During a transformation, it is not uncommon for several workstreams to want employees to behave differently, either by changing the way they work or adding new tasks altogether. However, left uncoordinated, the many initiatives are likely to overlap with their requests and overwhelm groups of employees and, potentially, even vendors and customers. You can’t allow that to happen.
The best way to avoid this situation is to establish what is called Air-Traffic Control (ATC). Put simply, the ATC has the responsibility to (i) identify the availability of each bottleneck team (those with significant expected behavior changes but limited availability), (ii) map all requests reaching the different bottleneck teams, (iii) help prioritize requests in coordination with the Transformation Office, and (iv) review and approve the communication to be sent to the different groups.
Identify the availability of each bottleneck team All employees have a similar capacity when they start their week - about 40 hours. However, there are a number of activities that they must complete as part of their jobs. When all is said and done, the actual availability they have for transformation efforts will be much smaller than that original number. The ATC’s job is to figure out the actual capacity for each part of the organization that will be a bottleneck and to manage that capacity wisely. Bottleneck may be perceived as a negative term, but that is not the intent here; rather, it is simply to call out the real limitations that these critical teams face when asked to change the way they work given the limited available time to receive and act on those requests. Of course, this is easier said than done given the number of ways people choose to do their jobs, but the ATC must be on top of it. It won’t do you any good to ask the sales team to attend a training on a new pricing methodology, pilot a new consultative sales approach, and push for a new type of promotion all while demanding they hit the same weekly targets as before. The transformation will be perceived as disjointed and disconnected from reality, undermining your efforts from the get-go. Worse yet: you won’t be able to clearly determine whether any of the initiatives has any real merit given the amount of noise introduced in the organization.
Map all requests reaching the different bottleneck teams Once the ATC has a handle on the availability of all bottleneck teams, it needs to turn its attention to mapping all requests coming from the different transformation teams and from other parts of the organization. The core business will be competing for the same amount of attention bottleneck teams have available, so the ATC must include them in the conversations. This will also force all teams to develop a much better understanding of what it takes to implement their requests. How much time they need for communicating, training, and for the new behaviors to be implemented will become of paramount importance to inform the ATC. There are two best practices you should implement early on in this process: ● Stop all direct communications to the bottleneck teams - except the ones coming from the ATC. This way, you can ensure that the requesting teams will follow the new approach, and that the ATC will be empowered to do its job. ● Create a calendar for the requests. In order to do their job well, the ATC must have visibility on all requests early on. Communicate the calendar with the deadlines for the requesting teams. There will be activities, like a full-blown pilot, that should request time months in advance, while others, like a communication meant to inform, may be sent with a few days of notice. Let the ATC decide the ideal cadence. And, of course, exceptions are ok - as long as they don’t become the rule.
Help prioritize requests in coordination with the Transformation Office Let me tell you a secret: the ATC won’t be winning any popularity contests in your organization. Leaders will try their best to push for their initiatives and will be frustrated when they hear an answer they won’t like. Take those as a sign that the ATC is doing its job. Of course, the ATC won’t prioritize the initiatives alone, nor in an arbitrary way - it will be working directly with the Transformation Office to focus on the most important initiatives for the transformation and core business. This work is essential for the success of the transformation, since it will directly impact value capture. Value capture won’t happen when teams are ready to roll their approaches out; rather, it will happen only after bottleneck teams have the capacity to absorb the work. Very often, this causes “unexpected” value capture delays for the people with less experience in large transformations.
Review and approve the communication sent to the different bottleneck teams It is common for each person to have a unique style of communication: some may take a more assertive approach, while others may send long emails without a clear call to action. While that might be ok in your organization, more likely than not, bottleneck teams would prefer a more standardized communication. They already receive so many different emails from a multitude of stakeholders, and every new “style” ends up slowing them down (even more so because some people don’t write clearly nor concisely). Let the ATC figure out the approaches that work best. For instance, it may ask teams to quickly call out whether their communication is meant to inform or to ask for an action. If asking for an action, it may require teams to clearly specify the target audience, the expected change, and the deadline. Only then would the requesting teams be able to provide detail on the rationale for the changes. The ATC should also review and approve the final communications to be sent out, and to send them back to the requesting teams when their submission is not good enough. This way, the ATC can help your entire organization communicate more clearly to each other, removing a lot of the back and forth among different groups.
The ATC will play a critical role for the success of your transformation. While it won’t be winning any popularity contests, it will ensure that the company rolls out only what bottleneck teams can absorb, giving your teams a real chance to succeed. If you are in a large organization, you should consider making the ATC permanent even after the transformation ends to coordinate all other projects you plan on pursuing within your organization.