Lessons from Health & Fitness: creating sustainable business change

Posted by Laura Mattin on June 23, 2015

health and sustainable change

Is it me or does it feel like everyone is on a bit of a health kick at the moment?  

Part of it is the time of year – the thought of getting into your swimwear and on to the beach is enough to persuade even the most reluctant person to get their trainers on – but it does feel like more is going on. It seems people are genuinely making healthier choices on a regular basis and are planning to live better in the long-term, rather than just for their annual two weeks in the sun.

It’s got me wondering what’s brought this about. I think there are probably loads of factors at play here: increased awareness of the problems of obesity; more participative (rather than competitive) sports events, such as wolf runs, cycling events and 10Ks; better promoted, accessible role models; the London 2012 factor; social media making it easier to share the experience and encourage others. These things are all helping to make being active and eating healthier something that people want to do rather than something they feel they should do. I am seeing this sustained approach to health from people all around me, of all ages and varying lifestyles.

But I think there’s something else… My own interest in becoming more active and healthy (this is a relative concept; I am no Jessica Ennis!) has been partly about time. Most people acknowledge that there’s not enough of it in a day, a week, a life – we could all do with more time. But as you can’t actually make time in a literal sense, I think many people are just trying to make better use of the time that’s available to them, and improve the quality of the ways that they spend their time. So, cycling a short journey that you would have previously done by car might take a bit longer, but it feels like a better way of spending the time. Going to an exercise class at the gym takes an hour out of your evening, but instead of sitting in front of the TV from 7pm, you get home at 8pm then do a few jobs and watch the telly at 9pm – you’ve immediately made more of the time you have (unless gorging the latest box-set was what you wanted to do with your evening – and I’m all for that on my nights off as well!).

A healthier lifestyle can make you more productive at work too; you know you need to leave the office by 5.30pm so you have time to get out for your run – it’s amazing how much more efficiently you’ll be working for that last couple of hours in the working day compared to how you would be if you were free to stay until 7pm.

I don’t mean this blog to sound like one of those awful evangelical posts that try and tell you how to live your life. I just find it interesting how this kind of phenomenon comes about and what changes something from a quick-fix fad to a sustainable way of life…

It was this last point that got me thinking about how you can create sustainable business change, rather than transforming for the short term, only to need to do so again in a couple of years’ time.

I think it’s partly about the time point above: if your reasons for wanting to change are long-term (quality of life and making best use of your time in the health analogy; delivering long-term customer value and creating a sustainably successful enterprise in the business world), rather than short-term (getting in shape for your holiday, or dealing with a work crisis/meeting some externally-set KPIs), then your whole way of approaching that change is different.

In the context of the workforce management challenges that our customers face, we see this kind of problem fairly often. The desire for change is driven by a need to complete a project, or implement some new technology, and deliver the quoted financial benefits, when the whole thing would probably be much more successful if the focus was on improving the overall experience of being in business, providing services to customers etc (ie the holistic, long-term view). Of course, we know life isn’t generally like that and it’s an idealistic view, but hey, it can’t hurt to dream.

And going back to the health parallel, there are practical steps you can take to create sustainable business change:

  • Get started – it’s a cliché, but putting off until tomorrow what you can start doing today is probably the surest way of creating the sense that your goal is unattainable; even if it’s in a low-key way, start doing something
  • Get inspired – this is the equivalent of all those Twitter and Instagram pics of your mates in their lycra. To get motivated, take a look outside your own organisation at what others are doing and how they’re succeeding
  • Share your goals – communicate a clear vision for the change; most projects do this once at the beginning and then put it away in a drawer until near the end when they realise that a lot of the scope and assumptions have moved. Keep your vision alive, keep talking about it and keep sharing it so that your people know where they’re headed and what the ultimate benefits will be
  • Get the right kit – just like exercise, business transformation can only really be effective when you have the right equipment to support it. That doesn’t mean all the latest gadgets and systems, but it does mean investing in the right tools to help you get there faster
  • Measure your progress in small, incremental steps rather than big leaps – yes, you’ll have the ultimate vision in mind, but you can still celebrate the smaller successes along the way. This will create momentum for the change and make the whole process more enjoyable.
  • Remember the long-term benefits – whilst quantitative benefits are useful and easy to measure, don’t forget the qualitative benefits of what you’re trying to achieve. This will create an emotional buy-in that’s difficult to replicate with numbers and KPIs.
  • Get support – this is not a shameless plug for our services (ok, well maybe it is!); but it’s genuinely difficult to create a long-term change if you try and go it alone. You need support from those around you and possibly, some expert advice; this is where Leadent can help.

We’d love to help if you want to make your workforce transformation a lifestyle change rather than a fast fad. Now, where did I leave my trainers?…