We’ve all seen a transformation program fail or go off the rails. Although difficult, now more than ever, our organisations need to successfully transform. That’s because despite the massive disruption we’ve collectively experienced over the last several years, we’ve not yet reached “peak change.” Global forces such as Artificial Intelligence, the Climate Crisis, technological change and geo-political pressures will continue to significantly impact our organisations. These and other forces will challenge established business models and require executives to lead transformation.
Three key components must be present for successful transformation. The first is the identification of disruptive forces, which could mean opportunity or threat. Next is the crafting of strategy in response. Finally, and most importantly, successful implementation of change, because unless you take action, nothing happens. The ability to deliver great change – and by ‘great’ I mean material and significant for the organisation, and simultaneously engaging and energising for the individual leading it – must now be part of every leader’s skillset. However, despite the continued pressure to change, Machiavelli was right: leading transformation isn’t easy. It never has been. Here are five things that’ll give your program the best chance of success.
#1 – Do the Work – Personal commitment of the leader.
There’s no substitute for you getting out in front and personally leading the transformation. The public symbolism of your commitment will provide a foundation for success via the motivation to succeed and implement the changes required, whilst also attracting the best talent to work on the program. Leadership of change and driving the transformation is not something you can outsource to someone else. So do the work and be seen to do the work.
#2 – Make Decisions – Choose, own and communicate a clear strategy.
You have to make a decision, which means committing to a choice. This is the essence of strategy because you simply cannot do everything. Every organisation, no matter how large, will eventually run out of resources or capacity. You therefore must choose the two or three things that most matter. Beware of having too many priorities, and instead use the language of ranking. There can only be one thing at the very top of the list. Your strategy also has to be so clear you can communicate it in a sentence or two, and sufficiently compelling to build engagement and excitement in others. This is no time to sit on the fence.
#3 – Build the Team – Get the right people.
Transformation leaders are judged by the company they keep, and the people you select for the team will be the most important determinant of success. When building the team look for temperament (curious & collaborative) and skills (experienced in change). Choose the people who believe in the organisation and want to make a material contribution to its future success. Be aware of the ‘losers’ who’ll see their power and influence decline, the ‘traditionalists’ who can’t imagine their industry working differently, and the ‘wimps’ who simply can’t conceive taking on the professional risk associated with leading change. Most critically, be prepared to move on those not suitable. “I wish I’d kept the incompetent white-ant executive longer,” said no one ever.
#4 – Be Thorough – Follow a proven methodology and approach.
Leading transformation requires a thorough approach to pulling different and complementary levers – such as business process, technology, organisation structure, people and culture and facilities – that will actually effect real change. You need to change the fundamental way that work happens and resist the temptation to simply automate what happens now. Also be sure to link the transformation outcomes that you seek to the delivery of hard-nosed shareholder value drivers.
#5 – Keep Score – Use KPIs to align and provide regular feedback.
You must be able to measure and track what you’re trying to achieve. Acknowledge the difference between managing business as usual operations and leading transformation. This requires getting the right measures in place to demonstrate achievement of the transformation goals. Use these KPIs to set clear expectations, and to hold yourself and others to account.
Leading transformation, while difficult, at times stressful, and requiring lots of hard work, will not be a punish. I guarantee that it’ll be exciting, rewarding and engaging. And let’s face it, your organisation probably needs transformation, and needs it right now.
Written by Adam Bennett.
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