Establishing Transformation Programs: Setting up for Success

Having spent many years establishing and running a number of Transformation programs for businesses across a number of different industries, I’ve observed three main catalysts for compelling a business to establish a transformation program:

  1. A major revision or shift in business strategy, either reactive or proactive;
  2. An external force pushing for a different approach such as changes in customer requirements, market disruption or regulatory changes or;
  3. A change in Leadership that comes with a new vision and/ or a different direction for the business.

I’m often asked what the first critical steps are to setting up a transformation program for success. In my view, the very first and most critical element is Leadership Commitment. The case for change for a transformation does not always originate from the top, however once the move towards transformation is put in play, it needs to be endorsed, supported and driven from the top – by the most senior Leadership Team and the Board.

The other critical step is the formulation of a compelling Vision for the transformation, that includes a clear articulation of the reasons behind it and a picture of what the future will look like. This strategic narrative needs to explain what the transformation will mean for every single employee, the business, suppliers, customers and other stakeholders. It’s important that every dot is joined so the business can confidently say “This is the journey that we are on and this is how we’re going to do it”.

To map out this journey, often the best way is to perform a gap analysis prior to kicking off the program or at the very start of the program. Put simply, the gap analysis provides an opportunity to compare the current state vs the future desired state so that the business can identify the gaps and define the required steps to close them. This informs the ‘how’ of the transformation.

Once the Vision is clear and the ‘how’ can be articulated, I always recommend that it is communicated often and in various media and forums to ensure that there is no doubt brewing or lingering questions left unanswered around the transformation program. Frequent and clear Communication ensures that people in the business remain motivated, supportive and bought into the purpose, vision and process of the transformation. This reduces the potential for any pockets of resistance forming when ambiguity and lack of transparency are allowed to permeate the business.

One observation I have made over the years is that often businesses are not fully ready to kick off a transformation program but are able to mobilise quickly and make it happen. Many of these transformation programs are mandated from the top and given very tight deadlines. They begin with a few things in place and then quickly build out the infrastructure (people, process and systems) required to deliver the transformation. They can be more entrepreneurial, kicking off with a defined vision and some strategies in place, with the extended team and the infrastructure being built out as the program reviews, learns and refines. I like to think of this approach as one of operating with “fluidity within parameters”.

A key piece to mobilising quickly and then ensuring sustainability of the transformation program is Resourcing of the core team. This is about having the right people and skills (capability and capacity) and supporting budget to ensure successful delivery of the program. Transformations are typically multi-year programs and as such, people will come and go. It is therefore very important to ensure that key personnel, who are leading the different elements of the transformation program, are the right people with the right skills, that they’ve bought into the vision of the transformation and are committed to getting it done.

The worldwide pressures, shifts and disruptions of the last 18 months have shown that it is imperative that businesses transform if they want to survive. Businesses must be constantly scanning for implications of external factors and always be thinking ahead. Due to the contention inherent in balancing business as usual activities and the need to change and transform, it is a good practice to get help when embarking on a transformation program, even if it’s simply in the planning phase. Working with an outsider who can look at the business without any emotional ties and biases, and then develop an approach and a plan to execute is one sure way of ensuring that transformation programs are set up for success.

About the Author

Nancy Kabaara leads the delivery of services to emerging and medium to large family businesses and not-for-profits.  Her results-oriented expertise covers, Business Transformation through Project and Change Management, Business Process Excellence and Operations Transformation.

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