Cari, a leader in the company’s new Data and Analytics unit, was frustrated to hear about yet another team which hired an external contractor to do the work her group was set up to do. She had spent the past 18 months building this new organization. She had hired top talent, built assets, and delivered high quality demonstration projects. But it seemed that many pockets of the organization still didn’t know they existed, or worse, chose not to work with them.
Cari faces a common problem: An executive leadership team decides to build a capability critical to the company’s strategy and future success. They do all the right things: create a strategy, announce a leader, build and buy the talent needed, research and implement best practices, purchase new technology, and roll-out training. But a year later they have little to show for it. New practices and technology are not well understood or sufficiently adopted. Business leaders continue to contract with outside partners instead of using resources from the new team. New team members feel undervalued and are at-risk of leaving.
Design and launch are not enough to embed a new capability. Organization change requires “activation” – the deliberate practice of new ways of working, sustained over time. Our advice to Cari would be to focus on the three elements of activation that bring new organization intentions to life.
Think of a new internal capability in the same way you would plan to introduce a product or service to the external market. People may not be aware of why it is needed or understand how to use it. They might be skeptical of the cost or quality, so they hesitate to try something new or replace an existing tool or partner.
Cari should focus her energy on a few high value linkages where collaboration between her group and others will build credibility and momentum. The right connections have to be designed, however. Even if using the capability may save time, it requires an upfront investment of energy by the new adopters. The right connections create the support system necessary to reduce this time to adoption.
- Design relationships “fit for purpose”: For example, deploy talent where there is already demand for your services. Have these dedicated or aligned staff actively build high trust relationships. Set them up in such a way that the client group feels their partners are there to assist rather than dictate ways of working.
- Create networks and horizontal connections: For example, establish a community of practice for people interested in data analytics and establish an intake process where anyone can flag opportunities. In this way, the new capability is not just a hub and spoke system with users connecting to the center, but a mechanism for connecting people across markets and business lines.
Leaders tap into capabilities that help them resolve a pain point. Too often new teams evangelize their offerings and tools without fully considering the client’s challenges. It is not enough to build great assets; you must demonstrate to your clients how your team’s expert guidance and assets can impact the bottom line.
To have the right conversations, Cari should create the forums for intentional discussions that focus on listening, assessment, and accelerating outcomes.
- Understand your clients’ ambitions and challenges and anchor the work to them: For example, a business unit’s data analytic needs will be different from those of an enabling function. Determine what services are relevant and develop a bespoke set of solutions. Keep the complexity away from the client.
- Design a cadence that involves internal clients in strategy and priority setting, co-design of new solutions, and is transparent about results: For example, enterprise team members could work with a line of business to adapt a solution developed for another unit. Or a quarterly meeting might allow users to set priorities and make trade-offs around the schedule for new features and investments.
Right Leaders and Leader Behaviors
Nothing will send the wrong signal when launching a new capability than putting “old guard” people into new positions when they do not embody new behaviors needed. If you’re claiming your new team is collaborative and customer-centric but the people in the new team are known to be individual contributors focused on “best practice” solutions it may be hard to build credibility.
The introduction of new enterprise capabilities requires leaders who model “center-led,” not “centralized” mindsets.
- Be clear and transparent on the guardrails and non-negotiables, but empower teams to adapt as needed within those boundaries: For example, analytics methodology and minimum reporting standards may be set at the center, but reporting format is determined locally and delivered at a pace that matches local needs.
- Manage talent for the enterprise: For example, Cari would be smart to create mechanisms that develop analytics skills in the business, rotate people through the capability center, and proactively align on how any matrixed team members will be managed. These types of talent practices help turn a capability team from a service provider into a true business partner.
Activation is an iterative process of engagement, learning, and adjustment. Such an approach builds trust and allows the capability to evolve along with the organization’s needs.