Tribal Group Blog

Tribal Group Blog

Transformation Change - Running a Foundation phase

Posted by Chris Davies on May 19, 2016

In our last transformation post, we looked at the benefit of having a clear vision and strategy for change.  The second stage of our transformation journey focuses on turning that vision into something concrete.  We call this phase ‘Foundation’ – as it provides the firm base on which to build your change programme.

We recommend this phase for two reasons:
  • First, to create a clear design against which to define detailed change activities. Visions are too high-level to plan against, and without a good idea of what, specifically, is being created, programmes can quickly lose their way.
  • Second – and as important - to engage the organisation further, and build commitment to the future. One of the biggest problems programmes face is implementing a solution when key people feel like they haven’t been involved in its design.  A well-run Foundation phase gives everyone the chance to voice their views, and the programme team an opportunity to reflect those views in their plans.

Running a Foundation Phase

Achieving these two objectives comes not only from thinking about what you do during a Foundation Phase, but also how you carry it out.

To develop the design, we recommend creating a map of what your future organisation looks like if it is to meet the Vision.  We find that a Target Operating Model is a good way of bringing all the information together into an easily understood whole.

Our standard Target Operating Model for Higher Education

Foundation model

To put this model together, we look at:

  • Process – how the organisation will work in practice in the future, particularly looking at it from a student perspective
  • People – how the organisation will be structured, who will be working within it, with which skills, and which roles they will have
  • Technology – the systems that will enable those people to apply those processes

For as full a picture as possible, however, Foundation should also consider the wider context that define how these elements work in practice:

  • Strategy – does the programme vision complement the overall organisational strategy, and do either need to adapt?
  • Governance – does the way the organisation is controlled need to change in order to make this model work?
  • Culture – as important as any process definition – what organisational culture is needed to meet the programme vision, and how does that compare to the existing culture?

Bringing all of these together into a comprehensive design gives organisations the chance first to check that every aspect of the organisation has been considered, and second to make sure it all hangs together as a coherent whole.

This model acts as the basis of a good implementation plan, as it gives you a clear view of what needs to change across the university.  In particular, it encourages you to focus on everything that needs to happen in the programme – avoiding, for instance, the old trap of expecting new IT to change organisational culture all by itself.  This also helps you to identify the scale of change involved, which is important when thinking about your capacity to manage change.

If that’s the what, how about the how? How should you approach a Foundation phase?  Although the work of preparing this model can be done in a small group, or by the programme team in isolation, the gold standard is to develop the model collaboratively with people from across the organisation.   This gives you the engagement we mentioned earlier.

Critically, it helps you understand their specific requirements and concerns, before you get into detailed solution design.  We therefore recommend engaging  in robust debate with people from across your institution, identifying priorities and preferences, and taking this as an opportunity to expose conflicts.  To resolve the conflicts, focus on the programme benefits, always translating these into terms that are relevant to your stakeholders.  Doing this helps you to build consensus, and identify where there are likely to be challenges during the implementation.

Sometimes programmes get nervous about getting into this conflict early on.  But you will have these conflicts anyway: better to clear as many as possible before you start, and plan for those you can’t resolve, so they don’t derail the programme overall.

Foundation phases are particularly common when institutions are implementing major new IT systems.  We worked with one university doing just this, and which wanted to use a new student management system as a tool to drive a whole-organisation transformation.  We worked with them to clarify the vision, which put the focus on creating an institution whose ways of working made it a more attractive choice for students.  That meant not only thinking about student-facing processes, and how the new system could support those, but also what it meant for the way processes, organisational structure and technology supported the staff, so they were able to provide as good a service as possible to the students.  Through a series of workshops with staff from across the university, we developed a Target Operating Model that aligned university strategy with operational priorities and practical staff experience – coming up with a future design that would make the most of the new student management system, and provide structure and coherence to the implementation.

Having a strong Foundation is essential to any project.  Once you have one, you can move on to the subject of the next post – kicking off implementation properly.

Topics: Higher Education

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Written by Chris Davies

Chris Davies is Tribal’s Director for Transformational Change. He has over 17 years’ experience designing and leading Transformation programmes, in higher education and more widely - in sectors as diverse as the NHS, policing, defence and hi-tech manufacturing. He is currently helping a number of UK universities make the most of their investment in Tribal’s SITS:Vision student management system, looking at how people, process and organisation change can complement new technology.