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Change.  What does it mean for you?  What images does it bring front and centre to your mind? What’s the feeling that you have right now, in the pit of your stomach as you think about change?  I imagine it’s a different feeling to 4 months ago.    Do you get a rush of excitement thinking about all the possibilities change can bring or are you feeling apprehensive at the fear of what the unknown might mean for routines and ‘norms’?  How is transformation different from change?  What does it mean for organisations?  Surely the smaller the organisation the easier it is – right??

I had a light-bulb moment a few years ago when I was training to be an Executive Coach.  Imagine, if you will, looking at yourself in the mirror with your wardrobe open to the left of you.  Change is when you decide to update that wardrobe to the latest colours, styles, fabrics and accessories – you might do this each season as fashions change.  Transformation is when you donate the whole wardrobe to charity and start again giving lots of thought to what you want to be known for and how your style should be reflective of your personal brand.  You might do this once or twice throughout your career as you make a transition to the next phase of your career or join a new business for example.

The same thinking can be applied to organisations.  Change, in my opinion, is when you improve and make better the current ways of working, systems, teams, roles etc.  Transformation is when you really peel back the layers of the organisation and ask yourself – ‘is this really who we are? Is this what we want to be known for?  Is this working for us right now? Are we being truly brilliant at this?’.

Go back to that feeling we conjured up in the first paragraph.  Now imagine what you are feeling and multiply it by 105 (that’s how many people we have).  That’s the world I am proud to live in.  As Chief People Officer it’s my role to lead the business on its journey of transformation from a people perspective, in the last few weeks this has been through a time of great uncertainty, worry and we really are in uncharted territory.  My team and I are helping the business to recognise and support 105 different emotions, feelings, excitement, nervousness and apprehension around our transformation and our new way of operating and the business structure that complements our operating model and we are suddenly doing this, in the moment, right now, cramming a huge cultural transformation that was planned across the next year, into the next few weeks because we have to, to survive.

As an SME, we are no different to other organisations in our sector of Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing – we are grappling with new technologies, new ways of working, the changing demographics of the workforce, the 5 generations we employ who all have different wants, needs, motivations and talents and sitting across the top of that is self-isolation, fear, the unknown and a sense of the world never returning to its pre-COVID state.  We have the same strategic challenges around skills, the contingent workforce and goalposts are changing – we were full steam ahead getting ready for IR35 changes in April, now we aren’t (and I am breathing a sigh of relief!).  We have budgets that we could spend three times over and still need more and now we have uncertainty around income and customer demand during this time and we are reworking a business plan that we have spent months developing.  From having a known market-place, we don’t know what that market place will look like – especially now that exams and assessments are on hold .

So, given everything above, how do you transform from the inside out? 

Innovation. Innovation. Innovation. And if you didn’t hear it the first 3 times then here it is again – Innovation. 

The art of doing things differently.  Being OK to try and fail because even if it’s doesn’t work out the way you want it to, the learning along the way is priceless.

So how do you innovate when it comes to People Transformation?  My advice – ask your people.  They know the answer.  They know what will work for them.  They’ll know what questions they have, how they are feeling, what they need – and they’ll tell you and they’ll keep telling you so you’ll need to be prepared to listen – even when its uncomfortable for you to hear what they are saying.

Whilst fancy software to measure engagement would be useful, a huge investment in change workshops from a heavily experienced and expensive consultant would be perfect and for everyone to be trained in project management is a dream come true – the reality is, we don’t have the resources or finances to do this so we have to innovate. 

My advice from you as a CPO on this transformation journey with you – keep it human, be human and remember that human beings work for you with feelings and emotions so don’t lose your humanity.  It can be overwhelming for you in the same way as it can your people, so break the journey down into steps.  Celebrate endings as well as new beginnings. Acknowledge what’s changing and thank people for their efforts and for supporting the transformation.

We are still on our journey of transformation.  We will be for a while and our fabulous plan will still be fabulous – it will just be different and being a virtual team will become the norm.  We will think about things differently.  How we support people now will become our new EVP.  Transformation doesn’t ever really end as there is always a new ‘something’ to be embraced, adapted to, implemented or delivered.  It’s just the world we live in now.  COVID-19 is a journey of transformation.

We are business as usual – well as much as we can right now.  We are lucky enough to be tech-enabled.  Reaping the benefits of investing and upgrading all our technology and software last summer as we embraced our journey of digital transformation.  We are ramping up our innovation and designing new products that will help us to help the engineering and manufacturing to continue to upskill and re-skill because we now have the luxury of time and if one thing comes out of this turbulent time, its that we can use this time when people are home working or not doing their usual roles to accelerate workforce planning.

My call to action to all you ‘people’ people out there – Start practising that innovation mind-set.  You will notice that its contagious.  Sometimes all that’s needed is for you to be the person who does things a little differently and before you know it you’ve created a movement.  Now imagine that feeling. 

Lucy Thompson, Chief People Officer – Enginuity Group

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