How to become good at change.

Out of the 100 companies that topped the fortune 500 list at the beginning of the millennium only 41 are still represented today. In fact, only 10% of the original list, made in 1955, are still on it. Great companies come and go. But some seem better equipped to cope with changes than others. They have that ability to adapt. But what does that mean? And how can it be acquired? This paper explains the foundations to become good at change within the process ecosystem. The process ecosystem can help to quickly adapt change in new organization forms, so the company will be more resilient, agile and cost effective. This is key for future business success.

The Digitalisation Wave

Change - The digitalisation wave

Digitalisation is the process of converting information into a digital format. But there is much more happening than only an information conversion. An entire generation, so called millennials, has now grown up in a world that’s more and more experienced digitally. The use of mobile devices and social networking has become second nature to millennials. Their reliance on mobile communications and the desire to remain in contact with large networks is transforming work and consumption patterns. Digitalisation is transforming the way companies operate.

Change - Digitalisation is transforming the way companies operate

New revenue and value-producing opportunities based on the use of digital technologies have arisen. Modern technology allows for extensive automation of largely manual processes which will directly impact day to day work. The speed of digitalisation is increasingly shortening the cycle of innovation. The examples are plentiful; block chain, autonomous vehicles, virtual assistants, or predictive analytics to name a few. Further away on the horizon are potential technologies that reach the far end of imagination. Human augmentations, neuromorphic hardware and tiny sensors that can be deployed everywhere.

Companies need to transform into innovation driven organisations in order to keep up. They need to become good at change in order to stay in business!

The time it takes to change

Large and bureaucratic companies tend to have a slow ability to adapt. They are like oil tankers. Faced with company inertia they rely traditional pyramid based models to execute the new strategy. The time it takes for those ideas to dripple through to the operational layer hampers companies’ ability to innovate.

Change - The stronger the culture, the less corporate process a company needs

More and more companies excel on different organisational models. Companies like Netflix and Airbnb show that a culture of transparency and collaboration can be highly effective and far more adaptive. The stronger the culture, the less corporate process a company needs. In fact, the pyramid based companies will most likely lose against collaboration based models.

The process ecosystem

Translating strategy into day to day operations is one of the most difficult things to do. This is where the process ecosystem can be of benefit. A process ecosystem is a community of processes, tools and people in a particular business area that aims to deliver value generating services and products. The process ecosystem represents the way the business area operates and how it is interacting with its environment.

Change - The process ecosystem The aim of the process ecosystem is to gently evolve, not to revolutionise, towards the most productive set of processes for adapting the chances and challenges a company faces. The key word is gentle here. By trying to change everything all at once, managers often destroy crucial competencies, tear the fabric of social relationships that took years to weave, and disorient customers and employees alike.

It does not make sense to take years and years in designing large processes that form amorphic constructs that are inflexible and hard to manage. Processes need to be modular so when faced with new disruptors in the market or a fundamental change in technology it can be reconfigured.

But large companies do not have the luxury to start from scratch. They have significant legacy from earlier best practices. In the process ecosystem these process frameworks coevolve with a tendency towards a leading process framework.

That doesn’t mean that the old best practices have suddenly lost all value. These practices still coexist in day to day practices of company staff. The best practices need to be codeveloped rather than abruptly discontinued to form mutual beneficial symbiotic solutions. Use the process ecosystem to separate dynamic and stable components, identify where processes connect and define where to allow flexible innovation and where to standardise.

Change - Frameworks come and go, and there’s always a new one coming.

There are 3 areas to focus on to become more resilient.

  1. Process modelling
  2. Time to renew
  3. Collaborative culture

It’s important to understand that these process building-blocks should fluidly disjoint and reconnect depending on the state of the organisation. Do not rush towards new models, but take pride in the lessons learned from earlier implementations and adapt that. Frameworks come and go, and there’s always a new one coming.

Process modelling tools

Here are some of the models that can help you to understand the process ecosystem you are working in.

Change - Process modelling tools


A great way to describe a process is with the use of the SIPOC method. A SIPOC diagram is an effective tool for identifying all elements required for a process. It describes the Suppliers and Customers, the Input and Output of a Process that exists to transform something in order to deliver value.

