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Helping Executives Do Change Right the First Time

Be it culture change initiatives and M&A, digital transformation, or organizational structure overhauls, studies frequently reveal that the outcomes of business transformation projects are often far from optimum – yet companies continue to invest in change management. According to Ewan Main, Co-Founder and CEO of global change consultancy Daggerwing Group, many leaders have been trying for years to make change happen without seeing plans turn into reality.

Main and his global team are on a mission to help companies break the cycle of failure in change management. Their proven methods are tied to both business principles and universal behavioral insights on why people do and do not change – and then they use those insights to design and execute plans to make change happen and make it stick. Following is the conversation that ManageHR had with Main.

Your company’s mantra is, “Do change right the first time.” What is that all about?

Daggerwing has been around for more than 20 years, primarily working with leaders of Fortune 500 firms. By the time we get brought in, the leaders are often frustrated or discouraged from past failed experiences in transformation. They want more than a strategy document and spreadsheet; they want a partner that knows how to change the mindsets and behaviors of thousands of employees – quickly and sustainably. We understand that real change only happens when the people inside the company are ready to make the change happen, and if you focus on the psychology of change, you can design and execute a plan that makes change happen right the first time and makes it last.

What are the factors that usually lead to the failure of change initiatives? 

One of the biggest reasons why change initiatives fail is the lack of clear, detailed alignment at the Executive level. We’ve seen situations where companies start implementing something big – like a CX transformation or a new operating model – but if you check in with various C-Suite leaders, they all have a different idea about what success looks like. That’s a recipe for failure. Even more critically, executive team leaders often don’t have a shared way of looking at business challenges through the lens of their employees – the ones who really have to make change happen.

One of the ways Daggerwing has become such a secret weapon of CEOs over the years is the intense way we bring diverse C-Suite stakeholders together and get them to agree on the specific vision for change, where the gaps are from a business and people perspective, and the priorities they will holistically address. Global companies in automotive, technology, food and beverage, and pharma have benefitted from our executive alignment process, and it has been critical in getting change right the first time.

You described Daggerwing as a Secret Weapon of CEOs, why is that? 

Great CEOs are impatient visionaries. They know where they want to take the company, but they don’t like the time and effort involved in the process – to make change happen. Many of our greatest client case studies are linked to the arrival of a new CEO who doesn’t just want to turn the recovery around fast; they need it to last. That’s where we come in. The hardest part of change is people – because aside from the CHRO, most executive team members are not experts on changing the behavior of their own people. We know every CEO’s growth agenda is tied to the success of employee and customer behavior change – and so we work with our clients to make widespread behavior change a habit that becomes embedded in the day-to-day culture – and not just a project.

What’s different about Daggerwing that you want leaders to know? 

That’s a very timely question. We recently commissioned research among global buyers of change management consulting, and they told us three things: They know change is hard and expect it to fail, it is not an enjoyable process, and they often pick partners not based on the best fit or best solution, but the perceived lowest risk option.

In all cases, Daggerwing Group shows up differently. We don’t finish with a shiny presentation; we work shoulder to shoulder with clients to deliver a strategy that is fully executed. In fact, we’re usually there with clients end-to-end until their own people have become advocates and drivers of change.

Working with Daggerwing to design a successful change program has to be as meaningful and engaging an experience for leaders as the eventual rollout of the change program is for employees. Here’s an example. Recently we worked with an Executive team who was looking to transform the culture to drive business growth. We could have just delivered our research on employee issues and perceptions in a PowerPoint presentation. But instead, we turned it into an intense experience. We brought Executives into a walkthrough of an employee insights gallery – a room where the walls were filled with quotes from employees, and they all wore headsets listening to the worries and aspirations of real employees in their own words. This was an incredibly rapid and effective way to mobilize Executives to come together to deliver a strategy for culture. Not only that, this client has subsequently seen a positive change in employee KPIs tied to business growth.

What do you think are the challenges ahead for HR leaders in 2021?

In 2020, HR leaders really solidified their place as the CEO’s partner in connecting people strategy and business strategy, but they were spread incredibly thin, reacting to so many external forces. In 2021, we believe HR leaders will need to work with the entire executive team to prioritize and focus on one or two critical initiatives – which could be massive change areas such as DEI, hybrid models for where and how people work, and revamping the total talent strategy. It will be key to make sure these are Enterprise priorities with C-Suite alignment, not just seen as HR initiatives.

Ewan is the Chairman & Co-Founder of Daggerwing Group. Executives at client firms have benefited from Ewan’s practical, hands-on approach to helping senior teams make rapid decisions, set priorities and take action to fuel faster growth through accelerated customer and employee behavior change. Building on a career history in global executive management roles and entrepreneurship, Ewan applies a unique perspective on the challenges Executives face in developing one coordinated approach to the drivers of business performance: delivering the brand promise to customers at an enterprise level, activating corporate culture to improve business results, realigning the organization’s structure and processes to adapt to constant change, and engaging and equipping employees to impact value delivered to customers.