Top 10 tips to overcoming the biggest transformation risks

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Karen Thomas-Bland, founder of Intelligent Transformation Partners, explores the 10 most significant factors to pay attention to to ensure your transformation is a success.

It is well documented that most efforts to transform corporate performance don’t succeed, and the pandemic has made them much more necessary and challenging.

Suppose you are embarking on or rejuvenating a transformation and want to deliver rapid and dramatic performance improvements as a CTO or C-suite leader. In that case, there are ways to maximise the chance of your transformation effort succeeding.

From delivering transformation programmes over the last 24 years, there are 10 factors in my experience that stack the odds in your favour of your transformation delivering on the objectives set out.

1. Your transformation ambition needs to be bold and courageous

Now is not the time to be timid. Companies that a year ago rejected strategies for being too disruptive are now finding they have not been disruptive enough. Any ambition for your transformation needs to really stretch performance, you need to see a big upside, and to some extent, it needs to feel unachievable from your starting point. Leveraging board members, advisors and investors is good as they can be great catalysts in raising management ambitions.

2. There is a robust value case around all your value creation levers

Any transformation needs to have a business case where you have quantified the value from all of your plan’s transformation initiatives. They are set up to deliver the value you expect. This is about asking, ‘If we achieved the value case, would it positively impact the performance trajectory of the entire business?’ Like ambition, the value case should be a big-stretch goal, one that will take an enormous amount of energy, effort, passion, and skill to deliver.

3. The transformation is a top priority on your organisation’s agenda

Transformations need to be prioritised and absorb a significant amount of leadership time. If your transformation is not in the top set of priorities for the organisation, it risks not receiving the time and attention it deserves. The acid test is, ‘Have you worked through and reconciled your portfolio of activities and actively stopped, reprioritised, or refocussed initiatives that don’t ladder up to your transformation ambition and value case? If the headroom hasn’t been created upfront, it will feel like just another ‘add on’ to an existing set of initiatives.

4. The Board, ExCom and leaders in functional and regional leadership roles are all pulling in one direction

Everyone in the organisation will look to your leadership and take cues on how important the transformation is and how they feel about it. The worst-case scenario is if leadership appear to be aligned and on message in public and are dissenting in private. You need one clear leadership voice on the transformation aims and objectives, with clear sponsorship established. It’s worth paying close attention to the leadership narrative and how this may need to evolve over time to maintain momentum.

5. There is an engaging narrative focussed around the “The Why” to mobilise and engage people

Transformation ambitions are brought to life through persuasive storytelling. Now, more than ever, leaders need an engaging, persuasive, and credible narrative to bring people with them on the journey. So often, what happens is that transformations start with great intent, and the launch is peppered with ambitious and engaging statements, but it then peters out and doesn’t continue for the entire duration of the transformation. Critical to any narrative is that it sustains the entire transformation journey and is quickly backed up with clear and decisive action. If the transformation story is compelling, you can feel significant energy and momentum around it. 

6. There is a clear drumbeat in the organisation built around tracking, capturing, and communicating value

Transformations are not fleeting activities, and you have to be in them for the long haul. So part of the Transformation leader’s role is to beep the energy levels high through a regular cadence of activity. The best-designed transformations have a Transformation Office that holds people to account for delivery and delivers regular communications to all of the organisation – celebrating wins, sharing plans, and engaging people in shaping ideas.

7. Behaviour and culture change are sticky enough to drive long term change

Transformation environments are inevitably risky – the stakes are high, and often you ask people to do things they haven’t done before. Creating a culture of psychological safety is essential where no one will be penalised for taking small bets that may not succeed. Change is uncomfortable, and you need to address fear and resistance early on and revisit through the transformation. In today’s environment, picking up on weaker cultural signals when physically distant cannot be overlooked.

8. There is a robust and reliable execution engine to deliver change into the business

A successful transformation involves a continual series of well-sequenced small steps, building out proof of concepts, piloting them, syndicating those that prove the business case and then implementing them at scale. To make this happen requires having an execution capability set up to deliver change into the business, with the proper supporting infrastructure, including capabilities, processes, technology, and data.

9. There is a platform to scale your transformation effort across all geographies and functions

Technology is your friend when it comes to scaling your transformation effort. You won’t reach everyone in a global business without having a platform to support people connecting and collaborating. It’s worth spending time to figure out how this will work upfront – the days of connecting via powerpoint presentations are gone and won’t create the connected culture you need. 


10. The transformation is set up to be sustainable

We know that real value emerges over time. Therefore, transformation solutions should support a quantifiable and data-driven approach to capture this value over the long-term horizon.

It’s also probably fair to say that transformations are here to stay, and organisations haven’t typically get a great track record in successfully delivering them. Hence, each time a new transformation is launched to great fanfare, the past lessons learned have become buried and the corporate memory lost. Therefore, building organisational muscle to design and execute transformation needs to be high on your agenda to maintain resilience in the years to come.

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Amber Donovan-Stevens

Amber is a Content Editor at Top Business Tech

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