Why Do Few Business Transformation Initiatives Successfully Deliver Their Intended Objectives? – LogiSYM July 2019
You only have to mention Transformation & Change management programs, and you will get some sort of reaction. This is not unusual, as many organisations will have initiated some form of a change management program. But what would be surprising, is to see, how many organisations have actually successfully advanced or even completed such a program.
A business transformation program is mainly associated with change management. A term which can get some very excited but make others cringe! Why is this surprising or at worst a concern? Are organisations not serious in their intent and plans?
There may be many reasons for such realities. And depending on the organisation size, leadership and industry sector, there could be many differences. But the possible reasons to explain why organisations either never complete the program they initiated or why their human capital becomes disengaged, will be the principal focus of this brief paper.
Let us start by clarifying that a Change Management Program is not the same as a Business Transformation Initiative. But change management programs are enablers deployed within a transformation initiative. A program will usually have a start and end date with deliverables to measure the outcome. A business transformation initiative is a more comprehensive program, driven by strategic and tactical motivations. This transformation has a start and evolves into a journey.
This maybe a reason why such an initiative loses steam, as the journey becomes blurred!
A Business Transformation Initiative is usually the brain-child of the CEO and sponsored by the Board. When launched the Initiative has great interest and enthusiasm. The promotion of something in the Company is met with open arms, even if many have no idea what they are in for! Often the initiative is explained in a manner to justify reaching new and ambitious objectives. And there is nothing wrong with this, because it is logical and makes sense. But the devil is as always in the detail.
Embarking on a journey of new and ambitious goals, also requires some new thinking and methods to achieve them. This will involve adapting organisational structures and processes which will enable, empower and engage all the resources that the organisation has and more.
Whilst the transformation journey may start with great vision and intent, it is only a stepping stone. The buy-in of the Initiative takes longer to understand and accept. Often the launch process is hurried in timing, brief in content and does not cover all the stakeholders. This is a serious error.
A strategic driven transformation program, needs to be a well crafted plan that spans the whole organisation. The key stakeholders need to be engaged early and to develop a new culture for the initiative. A transformational initiative needs to have a new and clear identity, core values associated with the vision and inculcate the right change management elements.
A most effective launch would entail that the details are planned, discussed and reviewed before the main announcements are made to the whole organisation. The preparatory work is developed so that the CEO’s message is followed-up with well defined actions and programs to get an immediate engagement and the involvement of all stakeholders.
The quality and depth of the preparatory work is fundamental to avoid road blocks and a loss of direction during the transitional phases. The detailed work in this preparatory phase must also involve the execution team. This team would greatly benefit from professional external support and guidance. This support can be viewed as coaching programs where new techniques, tools & methods are introduced and prepared. A mentoring program could also be an effective method before and also after the launch. This would undoubtedly assist in making the realisation more effective. Any stalling and stoppages of the initiative due to weak planning and preparation would be catastrophic. These are the typical topics crucial to be addressed in a pre-program launch preparation involving the sponsors and key stakeholders.
Preparing the ground for Transformation, as discussed earlier is a very important area. Often it is this lack of deep preparation that will later result in pain. The communication of the Key Initiatives and the various enabling change programs, need to be well thought out before communicating them. This is essential to ensure clarity and the maximum buy-in when cascading the details within the organisation, explaining how each stakeholder and their function could be affected.
Whilst the CEO and senior board members will be communicating the key messages and objectives, it will be the execution team that will be implementing the detail. These are usual called the “change agents” – they will facilitate the CEO’s program and strive to achieve the expected deliverables.
This phase is indeed very challenging. But how can these change agents deliver the CEO’s expectations and retain the focus of their own role as well as the programs ? And this where we can expected to see the signs of the disconnects in transformation and change management programs.
The very idea of appointing key employees to take on the role of change agents, is to start embedding the changes within the their core work processes in their operating organisations. But it is at this point when people start to feel the strain. The perception of a 2 track job role – my normal job and the change program, can be overwhelming for some. And often these people start to doubt themselves in capabilities to perform and fear of the unknown – “sailing in unchartered waters”.
But as this approach has been proved to be best approach. It is for this reason we must understand the benefits and the possible consequences, for which we need be prepared to address them promptly.
Continuous support and encouragement from the CEO and senior team is fundamental. But training, coaching and mentoring are key components to enable the change agents to achieve success. Making some mistakes during the different phases of change management programs, is normal and acceptable. What is however not acceptable is making the same mistakes and not learning from the previous instances. Mistakes should be reviewed and discussed openly. This gains a stronger stakeholder buy-in, confidence in the journey and develops people skills.
Whether they are simple or complex programs, there must be a form of measurement of the progress being made. This is not only necessary for a Management assessment but is also a motivator for the execution teams and stakeholders. The measurements can vary from simple numeric targets to more complex systems, processes and capital investments. In addition to having a roadmap with targets to measure progress, there must also be planned structured and formal reviews.
The most successful transformation initiatives, occur when the CEO and his team, sit-in and listen to the various program presentations and progress made. These are usually delivered by the leaders and change agents. This where the time deployed to see the progress, give the due recognition and provide the guidance for the next phase of the journey are absolutely invaluable to success. This methodology enables and sustains the momentum needed in the organisation to improve, change, adapt and engage all stakeholders. Once this energy is harnessed and the momentum is created, it really does generate an incredible positive power within the organisation.
Staying on Course
It is quite a challenge to reach a positive cruising speed in the realisation phase. But a bigger challenge is staying on course. As such programs can last several months and even years, changes in conditions and people will occur. This is a further challenge in sustaining the vision, the energy and the momentum of the Initiative’s deliverables.
What are things that we should look out for? In large companies, senior management and even the CEO could change. In small companies the CEO may change his mind and make sudden disruptive changes or does not accept the course of changes evolving – examples does not fully delegate or take advice on empowering ownership for performance and change. Or some external incident that causes some serious financial issues, forces everyone to get highly distracted and go off course.
These are some of the causes of pre-mature stoppages that can cause major discontinuity in the such a program. But does this mean all is lost?
Despite any sudden change or stop, a lot will have been achieved. The low hanging fruit for change and improvement will have been realised early in the program. The people in the organisation will have grown in knowledge, created new dynamics and achieved many of the targets set-out. Even if some key stimulators will have changed and forced circumstances change the speed and timing, it is not the end. The people’s minds have been stretched, the new culture has been set and they are working in different mode. Transformation has occurred and many benefits will have been accrued.
The course may have changed, but the organisation is now able to steer a new course with the right sponsorship and leadership. Total Transformation may not always be possible to achieve, because it is a journey. And journeys are long and conditions not easy to predict. But the key is to ensure that capabilities and competencies that are created through the change management programs are retained in the organisation and are robust enough to continue the journey on a new course.