Go small or go home: avoiding business transformation failure

Business transformations are often extremely ambitious, both in scale and expectations. Programme leaders begin by setting a predefined end-state and secure a multi-million-pound budget to meet that grand goal. The most common mistake comes when they refuse to open themselves to the possibility it could change along the way or continually validate the direction they’re going. This is at the expense of customers, employees and the greater interests of the programme.

The large-scale nature of most transformation programmes means they take a lot of time, resources and budget to get going. But with the increasingly frequent challenges to business focus and demand in today’s markets, the original components of a transformation are at risk of no longer being relevant before the project has even delivered anything. And it can be too late in the day to turn things around.

Along their transformation journeys, organisations may find themselves having to shift their aims and steer away from the originally intended goal to still achieve the desired positive result. By not being open to that possibility, organisations can turn their backs on business value and be blind to new opportunities for cost-savings or an enhanced customer experience.

Smaller, focused and incremental improvements will increase the success rate of any business transformation. They’re quicker and easier to deliver, and take organisations towards their end-goal, while remaining agile when external conditions affect business strategy.

It can be difficult to sell continuous improvement as a concept, but it’s incredibly important to do so. The senior management who authorise a business transformation want to see the results of their investment as soon as possible. So explaining the logic behind an ever-evolving business transformation is vital – when you start one, you continue and you don’t stop.

Change in culture is central to any transformation programme and must always be managed carefully. Part of this is being careful with the language used when communicating goals to employees. The idea of a transformation in itself signals something major and can imply the work they’re doing is wrong, while the word “change” can imply something finite.

The focus should be more about adaptation and working on a continuously improving principle. By positioning the programme as a desire to adapt operations to suit customer expectations better, employees can feel part of the transformation, rather than affected by it.

Smaller, focused and incremental improvements will increase the success rate of any business transformation

Cultivating a culture for change is a long-term journey. It helps to incentivise people to think differently and to praise them for coming up with new ways of doing things. By breaking down a transformation programme into more realistic and tangible milestones, organisations can not only better manage the time, money and effort required to reach each milestone, but also celebrate with their employees when each one is met.

Meanwhile, programme leaders can take regular opportunities to measure and reflect on progress, and validate the direction of next steps towards the longer-term goal.

Just as important as people are to transformation are selecting the right approach and tools. Organisations can be sucked into focusing on a particular methodology, such as lean and six sigma, which may not be suited to their culture and objectives.

The key is for organisations to tailor their approach carefully by selecting and using only the components that add value, and enable them to deliver and build their solution without being beholden to any singular concept. Similar caution needs to be applied in deploying technological solutions where processes are reshaped to fit the technology, rather than the tools enabling best practice and process.

Business transformations need not be massive, complicated programmes. Focusing on simpler, sustainable and incremental improvements, which can then be built up over time, allows organisations to be more flexible and responsive to external challenges, ultimately transforming both business and mindset.

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