The Value Stream Map (VSM)

Another tool that can be utilized is the value stream mapping technique that is used to document, analyse and improve the process flow required to deliver a service for a customer. It helps you to see and understand the flow of information as a service makes its way through the value stream. A value stream map takes into account not only the activity of the service, but also the management and information systems that support the basic process. This is especially helpful when working to reduce waste, because you gain insight into the decision-making flow in addition to the process flow.

The critical to quality tree

The importance of the relationship between customer requirements and the business components that help to deliver these requirements is understood with the use of the critical to quality tree. It helps to separate the critical parts that form the key measurable characteristics of a process whose performance standards must be met in order to satisfy the customer. They align improvement or design efforts with customer requirements.

Shorten the time it takes to renew processes

The prime force against process renewal is active inertia. Over time the actual purpose, the why we are doing this, is lost out of sight in lieu of day to day routines. Breaking the routines isn’t done too often and typically approached on an ad hoc basis. A team is formed with experts and managers, that come up with a set of improvements to implement. The team works to develop supporting tooling, reports, governance, training etc. This can be an arduous exercise with a lot of waste. It’s not uncommon for process maturation to take up to a year, even more. But time is scarce. Big companies fail because it takes too long to translate strategy into action. They should build up a capability to quickly create buy-in to adapt process flows, supporting tooling, reporting, governance structures and training of staff.

Foster a culture of collaboration and transparency

Change - Foster a culture of collaboration and transparency Culture can be a great driver for the success of your process ecosystem. It’s important to implement light weight processes in a collaborative and forgiving atmosphere. When guaranteed that a flawed design can be just as easily scrapped it will lower the barrier of adapting new ways of working. Try fast, fail fast. For this, an environment that encourages collaboration and transparency is crucial. It can provide both an inspiration for innovation and a source of competitive advantage. Any organisation that is able to master the process ecosystem based on a culture of collaboration and transparency will pave the way to become good at change.

About the Author

Michiel Hasselo Smits MSc BSc is an entrepreneur, IT service manager, and Lean black belt certificate holder. In his work Michiel focusses on organisations in transition. He has a passion for continuous improvement and operational excellence. Michiel, married to Monique, has a son and daughter (10 and 8 years old) graduated from the University of Amsterdam (M.A. Economics) and has been working in the IT industry since 1998.


Dianna Russo (2016) Will the rise of agile organisations cause the fall of pyramids? Blog

Donald Sull (1999) Why good companies go bad HBR

Heryati R (2015) The importance of company culture at Airbnb Blog

James F. Watts (1993) Predators and Prey: A New Ecology of Competition. HBR

Netflix (2017) Culture at Netflix corporate website

PEX network (2016) The future of operational excellence annual report

Tim Miller (2012) Why inertia kills companies Blog

Pictures 1, 2, 3, 4


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. I’m making these materials available with the intent to help organisations and individuals to build valuable, people friendly services. Please feel encouraged to contact us for questions, suggestions and observations.

One thought on “How to become good at change.

  1. Good read, and a necessary realization for companies which are stuck in their own rigidity.
    It’s interesting to see how large companies try to cope with the ever-changing demand of consumers, especially when it involves the digital advancement. Few factors in the last decade made such a big influence on large and small businesses alike; to such an extent that social media and continuous accessibility to data could make them succeed just as easily as breaking them entirely.

    I’ve seen companies struggle with this. Adapting is hard, and like you’ve mentioned in your article it requires swift implementation to keep up with the demand, as well as subtlety to prevent them from undoing their own progress.
    In the last few years, I’ve seen this result into massive scale changes or reorganizations within large companies all over the globe, as an attempt to quickly adapt to its ever-changing strategy at the cost of operational efficiency and effectively killing its adaptive traits through the aftermath of their own doing.

    The sweet spot between subtle change and keeping up with ( or even staying ahead of) the progress differs for each organization, of which in some cases I can imagine it does not exist at all. Through this, I’m not surprised that companies rise and fall just as fast as humankind advances.

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