Business change in defence

Project One has been leading and supporting the delivery of business change for our defence customers for more than twelve years. Much of the experience we deploy across this sector is universally applicable but there are some unique features, and particular lessons have been learned that will help those embarking on any change in defence and other complex manufacturing environments.


This is the first article in a series that will address change themes and specifically our experience in delivering complex change and transformation in the defence sector. Future articles will focus on aspects such as manufacturing change, IT change, developing internal change capability and improving operational efficiency. Often, when people hear the term business change, they jump to the conclusion that this is the softer side of change leadership. This is a trap that will catch out any organisation, especially when they initiate what they feel is highly technical change that needs no people or operational engagement to be successful. A definition will help dispel the myth and then we will explore those features that require particular attention whilst delivering business change in defence.


Our approach to business change comprises three stages:


  • Define change – bringing clarity to the business change challenge the organisation faces and the approach to tackling this
  • Deliver change – focusing teams on understanding the business change, how it will impact the organisation and how to get ready for it
  • Embed change – doing the right things to make change land effectively and in a way that sticks



Define change


Building a common and shared understanding of the project challenge and aims is critical to aligning stakeholder expectations and establishing firm foundations. In our experience, this may entail difficult conversations in order to get all parties onto the same page, working towards a consistent set of goals. Leaders with personal objectives that align their success to that of the project can create hands-on leadership, which is essential when projects enter challenging periods.


A well-defined business change strategy articulates how change will be delivered and embedded. Any strategy should reflect the scale and complexity of the change and recognise the values and culture of the organisation. A clear strategy endorsed by leaders will inform the business change plan, which sets the pace, direction and accountabilities for change, engagement and education.



Deliver change


Building an enthusiastic and informed change network pays dividends when seeking buy-in from the most challenging stakeholders. Change network members will thrive with clarity on their roles and responsibilities, supported by brief, frequent and informative touch points. Working with leaders and change network members to undertake a comprehensive change impact assessment brings focus on what will change, why and how individuals will be impacted.


A key ‘ask’ of leaders and change network members is to build empathy, trying to understand the reference point and therefore challenges facing stakeholders in dealing with change. A clear communication plan will inform this and equip the group with the right information to create a positive narrative, whilst coaching for difficult conversations when managing resistance.



Embed Change


Involving end users from the outset and not just the latter stages can build a mature understanding of the change and avoids surprises late in the day. Forums hosted by the project team or change network can help to build positive momentum throughout the project and give the opportunity for end users to air any concerns, so they can be tackled head on.


The change impact assessment helps to define business readiness criteria and to build a robust business checklist. This focuses the organisation on doing the right things, in a timely manner for both the launch and the longer-term adoption of the solution. A drum beat for business readiness reviews in the countdown to go live, assures that the right things are in place to call a ‘go’ decision.


A proactive approach to adoption following go live, helps the change to stick and benefits to flow. Working with leaders to define a set of adoption metrics, a timebound trajectory and adoption activities will help to broaden the footprint of the solution and its success across the organisation.



Business change in defence


It is essential to consider how you tailor your change management approach to the environment. The defence sector can present some specific challenges, including:



Large defence businesses are often made up of several powerful, independent business units


This requires careful thought and planning when undertaking cross-business change. Consider the complexity of the stakeholder environment and don’t underestimate the amount of time that will be needed to influence multiple stakeholders and to build consensus.


Federated organisations tend to cherish autonomy and resist the use of mandates – increasing the complexity and labour intensity of this process. Ensure your change network spreads wide to penetrate into the various business units and their functions. It can be easy to overlook key functions which can come back to bite you – ensure you comprehensively map out your change network.



Platform delivery projects have complexity and long timelines


Ensure that change management isn’t seen as something that happens at the end of a project, ideally integrate it as part of the fabric of the project management methodology or lifecycle. To avoid a loss of support or a low perception of progress, consider the phasing and celebrate smaller wins. Reinforcement measures will ensure that changes are adopted and stick.



Management of a range of partner organisations and highly integrated supply chains


Comprehensive stakeholder mapping is critical to identify the key functions and individuals who will influence your projects destiny. Your stakeholder management plan will help you put systems in place to ensure key relationships are built and maintained across multiple organisations with sometimes competing processes, pressures and ambitions.



Managing a highly skilled, highly qualified workforce


The team you use and the teams you deliver to are often technically-minded and come from a background biased towards engineering. This is a great strength but to win the hearts and minds you must acknowledge the tendency to want detail and you may need to budget for and invest time on more in-depth communications to land key messages and build the support base. These audiences also pay less attention to, or are less interested in discussions around behavioural or cultural change even when it may be an essential component of the programme.



A security conscious culture in a heavily regulated environment


It is obvious that we understand the value system and work culture in which you are trying to operate, and to tailor interventions accordingly. The scale, the long delivery time frames and the heavy level of regulations and compliance checks means that employees can be resistant to change, and there can be organisational inertia working against you.


Deploy a resilient change team who have a relentless focus on eliminating avoidable resistance. They listen to understand objections, remove barriers, provide simple clear choices and consequences, show the benefits in a real and tangible way, and provide incentives. Building employee feedback into the communications, and seeking out direct feedback from people managers can also be a useful tactic.



Do you need change expertise?


Project One is proud to have built a fantastic track record helping the world’s most important defence industry businesses with their critical change and transformation programmes. More than half of our Consulting Team have worked in the sector, on over one hundred engagements, over the past 12 years.


If you would like to discuss how we can support your change ambitions, please get in touch.

Are you looking for critical business transformation?

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