The most important factor in change management? People.

The most important factor in change management? People.

In recent blogs, I examined how people are at the core of everything we do: delivering positive business change from the bench to the boardroom. I also suggested that knowledge is about personal interpretation of information ‘in the moment’. This final instalment considers whether the right people are in the right places in research and development (R&D) and how to best drive the change agenda.

Optimizing R&D success in a fast changing world is about having the best brains and the best ways of working – in essence, ‘thinking’ and ‘doing’ more effectively than the competition. Whether you call it ‘Large Data’ or ‘Big Data’, using digital assets in new and exciting ways is one critical element in this business optimization. Simply changing your data systems won’t automatically deliver business transformation. An identical change which results in dramatic improvements for one organization can underwhelm in another. Having delivered many, often complex, change programs for R&D clients, we think we know why.

Change – essentially where good people work in new ways – needs transformational people to drive a radical new approach to the status quo, at all levels from the bench to the boardroom. These key individuals – the agents of change – are typically entrepreneurial, understand people issues and possess a strong vision for business improvement. Prizing and empowering them to oversee rapid and relevant change from within their organization is crucial. They should be supported at every level across their organization and be allowed to think differently, to act creatively and feel free to transform business processes. This will create value which benefits all.

Agents of change should be everywhere. Managers at every level must support the activities of these people while also personally committing to engage in continuous, measurable change. This approach has been around in manufacturing for years and has driven technology deployment and innovation. It’s time for this to happen across R&D.

Too often these vital people issues are replaced with ‘process’ solutions. Rather than people doing something because they know it’s the right thing, mega-R&D has smart people doing things because ‘the process’ tells them to. This is not productive or innovative.

Reflecting enthusiasm for change across the whole organization helps staff believe the journey is both necessary and essential – everyone’s full cooperation is vital to the change program’s ultimate success. If there are not the right people providing active top-down sponsorship, mid-level management support for continuous change and active ground level engagement in that change will get bogged down in artificial process steps and fail to deliver their promise.

Having the right people in the right places with the right sponsorship is one of the most critical elements of business improvement and, ultimately, R&D productivity. We see great examples of where change agents are empowered and given the support they need; when it’s done right the return on investment can be genuinely transformational.