The benefits were derived not simply from reduced costs and simplified customer interactions, but through increased sales and new cross-selling initiatives. The success was obtained through the creative efforts of staff and active executive support up to and including the Board of Directors.
Several years after the project ended, one of the sponsoring executives reflected that the project had been one of the most exciting and innovative experiences of his career. For him, it was a powerful learning that substantive change could be not just a hoped-for possibility–but a living, tangible and valuable reality.
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