How leaders orchestrate harmonious transformation

Where disruption goes, transformation follows. But how do businesses set up conditions for success that make change less of a challenge?

Dss Sr Client Version3

In an economy characterised by high volatility, organisations are under immense pressure to transform at an ever-increasing pace. The speed at which businesses need to adapt to change is acutely accelerated where sustainability projects, operational risk management and digitalisation are concerned.

Most industries are cognisant that they need to hasten the upskilling and reskilling of their leaders to be better equipped to manage their business transformation, ensuring their organisations remain competitive and successful.

Sebastien Planche, EMEA director at dss+, a global leader in providing operations management consulting services, points to “new leadership skills provision” and “time to autonomy acceleration” — the time needed to upskill and reskill leaders to become fully impactful to deliver results — as the key areas where businesses are pivoting in response to economic instability and geopolitical machinations.

There’s a problem, though: the precedent for responding to sustainability performance trends, global operational risks or emerging digital technologies on this scale hasn’t been established yet.

“Take sustainability, for example,” says Planche. “Most organisations have initiated their journey to achieve net zero emissions, and some are more effective than others. Nevertheless, it’s not something you can find the benchmark for and say, ‘Let’s replicate what they did.’ The benchmark hasn’t been set.’”

Even with clear goals, decision-makers often feel ill-equipped to pilot those transformations, especially if they don’t have the in-house skills to respond rapidly to uncertainty at pace.

“This is especially noticeable within our recent projects on digital literacy and data-driven decision-making,” says Planche. “Companies are struggling to train leaders from the top to the frontline. They aren’t always comfortable with digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data analytics.”

He adds: “These tools are now essential for most industries. A leader’s ability to analyse data, interpret insights, make informed decisions to drive sustainability transitions and manage their operational risks is also critical.”

Businesses may be tempted to hire for these skills in the market. However, not underpinning this with a coherent learning and development strategy for upskilling middle management and above with the capabilities to manage transformations effectively means this is often just a short-term fix, even if they can find the talent with the right skills.

“Too often, companies concentrate on immediate challenges such as addressing difficult-to-fill positions, dealing with an ageing workforce, and mitigating the loss of technical expertise, rather than focusing enough on accelerating the new leadership skill development,” Planche explains.

However, traditional learning and development models might not be fit for purpose given the pace required to keep up. Planche cites the energy industry as an example. New engineers are typically expected to reach autonomy in a leadership position within four years, 40% faster than was required in 2020. For business-critical concerns such as health and safety, the timeframes are even shorter.

“With serious injuries and fatalities, companies don’t have the luxury of waiting several years to have leaders who can autonomously transform the culture and performance of their teams,” says Planche. “Our experience shows that a 24-week upskilling and reskilling programme enables you to stop the bleeding, reverse the trend of declining safety performance, and reach the necessary autonomy for sustainable results.”

Planche says 75% of autonomous managers are the critical mass required to impact cultural and business transformation.

He emphasises the importance of these leaders possessing the necessary qualities and capabilities to initiate and lead successful change initiatives effectively. This concept acknowledges that successful transformation relies on strong leadership and underscores the need for a substantial majority of leaders capable of driving the desired changes.

Creating change also relies on leadership from the top of the organisation. Planche recalls a project that dss+ worked on alongside a French train infrastructure operator, addressing several high-potential safety incidents during their first year of operations.

After assessing the company’s safety culture, staff received support to bolster risk management capabilities and increase awareness and mitigation skills. Senior leadership engaged in specialised coaching to increase buy-in across the organisation. This demonstration of a culture where all parts of the organisation are engaging in transformation is a crucial part of the process, says Planche.

Successful operational transformation at scale requires a strategy that effectively addresses all dimensions of a business. This can be particularly difficult in multinational organisations, with managers that often have different solutions and cultural expectations across their locations.

To achieve this, dss+ recommends businesses focus on specific areas of the organisation individually to streamline and accelerate the transformation process. Each project is labelled as an ‘area of transformation’ or an AoT.

“AoT refers to the identification and focus on specific business segments that require change to achieve the broader transformation objectives,” Planche explains. “An AoT can be a particular business process, a technology, a team, or even an entire department or production site.”

Identifying the processes to transform urgently can be led by regulation; if a business is failing on health and safety provisions, that’s the place to start. Beyond that, organisations should prioritise areas for transformation that align with their immediate strategic goals and can deliver the most value for the company.

From there, companies can formulate a tailored strategy for each AoT, allowing them to manage the transformation on a more granular level and making it easier to monitor progress and adjust strategy as needed.

Once successful transformation is achieved within that area, the next step is to scale it up to create a roadmap that can be adjusted and applied across the organisation.

Scaling also involves evaluating the organisation’s readiness for change. Companies must assess whether they have the necessary resources, capabilities, and culture to support a broader transformation.

For example, to benchmark a company’s safety culture maturity level, dss+ uses its proprietary Bradley Curve to understand the gap between where the company is now and to define further steps towards corporate transformation.

By these standards, companies that don’t have the necessary commitment to keep their people safe record more incidents and suffer worse business performance as a result.

“If you look at how organisations are driving business transformation, they are moving away from silos to a more interdependent approach addressing key issues across sustainability, operational risk management and digital, or risk the change fatigue if the priorities are not clear,” Planche concludes. “Managing operational risk allows you to integrate your transformations and to focus the efforts in the priority areas to effectively address talent shortages and make the biggest impact on the resilience of the business.”

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