‘Transform or Die’ flashed across the LED monitors at the convention followed by the logo of a major consulting firm. It’s the Big Lie of Big Consulting – not everything needs to be a ‘Transformation’ and it’s the transformation projects themselves that often go down in flames.
In an era that is dominated by the importance of speed to market, collaboration and the ‘startup motion,’ words like Digital, Agile, Scrum, Continuous Improvement, and DevOps are common vernacular. What’s striking is that Transformation is an equally dominant buzzword but goes against the ethos of all of them since it’s typically driven top-down.
Transformation is anti-Agile in terms of scope and style. Even when claims of starting small are used to soften the defenses, everyone knows something’s coming. The prospect of being ‘transformed’ fills everyone not involved with the project with fear.
Transformations fail at an astounding rate:
- “A whopping 73 percent of enterprises failed to provide any business value whatsoever from their digital transformation efforts, according to an Everest Group study last year. Furthermore, 78 percent failed to meet their business objectives. Put another way, only 22 percent achieved their desired business results.” – Everest Group
- For example, GE started building an IoT platform back in 2011 to underpin its entire digital transformation initiative. Even though the giant spent billions of dollars on this massive transformation, the stock price kept falling, affecting many of its operating segments. What did the company do wrong? Well, nothing in particular. However, the digital transformation they wanted to perform at once was simply too much for an enterprise as big as GE. Instead, they needed a clear vision of their digital transformation objectives that affect each sector separately.
- It’s not just GE though, Ford and Proctor & Gamble were also victims.
While there are many reasons for this, fundamentally the nature of a typical transformation is at odds with achieving the right sustainable results, quickly and with agility.
That’s why we need to stop naming everything a ‘Transformation.’ There is fatigue and even resentment towards the never-ending recycling of the word. The latest one starting to sprout is ‘Intelligence Transformation.’ Just when you thought you had gotten to the promised land with Digital and Agile Transformation – there’s another one to deal with.
And the timing of those changes is not always within our control. Market demands, competitive pressure, and regulatory requirements can drive businesses to adopt change or face the consequences of irrelevancy.
To be clear, change is inevitable. It’s not about resisting change. Quite the contrary, it’s embracing and planning for it, but doing so in a way that actually gives you a greater chance of success.
But how that change is surfaced, scaled, and adopted makes all the difference in an organization’s ability to adopt change continuously.
Three things to think about when embarking on the next step in the change journey:
1. Alignment – Success is predicated on the alignment of people, experience, business, and technology.
2. The Scientific Methodology – Is the framework of thinking and problem solving that has led to sound and rational explanations for how the world works and behaves – and it works.
3. Your Partners – Picking the right partner for your organization is critical.
For too long, it was ‘People, Process, Technology.’ Before that, it was even worse…it was often technology for technology’s sake or process for process’s sake.
Today, adding the element of Experience is critical. That’s not just the experience as a user on an interface; it’s the experience of going through the change. The team needs to understand the why for the company, their team, and them as individuals.
Some red flags to watch for are when it seems like something is changing just to change it or ‘to keep up with the Jones’s.’ Don’t just rationalize the benefits of something new. Start with the benefits to everything else and see if the thing you seek to change makes sense. Thinking of the benefits and improvements to the team and their experiences will help ensure the answer to why is the proper one. If the new change fits in, great. Believe it or not, some organizations simply won’t reap the same benefits as another company from going pure Agile or trying to adopt Digital.
When it comes to process, automating before optimizing just automates inefficiencies. Fix the process before introducing technology so that your people will have the best experience with the outcomes. Too many firms jump on the RPA or other workflow automation technology solutions and scale up the inefficiencies. Get the process right so when you scale volume and throughput, you reap the benefits vs. amplifying the problems.
When it’s finally ready to go, pressure test the benefits and risks to know what’s possible and what’s likely to cause pain. Do the best you can to mitigate the risk, but don’t overthink it at the end of the day. Instead, launch at a smaller scale, gather the empirical data and adjust.
Too many transformations fail because they follow the ‘Ready, Aim, Fire’ workflow and spend too much time on ‘Ready’ and particularly ‘Aim.’ Instead, ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’ allows you to calibrate quickly and get into the field vs. theoretical or academic debates. That might come as a surprise, but there’s no replacement for real-world data for your own organization. Just fire small bullets to start.
The Scientific Methodology:
Industry pundits, think tanks, and large strategy firms all have good intentions – best practices, frameworks, playbooks, cost-benefit studies, case studies, etc.
The problem is each organization is its own ecosystem with unique laws of physics and rules that govern behavior. Each ecosystem is different in size, cultural make up, and workforce distribution. Trying to make what worked and screen out what didn’t work for Company XYZ in the hopes of it working for your organization is just that…hope.
Going back to the scientific methodology, start with something small and discrete. Get top-down support and concurrently find a department or team lead that is equally enthused about trying ‘something new.’
In my experience, this is the first step that leads to true adoption from the organization’s soul. And it doesn’t come with a huge price tag that ends up in a Powerpoint presentation. Instead, you get actual data that shows you what worked and what didn’t. Ideally, it also provides some insights into what to do next.
Something else, both unique and cool happens. Instead of a C-suite sponsor announcing the success of a step in our latest transformation effort, word-of-mouth news begins to spread. This type of grassroots support garners genuine curiosity and interest that leads to sustainable and manageable adoption.
Finally, by taking an Experimentation over Transformation approach, you develop your own framework, playbooks, case studies, etc., that are truly yours. That’s not to say the industry data and publications are of low value, but the truth is that their primary use is to inform, not necessarily define. Output tailored to your organization’s team, continuously updated based on more internal data and results, becomes something that the entire organization feels invested in vs. what feels like someone else dictating how that change rolls out.
The Transformation business was marketed for the benefit of the larger vendor partners. And for some organizations, that’s what they need. Ok – correction, not some organizations – a few organizations.
There is no doubt that outside help through expertise, experience, and know-how is a catalyst for adopting change.
The right partners will have the following attributes:
1. Specialists that understand how to work cross-functionally
2. Apply a rigorous but flexible approach and methodology
3. Passionate about your success as a client but dispassionate about the data and results
4. Agility to help navigate through the expected and unexpected twists
5. Happy and thrilled to work with you at your budget level
6. You have regular access and communications to the C-team and E-team. Executive sponsorship from the vendor is so critical
7. Broad experience across many company sizes, industries, and solutions
8. Strategists who are practitioners. The strategy is only as good as they are feasible and practical. Having the practitioners’ lens will ensure that you get an actionable strategy
9. Beyond case studies, methodologies, and commercials, make sure you feel like the people you are partnering with are ones that are deeply invested and passionate about your success. Their ability to demonstrate they are deserving of your trust. It’s not that everything will execute flawlessly. It won’t, but will your vendor partner make it right? Will they be transparent?
10. Finally, as contrarian as this may sound, be wary of the partners who give off the vibe or tell you precisely what you want/expect to hear. A more alarming signal is when they seem to claim to have all the answers. The truth is that solutions not based on empirical outputs in your environment are highly likely to be incorrect.
Many advancements and techniques are emerging to help your organization perform at the next level. Sometimes, it is to get to parity, and other times, it is to get a strategic advantage. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality are all game-changers. Instead of making it another transformation, take an experimental approach to maximize your benefits while being efficient with your investments.
After all, whether it’s transformations, lies, or consultancies, bigger isn’t always better.