Businesses everywhere perpetuate totally redundant processes or roles, sometimes oblivious, but occasionally fully aware, of their total uselessness or even counter-productivity. Most organisations have a few such processes in their closet, a few are founded on them, but none of these businesses will survive in the digital economy. The purpose of business transformation is to eradicate this kind of inefficiency and make businesses fit for the new paradigm.

If you live in the UK you’ll know that the National Heath Service, which we present to the world as an example of why Britain is great, is an organisation on the critical list. In many ways, a dead man walking, yet being allowed to believe that increasing subsidy by taxpayers will cover the cost of the ineptitude.

The factors contributing to this condition fall into two categories. On one hand we have a clear lack of focus, obvious in the obsession the service has for delivering non-essential treatment, often to people who could pay for it. To me, the NHS’s primary role is to sustain life. Everything else is a bonus, yet, sadly we are a nation conditioned to believe we have some entitlement, so until the NHS’s purpose is clearly defined, we won’t even be able to make a start on addressing this issue. The other set of problems, though more fundamental, are more readily addressed. They emanate from the utter failure of the organisation to create the kind of joined-up thinking necessary to establish an efficient end-to-end process. This is about silos, lack of team culture and vested interests.

Twice recently I have experienced an unbelievably convoluted NHS process involving, in one example, numerous phone calls, to a number of NHS employees, who collected the same information from me five times over the period of about an hour in total, all, simply, to make an appointment. A clear disconnect between siloed departments that would be instantly resolved by the simplest of CRM platforms, a little focus and at least some level of commitment

It’s obvious the NHS has gone about as far as any organisation could do without transforming. Certainly, the service can claim some decidedly noteworthy achievements, but this does nothing more than prove there is good in even the worst situations. The measure of a successful organisation is the balance of its achievements and failures. When, as I believe is the case with the NHS, the balance swings towards the failures, it’s time to pull your head from the sand and fix the situation.

The NHS’s procrastination is fuelled by a lack of motivation. The private sector knows that the real world is getting tougher. Our customers are demanding more, because they know switched-on businesses can deliver, while prices and therefore margins are under pressure. The only way private enterprises can deal with this is to increase efficiency. In stark contrast, public sector managers’ instinctively seek more funding or throw their toys out of the pram accompanied by claims of “unreasonable demands”.

Although the digital revolution is providing the tools required, people in both public and private sectors continue to invent jobs technology has already rendered totally unnecessary. However, the private sector firms are starting to realise that the key to resolving this and the other barriers to efficiency is brand. A lesson the public sector is slow to pick up.

To understand how this works you firstly have to accept that brands are communities of people who share values and beliefs and logos are the badges that represent them. Badges that we wear with pride to denote our belonging.

At the heart of every brand lies a promise. Often unspoken, sometimes undefined, but always assumed, this identifies what the brand stands for, how being a member will affect your life, its purpose. Business leaders I introduce this thought to often jump to the conclusion that this is a device whose purpose is tied up in communications to customers. They are not wrong, but this is far from being the complete picture.

Customer acquisition is difficult and expensive. No organisation can afford to waste that investment and to entice a prospect to your business without being absolutely certain that the experience will meet their expectation is a waste. They will reject you and it will cost you one hundred times as much to entice them back as it did to bring them in the first place. To address that you must start developing your brand by aligning your resources to your promise. When identifying your target audience, therefore, your segments must include employees, partners and suppliers as well as customers, prospects and distributors and your campaign starts with employees.

Another common mistake of brand builders is to assume that the changes the organisation needs will be made in the boardroom. In fact, changes in any business of any size are made on the shop floor. Transformation won’t be as smooth as it needs to be, if it happens at all, unless your workforce are committed to it. Indeed, they are usually the people designing the new processes, introducing the initiatives and certainly making it all happen.

Your brand model, in particular the promise it enshrines, is the key to getting your employees on-side and should form the focus of an intensive internal marketing campaign. Your brand promise provides the focus for your workforce, their objective. Once they understand what they are aiming for and commit to playing their part in realising it, they will work out how they need to adapt their role in order to make their contribution most efficiently.

This is where the NHS is going wrong. With so many employees the NHS represents quite a challenge, but a response his essential. The organisation will need high levels of specialist skills, many well outside their current resource, to pull it off, but failure isn’t an option.

As things stand the organisation doesn’t have a clear objective (promise), probably because politicians are pandering to numerous pressure groups and we all know that most transformations fail because those at the top of the organisation aren’t totally as one. So, this has to be the priority. It works the same way – decide on the objective and then market it from the top, even if this amounts to managing upwards, then slowly trickle down through the organisation until everyone concerned with delivering the promise is committed to playing their part in achieving it. Only then will you be able to start making the changes necessary to align the organisation behind its promise and only when that is done should you take that promise to market.

Until the public sector starts to think as those in private enterprise the organisations it embraces will remain inefficient. So far the inefficiencies have been accommodated by subsidy, but voters are beginning to realise this and will refuse demands for more of their money, just as they have refused to pay for products that are over-priced or offer poor value. The gravy train is running out of rail and things need to happen fast.

First published on LinkedIn September 2017

Phil Darby
August 3, 2018

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