Navigating the path to a successful business transformation

Let’s face it, any transformation is challenging and complex. Programs often fail, with substantial costs accrued, employees alienated, and the reputation of a business and their leaders damaged. Success can never be guaranteed, but if done right, there are opportunities to drive growth and improve financial performance.

There are essential pre-planning steps that can be taken to both drive success and minimise risk…and they look like this:

  1. Understand the purpose. “Revolutions don’t begin with a slogan. They begin with a cause”. This powerful quote from Greg Sattell highlights the importance of thinking carefully about what your cause is. Questions to challenge the motivation of such an initiative include: Is there alignment around a common purpose, vision and strategy? What matters to your people and your customers, and is it in-keeping with the values of your business? Being purpose-led leads to a more authentic and inspiring transformation. Knowing these answers will help you to capture the hearts and minds of your people.
  2. Get the right leader. For companies to be positively disrupted, they must be rocked from their comfortable, complacent ways in order to prepare them for what’s next. Transformational leaders, such as a Chief Transformation Officer are critical here to inspire and empower teams, offer fresh thinking, high-energy, and an ability to challenge Board and ExCo sponsors as they agitate, innovate, and orchestrate their way to the desired outcome.
  3. Change from within. People inherently don’t like change. And they especially don’t like having change imposed upon them. Engaging your teams from the outset and co-creating change initiatives will help bring them along, facilitating their understanding around the need for the change. By doing this you will create change advocates throughout the organisation, employees will adopt new ways of working and they will encourage others to do the same because they helped create the change.
  4. Celebrate your successes, and learn from your failures. There are things you will get right and things you will get wrong when it comes to transformation. It’s positive to sing the praise of those involved in the successes, calling out what worked well and why. It’s also important to recognise and show a willingness to learn from the things that didn’t work out. This demonstrates humility, freedom from pride or arrogance. Your people will appreciate this.
  5. Measure the change in order to realise the impact. The goals of your transformation should have already been defined from the start, and importantly, should be attainable. A fundamental part of this is establishing metrics to measure these goals. Measuring progress as quickly as possible will enable you to understand the impact of the changes being made.

Keep calm and carry on. Change of any kind doesn’t happen overnight. When it comes to business transformation, this is even more apparent. With so many moving parts and interdependencies within a program, it can occasionally lead to unexpected obstacles. It’s important not to keep pushing if it’s clear that it won’t embed as planned (round peg, square hole). Equally, far too often organisations lose their nerve and call time on initiatives without giving them the energy, finance, and effort they deserve. This is where it is especially vital to have a transformation leader in place who can offer objective perspectives and expertise in maintaining focus and problem solving.

Transforming an organisation is tough and arduous work. The statistic that 70% of all transformations fail will often cause business leaders around the world, especially CFOs with their fingers on the purse strings, to step back and ask the question, “is it really worth it?”. If approached with the right cause, a people-centric approach, and a clear understanding of the objectives and benefits the program will present, the answer is a resounding yes.

To learn more about our capabilities, in particular with interim transformation leaders, contact Martin Smith at

By Martin Smith

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