We’ve all heard the saying “change is the only constant in life”. As retailers know, and in some cases have learnt the hard way, this can definitely be applied to their industry. The retail sector in the UK has changed significantly in the last 10 years and this dramatic transformation looks set to continue over the next few years.

Retailers have already asked their employees to embrace change at a remarkable pace – new payment technologies, leaner supply chain processes, more demanding customer service expectations and organisational restructures to name but a few. But at this breakneck speed with which we are charging forward, how do we ensure that all of this change delivers the business results we are looking for?

It is a known fact that people resist change – we are creatures of habit after all. But at a time where all retailers (the traditional and the not-so-traditional) have to work hard to accommodate customers’ growing needs – can we really afford to be so scared of change?

It is becoming apparent that the retailers that are succeeding are the ones that are embracing change rather than resisting it. So how can more traditional retailers (the ones not as accustomed to change), keep up?

People are the most critical players for building a success story from change.

Regardless of whether the change is technological, process design or organisational – any change will impact people and so they need to be at the core of any solution in order for it to work. It is no surprise then that major corporations which understand this, and ensure that people are at the heart of the required solution, are faring better than others.

The established theoretical change models (ADKAR, Kotter’s and Kubler-Ross) have similar limitations given that they rely too heavily on out of favour, top-down structures that leave no room for co-creation and other forms of true participation. With these models, employees are still being told why a change is necessary with leadership crossing their fingers and hoping that the change is adopted rather than enabling them to discover the catalyst for change themselves.

Many of us have by now heard of design thinking and rapid prototyping. The former refers to unconstrained visioning around a specific problem statement to produce multiple solutions. The latter refers to the ability to quickly develop and test, in order to reach a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), ideally through iterative processes and customer testing. These terms are commonplace within the innovation sphere – but can they help with change management?

Design thinking and rapid prototyping shouldn’t just be snazzy buzz words used by consultants anymore. These methods allow us to turn abstract ideas, theories and specifications into concrete, tangible and experiential solutions quickly. Iterative prototyping has enabled us to help large organisations design and refine organisational processes, services, new products and propositions in order to speed up learning, reduce the cost of failure and reach user-approved MVPs faster than ever before.

So how do we apply this philosophy to culture change and organisational capability building? The principles behind these methods show us that we must first help people to understand, secondly to influence and thirdly to drive the success of a project.

  1. Understand
    Ensure employees fully understand the problem by showing them rather than telling them what the problem is. Better yet, empower employees to be the ones who tell leadership where problems lie as part of a design thinking process. Showing rather than telling is a subtle but crucial difference. An intellectual understanding is not enough.
  2. Influence
    Once a problem has been identified by employees, they should be a part of defining the solutions rather than having the solution thrust upon them. Actively engage employees throughout the process – rapid prototyping sessions are an effective way to do this and further develop a solution at the same time.
  3. Drive
    Empower employees to embed the change that they want to see, nurturing a sense of ownership and pride in the solution and encouraging them to contribute to its success.All of this is not to say that traditional change models don’t have their place – the principles of leadership buy-in and ‘tell, tell and tell again’ are still key to successfully landing change. But perhaps it’s time for change to be understood, influenced and driven by all employees within an organisation, not just by leadership. And once an organisation embraces change and views it as a positive aspect of their culture – ‘change is the only constant’ will be words to live by and not feared.