Transformational Change: Code goes Lean (Pt.1)

in Delivery, Leadership, CodeLife

As Operations Manager at Code, a large part of my role is to manage and facilitate change within the environment. We love change at Code; we are proud to be forward thinkers and are forever looking at ways we can stay ahead of the digital game to differentiate ourselves from other very talented and successful businesses in the industry. I love this, because it means no day is the same, making my job a very interesting, diverse and somewhat challenging one.

For some reason, human nature is often to resist change. As a rule (I acknowledge there are always exceptions), we are creatures of habit, and anything that might shake up our little world, or burst our comfy bubble, can feel like a threat to what we know and love/hate, causing our defence mechanisms to kick in and push back. This can be challenging for businesses that are undergoing any form of transformational change, but with persistence, and the right approach, it is totally doable. It might just take a few bottles of red wine, some late nights and a few dark corners to hide in every now and then to keep you sane :)

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We’re currently going through another iteration of change at Code. We are taking steps towards our vision of becoming a Lean Digital Studio, radicalising the client-agency model and using lean techniques to deliver on our client objectives. This has meant an operational overhaul internally to adopt lean techniques and behaviours, a process of which we are still undergoing and will be a continuing loop of experimenting and adapting as we learn and move forward.

I thought I would share a few insights I've come to through this most recent transformation at Code. Hopefully they may impart some advice to others who are embarking on a business transformation piece – if only the bit about red wine and dark corners!

You can’t just tell people to change

Change isn't all about doing something differently, it isn't all about action. It’s equally about a shift in mind-set; you have to think and behave differently.

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According to Psychologist Leon Festinger’s theory of Cognitive Dissonance, ones actions will only change if they believe in its purpose. If people don’t buy into the vision of why you’re making this change, it’s highly unlikely any behavioural or ‘action’ change will follow. Telling people to change without making the effort to help them understand and see the importance of why we need to change (and what will happen if you don’t change,) will only end in frustrated management, unhappy employees, and negative results. Change needs to come from the bottom up, to be led by those ‘doing the do’, in order for any change to embed and stick.

It’s OK to bring in help

At Code we are an Operational team of two. That’s not a lot of people to manage change across an 80 strong studio. One thing myself and the Ops Director at Code have this-time-around recognised is that we can’t drive change on our own. That’s not to say we don’t have support from others inside the business, but often we are too close to the core to be objective and get to the nub of what is blocking change, plus the teeny fact that we all have our ‘day jobs’ to fulfil too. We’ve learnt to realise it’s not a failure to look to external support in consultancy. This also helps to show we’re serious, we believe in the vision and are willing to invest in order to see this change embed and be a success.

It will always take a lot longer than you think

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If you buy into point one ^^^, and realise the best way to ensure change is going to stick is through empowering your employees to drive it, you’ll soon realise things may not change quite as quickly as you had hoped for…THIS IS OK…By empowering your employees to experiment, fail and learn you are creating a more credible source of change, rather than management simply telling people what to do.

Not everyone will get on board

When undergoing transformational change, you need to be prepared to lose people.

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A bit of a bold statement, and a hard pill to swallow for businesses; but a reality. Zappos’ CEO, Tony Hsieh, really stuck his neck out when making the decision to adopt Holocracy. In total they lost 18% of employees; 260 members of staff, but at the end of it all, Hsieh could then be confident that those remaining were 100% bought into his vision for the company and would help him drive that. The best thing when faced with strong opposition to your vision, is to work with them to see whether there is anything that can be done to help them get on board, and if not, to support and help them exit the company in the most positive way possible.

Reward the right behaviours, call out the bad

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Similar to any typical agency, we used to (still) have a lot of performance measures around time and utilisation for our teams. However, recently we've come to realise that if the way you measure performance is not linked to the behaviours you expect to see, those behaviours are less likely to be adopted. Whist ‘time spent = revenue’ (sort of), are these metrics ultimately the right way to drive the best performance output? Do they really help employees to understand what is important to the business? And if one of our goals as a studio is to meet our clients objectives, then why aren't they a part of the business measurements for each team? We've had a revamp of the way we measure our teams to make sure what we are asking them to report on, are directly linked to our goals and vision. Something to think about.

Role Models and Advocates

As well as a strong Change Leadership Team, it is important to have ‘men on the ground’ that will support, advocate and role model the change we expect to see. Something Change Thought-leader, John Kotter, calls a ‘guiding coalition’.

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We set up an advocacy group consisting of people from a range of teams and disciplines in order to lead the way and coach others. They have driven a lot of the day to day small changes that we needed to start seeing in the way we worked which has worked well in gaining credibility and momentum, changes that we wouldn't have been so easily able to influence. We rely on them heavily and are a key part to the change process we are going through at the moment.


Hopefully that's been of relative interest to some of you, if only as a glimmer into the role of Operations. I'm looking forward to being able to share even more insights and challenges we've overcome in a few months’ time, and to share more on the side of the business that doesn't get talked about so much...watch out for Part 2.

Amy Murray's Picture

Amy Murray

Operations Manager. Little and blonde, with an obsession for cats, snow and the mountains.
@amyruthm