Change from within

“Why do we work this way?” “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it!”

The safe answer to the inquisitive question. Sadly though, the “safe” approach doesn’t win new markets, engineer new products or reduce the cost/income ratio.

The consultant frequently asks this question during the investigative stage of any given project. The stock answer serves as a red rag, a danger sign, a warning bell, a need to “check it out”. It is often the response of the less engaged, the poorly informed or the “don’t care” minority who invest little in their work. The consultant will see this as a challenge and for the internal practitioner, a sure sign of success is to hear a more measured response when the question is asked again – on completion of the project in progress.

For the external consultant, this personal approbation of a job well done is seldom received as they are invariably off on their next project with another company. For the internal consultant however, it is the continuity and the hope that recognition will be forthcoming that is critical.

There will be times when a future project is initiated directly as a consequence of favourable comment in the hearing of potential sponsors.

The rewards for the company and the internal consultancy of a job well done are thus manifold and mutually beneficial in terms of output, culture and reinforcement of desired behaviour.

A prime responsibility of the Internal Consultancy Group within Abbey National’s Financial and Investment Services Division (ANFIS) in Glasgow, is that we challenge the “safe” elements within the business. Another role is to meet the need of an evolving organisation in managing corporate change and facilitating an expanding business base, to move the company from one stage of the development cycle to the next, from a “safe” environment through the unknown to a new challenging domain. To manage change in those processes upon which the business is dependant, through investigation, analysis, synthesis and reorganisation. To chart new processes for new business, support a changing salesforce, maximise effective use of technology and provide policyholders with a consistently high level of service.

The ANFIS consultants “learned their trade” in a number of environments, such as banking, computing, O&M, before being brought together in the embryonic reengineering team, in 1995. This diversity of experience and expertise has been brought to bear on a number of core processes within the business, with the stated purpose of designing and delivering a procedure for tomorrow, borne out of examining today’s practices and critiquing those of yesterday. A programme of knowledge transfer was undertaken with external consultants and after a successful trial, the ANFIS team has worked unaided on a variety of executive driven initiatives and honed its skills along the way.

It is our experience that in day to day administration the old premise that the disciple is never recognised in his own town is frequently true and that when solutions to local problems are offered up from the shopfloor, they can fall on the ears of less than attentive line management. But for the internal consultant, credibility is crucial. They must establish themselves as a corporate resource, recognised as professional, impartial and above all as the first port of call when there is a problem to be resolved requiring an independent approach.

In late 1994 the prognosis for future ANFIS sales was good but without overhauling the company’s underlying processes, coping manually with the expected paper avalanche would be too costly. These were lessons learned from the personal pension explosion of the late ’80s. To achieve significant impact in the processing and servicing of new business we required extensive analysis of the “we’ve-always-done-it-that-way” approach. A vision document was written and the executive signed up to a continuous programme to bring about the necessary changes. To undertake the required analysis and redesign, the internal consultancy team was established in early 1995 and came to be one of the principal ingredients in the evolution of Abbey National’s Life Division.

Sponsorship by the chief executive is a well played out success or failure element in studies of reengineering initiatives. Within ANFIS executive support has been crucial. To circulate within the intended area of study, a copy of the agreed terms of reference with the chief executive’s name along side “sponsor”, sends a strong signal that assistance is not only expected but that the individual “boss” is accountable. Equally, regular reporting to the sponsor is important and ensures that there are no unpleasant surprises at the moment of delivery. However, no matter how high the sponsorship of the investigative work might be, it is when the baton passes to the business sponsor, that the practicalities of progressing the project’s recommendations in the face of the day to day workload can seem insurmountable and it is here that the consultant’s role in reshaping and selling the value of the change is paramount.

Within the team there is no argument with the fundamentals of all consultancy undertakings, ie the need to listen, to document, to think freely in the analysis stage, to rationalise, to take pragmatic decisions and to recommend action. However, it is at this point that the ANFIS consultants step back leaving the “business” free to implement the next changes; providing the project leader, creating an implementation plan, recruiting resources and building the solution. Inevitably, the past few years have seen many different levels of success with projects brought to the business, since the difficulties of implementing accepted recommendations is often commensurate with the criticality of the process and the risk of failure in that service.

One resounding success was the revised Product Development Process which was adopted wholeheartedly. This new process promotes six steps from the initial “glint-in-the-eye”, to the project review and although it was not rocket science, it was a more ordered approach to product design and launches with emphasis being given to process, structure, co-ordination and most especially, follow-up reviews.

It is in the final stages of the project development process that the internal consultants really come into their own. Reviews of implementation are de rigueur in ANFIS; polite but constant. The sponsor’s involvement does not end with the acceptance of the project report and, as there may not be an immediate business response, time delays can weaken resolve and cloud understanding. The consultant, however, stays on top of this situation by regularly meeting with the implementation team for feed back and guidance, where required. Resource may also be seconded to facilitate the start-up implementation stage of the project.

Additionally, there is a communication process with colleagues working in the business environment. Current process steps are captured and validated away from the processors’ desks, redesigned, discussed and analysed, prior to presentation to the sponsor. Business buy-in is of course, fundamental to a successful conclusion.

The role of the internal consultant now is to act as an “ideas bank”, formulating, gestating and birthing new processes but leaving the business to adopt and raise the project to adulthood. It is essential that the team takes advantage of external networking opportunities in order to keep up to date with developments. Such a contact is also maintained through the Institute of Management Consultancy (IMC). As employees of an IMC Organisational Affiliate, ANFIS consultants meet others at seminars and discussion groups, to share knowledge and experiences with like-minded people. This complements other learning activities such as the extensive reading of a wide range of periodicals, researching the Internet, brainstorming and networking within the larger Abbey National Group of businesses.

The continued respect of the ANFIS internal consultants’ abilities is paramount to their bringing managed change to an expanding and successful business. The number and criticality of the business referrals to us is a testimony to both the quality of intervention and the scale of the need.

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