(Updated September 8, 2017)
An earlier version of this article on business transformation was originally published on Forbes.com. Click here to read.
high performing senior managers and leaders find themselves at some point in their careers asked to lead a strategically critical, highly visible effort or business transformation program. The company needs to move in a new direction, a start-up must professionalize, product and service innovations must be accelerated, costs must be reduced, or competitive positioning needs to be strengthened. Whatever the business driver, the initiatives born from strategic calls to action will always change the status quo, and sometimes they’ll transform the organization in very significant ways. Executing a strategic change or business transformation isn’t easy and often fails to yield desired results, yet leaders with no previous experience leading big change are often put in charge. Naturally, many think if they’ve been entrusted with the responsibility, they must already possess the necessary business transformation knowledge and change leadership skills.
Natural instincts and leadership talent alone, no matter how robust, won’t get the big financial, business and customer wins necessary from a highly visible transformation effort. There is a proven science to executing change that must be acknowledged and heeded – reflected in the following list of success factors leaders and executives must know to execute strategic change or transformation efforts. Each success factor outlined here shows the key criteria for transformation success along with a few key questions.
Factors that go into transforming a business:
Define what you are going to do, why you will do it, what the benefits of business transformation are, and what the dangers of not changing are.
- Is a clarifying vision of the future articulated and widely accepted?
- Is the rationale for change sensible and clear and sound? Are benefits well defined?
- Does the case for change balance crisis + opportunity?
- Are the vision and rationale easy to communicate in <3 minutes AND easy to get a reaction from AND of interest to others besides those in the executive meetings?
- Has a clear roadmap forward been developed and shopped around to gain support?
Create a sense of urgency for transformation and then maintain it for the long haul
- Is there a change champion calling others to action at very top?
- Is the Guiding Coalition actively involved (not just hoping for wins) in generating legitimate short term wins?
- Are reward & recognition for wins happily made AND do they go beyond money?
- Are leaders leveraging the positive energy created by short-term wins to go after bigger problems?
Put governance and management in place; Form a powerful guiding coalition for successful business transformation
- Is a Change Sponsor selected and has a Governance Body/Guiding Coalition been established to oversee and refine execution of the transformation roadmap and to maintain urgency throughout the enterprise?
- Is the effort inclusive of diverse, influential leaders throughout the organization, or are the ‘usual suspects’ once again involved in this effort?
- Is a day to day leader in place to coordinate the program’s various work streams, manage the roadmap, identify needs, remove barriers and drive execution?
- Are there sufficient resources with the right skills dedicated to the effort?
Engage key stakeholders – particularly managers – in making real transformation happen (this ain’t your father’s change program!)
- Have stakeholders who are critical to business transformation success been identified? Do you know their personal value drivers learned?
- Is it clear how stakeholders will be proactively involved in making the transformation happen over time? What is the plan to build their support and maintain their engagement?
- Has a cadre of top change agents been identified and rallied to be actively involved in all aspects of executing the transformation (planning, communications, engagement, execution, monitoring, training, local level readiness, piloting solutions)? Is this cadre treated like the pioneering group of change agents and first-followers they are?
Over-communicate the vision & key messages by a factor of 5…at least. When transforming a business, never assume people understand the vision as well as you do; it will cost you precious time, employee morale and money (lots of it!).
- Are executives across the impacted enterprise incorporating messages into their hour-by-hour activities?
- Are ALL channels/roles being leveraged to deliver the right business transformation message > to the right people > at the right time?
- Are visible & influential leaders and managers walking the talk? Are change leadership coaching & 360 feedback tools being applied to change their behavior when needed?
- Do the communications about this change strive for candid, cascading, interactive, face-to-face messaging?
Remove obstacles to business transformation success, especially during implementation
- Have those impacted by the changes been asked about barriers to success?
- Has fairness been included as a design principle in workforce reduction plans to avoid creating sense of injustice and disengagement?
- Have local level change agents/leaders been identified and prepared to be involved in the transformation of the business (because it can’t happen without them)?
- Have “Barrier Busting Circles” been formed on the ground to swiftly remove the biggest obstacles during implementation of the business transformation? Is feedback on barriers shared regularly with the Guiding Coalition to facilitate problem solving?
Enable real transformation by cultivating a new organizational culture and individual behaviors
- Are you actively and thoughtfully identifying and cultivating a desired culture that supports, not hinders, the new business strategy or change vision?
- Are you aggressively and thoughtfully shifting underlying mindsets along with delivering new skills training?
- Is there a focus on leaders modeling the desired behaviors as a key way to cultivate a new culture?
Realign operations and organization to enable the new vision and support the business transformation
- Have competencies and skills been assessed and upgraded across the impacted enterprise?
- Are processes being assessed and modified to enable a new way of working?
- Are you hiring for the future or for yesterday? Do new hires reflect the desired future or old culture?
Upgrade executives’ and leaders’ skills in change leadership and business transformation execution
- Is your leadership prepared to effectively lead people through change, or do they do things the same way they’ve been doing them in more stable times?
- Are there key leaders and senior managers involved with the business transformation initiative who are experienced in change management or is there an assumption that it ‘can be figured out?’ Can you afford to assume that given what’s at stake for the company? Prosci’s 2016 Best Practices in Change Management report showed that only 40% of respondents said change management started in the earliest phase of a strategic initiative (Initiation), though 85% said they would start change management in Initiation the next time.
If you find yourself in charge of a strategically critical business transformation program, it is appealing to think of a list like this as a checklist – “If I do these things, we will succeed.” But, the power of understanding these success factors cannot be underestimated. The real power – in the whole Desai Transformation’s 21st Century Change Masters™ model, in fact – is in its’ effective execution. And that’s where experience with big change and business transformation comes into play – take business transformation seriously, make sure you’ve got people supporting you who have done it before and who understand the nuances involved in each of these factors. While it won’t be as easy as clearing a checklist or “winging it,” understanding the framework and having the right change experience on board will get you far closer to the desired financial, business and customer outcomes from your company’s business transformation.