Business Change & Transformation Q&A with Nicola Busby
We recently held a Business Change Management event at Brasserie Blanc to discuss the potentials and pitfalls of business transformation and change. Our speaker was Nicola Busby, a business change consultant, trainer and published author who has worked with high-profile organisations on behavioural and cultural aspects of change. We thought we would get to know Nicola a little bit more and pick her brains on how she thinks business change should be approached.
Hi Nicola, could you tell us a little bit about your background?
I’ve been working in business change for over a decade and I’ve helped all kinds of organisations with the people side of their changes. I’ve been involved in restructure changes to reshaping how organisations run their services to implementing cultural and IT changes. But before I started working in business change, I studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London and became a classical musician. I played the viola professionally for 10 years before making the decision to change careers. I did a lot of teaching and mentoring as a musician which has definitely helped in my role as a business change consultant.
That’s a big change in career! So, what sparked your interest and enthusiasm for business change?
When I left music, I realised I would have to retrain to enter the business world. I had never even had the experience of sitting in an office, sending emails or travelling in rush hour. I took a year out to study on a Master of Business Administration course which covered a wide range of management topic including business change. One of my lecturers told us that people often resist change, which is something I experienced for myself when I got my first job with the National Childbirth Trust.
They were undergoing a restructure with thousands of passionate volunteers and it was my job to get them on board by helping them to understand what was going on and how it could help them. At first, they were cautious about the change because they thought that doing things differently would lessen their cause and the support they gave. Once I got to know them and understood what they really cared about, it was easier to bring them round and make the change a success.
This experience sparked my interest in business change because I realised how important it was to get everyone involved on board and I’ve done it ever since.
We see you’ve worked with a lot of high profile clients, could you tell us a bit more about those?
I’ve found that the hardest people to work with in change are the ones who care the most. They will question everything you do because they don’t want things to go wrong. This is a common theme for all the high-profile clients I’ve worked with. I worked with the staff at the Houses of Parliament for two and a half years, which was absolutely fascinating. They are so passionate and proud of their institution and its history, but also suspicious about change. I spoke to them about putting in new technology, as well as the tensions between revering with what they had and keeping up to date. The staff are so respectful of the past, but eventually saw the need to invest in new ways of working to safeguard the future of Parliament.
You’ve recently published a book about managing organisational change, what motivated you to write this?
I train people on the AMPG change management course and I’ve found that there is a huge gap between the theory of change and practicing it in the real world. I wanted to write a book that explained what it’s like to work in change and close the gap between the theory and practice. The book follows a typical change journey from the first idea to embedding it and I’ve also included four fictional case studies of companies implementing different changes. Each case study gives real life examples to give people wanting to work in change an understanding of what to expect.
What do you think is the scope of business change and how should it be approached?
Well for me, the scope of business change is anything to do with people. In change, you usually have three things. Firstly, you have the thing that is changing for instance a new IT system. Then you have all the associated processes and ways of working that will have to change to go along with the new IT system. Then on top of that you have all the people affected by it, from the people who will have to work in new ways to the people who implement it. It’s the people bit that I think is the scope of business change. You can have the best idea in the world but if people don’t support it and are not willing to make the effort to do things in a new way, the change will fail.
Do you think changes in culture are essential during a transformation?
Apart from the very simplest of changes I would say yes, absolutely. What you are actually doing when you change an organisation is changing the way they do things. There is always going to be a tension between the culture of the organisation as it is now and the way people are going to have to behave in the future. This will vary in size, but the biggest and deepest of changes that really touch cultural values are the hardest to put in. In these cases, you are not just asking people to work in a slightly different way. You are asking them to think in different ways and value different things which can be a huge cultural change.
We often don’t realise that a lot of seemingly simple changes can hit cultures hard and unless you are aware of it and do something about it, people will resist. This could mean that you possibly won’t get the changes you need or the benefits they aim to give the organisation.
What benefits can transformation programmes bring to businesses and their staff?
At the most basic level, survival. For example, one of the main buzz words going around at the moment is digital transformation, which basically means that people are having to utilise technology because their customers expect it, it’s often more efficient, and their competitors are using it. So, businesses have to keep up in order to survive. I think that organisations need to constantly change to stay up to date and also to get ahead, there are always ways in which things can be done better.
What do you consider to be the biggest challenges for businesses experiencing change?
I think the biggest challenge is for people to realise how difficult and painful it is to transform an organisation and how much effort and energy it will take from everyone. Many organisations fail to invest properly in the change, eg by not giving their staff time to engage in it or by failing to ensure their leaders are equipped to make difficult decisions. These are the organisations who will fail. It really is about understanding what you are getting into and what a major undertaking it is. Organisations that recognise that we are in a constant state of flux and have the maturity to deal with that can cope with the challenge of change much better.
Do you have any tips for anyone who is planning and implementing organisational change?
My first tip is to always make sure you give enough time and resource for the people side of change. For instance, in digital transformation changes everyone is excited about the potential of new technology, but not so enthusiastic about exploring whether people will be able to change their behaviours to work with it. However, they are just as important as each other.
Secondly, it’s important to remember that you are not successful in your change once it’s been implemented. Success only comes when it’s truly embedded, which could be weeks, months or years after the change has been put in place. People plan right up until the end of implementation then move on to the next big issue. But this can be dangerous because people can slip back into old ways of working and the change won’t truly embed. So, it’s vital that you plan for the weeks and months after implementation and keep an eye on it to make sure the benefits are realised.
You’ve recently been the facilitator and speaker for a Deltra networking event on Business Change Management, what encouraged you to do this?
I love change and I’m very passionate about it. I think it is so important because it can really affect people and if you can do it well it’s so much nicer for everyone involved. I know Deltra well because they placed me with an organisation a few years ago. A lot of organisations are still not confident about business change management and what it can add to their transformation programmes. So, I think the potential for myself, Deltra and other organisations to get together to discuss these things and share best practice can only give the opportunity for better change management to go on. If one company invests more in business change as a result of it then that’s good enough for me.