Accept the challenge
Transformational change is a particularly challenging task and many organisations struggle to get it right. A McKinsey survey found that “…just 26 percent of respondents say the transformations they’re most familiar with have been very or completely successful at both improving performance and equipping the organisation to sustain improvements over time.” That is a dishearteningly low percentage given the amount of money organisations spend on change initiatives.
There are, however, organisations that do manage to get it right and those are generally organisations whose Exec teams and managers understand the importance of being seen to lead the change, and who take a hands-on approach to change. We can learn a lot from these successful organisations but sadly, there is no fail-safe/one-size-fits-all list of actions that can be applied to all transformation projects that will guarantee success. Successful organisations generally employ a combination of actions in achieving successful transformation.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Not all actions are created equal! Communication contributes the most to a transformation’s success. Organisations where senior managers communicate openly and across the organisation about the transformation’s progress, are far more likely to report a successful transformation than those where this type of communication does not happen. Across all actions, communicating, especially about progress, links most closely with success. It also helps when managers develop a clear change story that they share across the organisation. With hindsight, many initiative leaders say they would spend less time planning the transformation and more time communicating a change story and aligning their top team if they were to manage the transformation again.
Lead the change
Leadership matters as much during a transformation as it does in the organisation’s day-to-day work. It cannot be delegated to a project-management office or central team while executives carry on with business as usual. When managers role model the behavioural changes they are asking employees to make and are active and involved, transformations are more likely to be successful.
Choose the right people and empower them
An involved team of senior leaders is only half the battle. Execs who have led successful transformation initiatives understand that to truly succeed, organisations must think about the role that employees play in the change. It is important to define clear roles so employees at all levels are prepared to meet the post-transformation goals.
Hold people accountable
To engage employees in a transformation, organisations must define roles and hold initiative leaders accountable. One effective way to hold these people accountable is using transformation-related metrics.
Once initiatives are fully implemented, the change effort does not end. Several specific practices that help organisations connect strategy to daily work, deliver value more efficiently to customers, enable people to contribute to their best ability, and discover new ways of working all link to an organisation’s long-term health—and can keep companies from backsliding on performance gains and support continuous improvements after transformation. To achieve long-term success, that link must also be reinforced with an organisation-wide commitment to identifying opportunities for improvement—a practice that also improves the likelihood of success. When organisations plan for continuous improvement after a transformation, the likelihood of overall success increases.
Focus on the people not the project.
Transformations are about the people in the organisation as much as they are about the initiatives. The long-term sustainability of a transformation requires companies to engage enthusiastic high-potential employees, equip them with skills, and hold them accountable for—as well as celebrate—their contributions to the effort. Organisations should develop people throughout the organisation. To build broad ownership, Execs and managers should encourage all employees to experiment with new ideas: starting small, taking risks, and adapting quickly in their work. Doing so can create far-reaching and positive support for change, which is essential to a transformation’s success.
Continually telling an engaging story about the changes that are under way—and being transparent about their implications—has substantially more impact on an effort’s outcome than more programmatic elements, such as performance management or capability building. But the communication does not end once the change story has been told. Leaders must continually highlight progress and success to make sure the transformation is top of mind across the organisation—and to reduce the gap between what employees believe is happening and what they see.
Take more action
Transformation is hard work, and the changes made during the transformation process must be sustained for the organisation to keep improving. There is no silver bullet—and while some factors have more impact than others on a transformation’s outcome, the real magic happens when these actions are pursued together.
When organisations adopt a well-planned and rigorous approach to transformation and take a broad range of actions such as those above, the overall success rate of initiatives improves dramatically.
Contact us for a discussion on how we can assist you with your transformation initiatives