To achieve successful transformation takes time.  Most public sector organisations have been subject to continual change over the last two decades.  Here, SUMS Principal Consultant Fola Ikpehai talks us through the risks of not allowing enough time to transition from change programme to business as usual.

At our recent Change Management Community of Practice session, Steve Chadwick, Director of Strategy, Planning and Change at the University of Bristol made a statement, which has stuck with me:  “For the Higher Education Sector, change is the new norm – whether growing, shrinking, re-shaping or adapting”.

Most public sector organisations have been subject to continual change over the last two decades.  However, for the Higher Education Sector, the drivers for significant, transformational change are relatively recent. Discussions with colleagues across the HE sector show that Universities have adopted various approaches to implementing change. In this blog, I’d like to focus specifically on programmatic change and, perhaps more importantly, what comes afterwards.

Simply defined, a programme is a temporary plan created to coordinate, direct and oversee the implementation of a set of related projects and activities.  The aim is to deliver outcomes and benefits related to the organisation’s strategic objectives (MSP® Definition).

While there is no formal guidance on how long a Programme of Transformation should last, they are usually measured in years, as opposed to weeks or months. For this reason, there is a risk that programmes drift on and are not properly transitioned into business as usual. Just as risky, is the potential to close programmes altogether and not plan for the transition into business as usual at all.

“Roma uno die non est condita” or “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is an age-old saying, which emphasises the need for time to create great things.  I’d like to borrow the sentiment of this adage to state that “Change isn’t embedded through a Transformation Programme! To achieve successful transformation requires time”.  While teams will see some benefits during the life of the programme, they won’t see the full range of benefits until after closure – sometimes long after programme closure.

After the programme closure, comes the transition to business as usual. However, often organisations do not recognise the need to resource this transition. This means that teams never fully embed capabilities delivered by the programme. So, how long does it take to embed change at the end of a programme? Once again, there is no set timeframe for this, and once again, I urge organisations to think in years, rather than months and weeks.

A programme will normally end with full and compliant adoption of the capabilities delivered by the programme; new systems, infrastructure etc.

Then comes maximising the use of these capabilities by refining business processes and ways of working; becoming more efficient and effective as a result.

Afterwards comes standardisation of these new ways of working across the organisation. At this point, the organisation should be able to show a change in attitude and behaviour.  It should also be able to identify areas of best practice and provide proof that an environment exists where sharing successes and knowledge is the norm.  Re-skilling and culture change are the results.  At this stage, the organisation is operating in ‘business as usual’.

Teams need to monitor and continually report on progress through transition and into business as usual.

It is worth reiterating that rushing through any of these phases, and/or not resourcing these phases, will result in poor foundations and limited (if any) long-term transformation.

So, to summarise:

  • Don’t rush through transformation programmes, but don’t prolong programmes indefinitely
  • Do test that the University is truly ready for the next phase of the change before transitioning
  • Do resource the transition phase beyond programme closure
  • Do keep the focus on the vision (aligned to the corporate strategy) – encouraging constant checking and leadership reporting
  • Do continually build upon and communicate the outcomes from the change – stating where the institution is now, where it was and where it still needs to go
  • Do celebrate successes!

Parting Shot!  The proof of the success of any transformation programme is what happens once the driving force – the programme infrastructure – is removed.

To learn more about how SUMS Consulting can help you with your transformation programmes, email us a sums@reading.ac.uk or call us on 0118 935 7081.

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