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Defence transformation: getting UK defence fit for the future

Against the backdrop of ongoing transformation in the UK defence community, the Materiel Strategy announced by the UK Government in 2011 and the defence white paper are the latest responses to the long-standing and difficult challenge of achieving an affordable and sustainable defence capability.

The success of these initiatives will depend, in part, on how the defence community responds to the need for change (which is being driven both by internal forces such as the budgetary shortfall and need to restructure as well as wider economic developments) and is able to deliver the transformationrequired.

Defence, however, is not the only sector to be experiencing profound change and there are valuable insights to be drawn from other industries.

PA’s experience from working across the private sector and the findings of our recent survey on managing uncertainty show that successful organisations are quick to recognise the need to change, are not constrained by totems and taboos, and reposition or reinvent themselves in response to new challenges and opportunities.

Recognising the need to change

Recognising that things have changed is not always easy. Our Managing Uncertainty survey, which asked over 200 leaders worldwide about how they had responded to the financial crisis, shows that it took most organisations over a year to recognise the seriousness of the situation and a further six months to work out how to respond.

Yet those organisations that made quick decisions thought they made the right decisions and showed better returns for shareholders in the three years following the initial signs of the crisis. Those that took decisions slowly tended to think they had made poor decisions.

Removing the constraints of totems and taboos

Rapid response to change requires agility. Our experience shows that an organisation’s lack of agility can stem in part from what we call ‘ totems and taboos’. A totem is an idea that cannot be questioned and a taboo is a question that cannot be asked.

All sorts of ideas can become totems and taboos within an organisation, including beliefs about the business model (‘every customer is valuable’) or about individuals’ powers (‘the board is always right’). Such totems and taboos then hold back change, as did Kodak’s erroneous belief that digital photography was just a niche market.

However, these totems and taboos can be changed or even eradicated with the right leadership that focuses on evidence; creates a culture where diversity of perspective and contrary views are welcome; and brings in new leadership or ideas from outside.

Repositioning or reinventing to adapt to the new environment

In response to the financial crisis, agile companies have already reconfigured their customer proposition and experience to target the priorities of the new consumer. For example, Hyundai started selling cars with a money back guarantee in the event that customers lost their jobs and, while its competitors saw sales drop dramatically, Hyundai’s increased. Similarly, UK supermarket Waitrose launched the ‘Essential Waitrose’ line – high-quality products at mid-range prices – to ensure that trading down does not take customers outside the store.

Looking at the actions taken by organisations and at their financial performance, our Managing Uncertainty survey shows clearly that the most successful companies viewed the financial crisis as an opportunity rather than just a threat and repositioned themselves in response. Those organisations that reinvented themselves did so by improving their competitive intelligence; seeking frank opinions from outsiders and employees; learning from failure; and changing the time horizons of their thinking.

To find out more about managing uncertainty in defence industry or how PA can help the defence community get fit for the future, please contact us now.

Nick Newman
Defence and security
contact us now
Ritu Sharma
Defence and security
contact us now

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