Industry landscapes are changing rapidly: innovative ideas, models, services, and products are connecting businesses and customers in new ways. As best practices evolve, successful organizations hold onto what works and transform to embrace new possibilities.
Transformation enables companies to recognize, adapt to, and profit from changing market conditions. A simple internet search provides a litany of resources and frameworks to lean on when developing a transformation project, but fitting a framework to a specific organization is something of an art, and trying to force a fit frequently ends in failure.
For business transformation to gain traction, leaders must successfully calibrate three components: people, organizational structure, and magnitude.
People: Simply put, change efforts fail when people refuse to change. Underlying motivations for slow or stale change could be rooted in a variety of concerns such as fear of obsolescence, belief that management doesn’t understand, etc. Before kicking off a transformation process, leaders need to gain a clear picture of the people involved. Pressure test assumptions. Seek to understand needs, motivations, and concerns. Here is a short list of questions to get you started:
- Generally, how open are your employees to change? How have you gauged this openness?
- How will they react to their workload changing or increasing?
- Do they have the skills to adapt to a new system?
Organization Structure: A staggering 70 percent of complex, large-scale change programs fail. Considering the time and energy that leaders invest into projects that they genuinely believe will benefit their businesses, this stat is disheartening. Effective transformation must cater to the nuances of the organization during inception, development, and implementation. It must have the buy-in of leadership and middle management in order to be accepted by the organization. Obviously, a 200-person department requires a different approach to change than does a flat, 20-person organization.
During the planning stage of a transformation project, look carefully at your organization’s structure. To tailor a functional plan to your unique needs, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you have a structure that will provide the leadership and communication necessary for change? If not, whose job description will have to adapt?
- How much leadership and support will the new structure require on a day-to-day basis?
- Which of your current employees is qualified to champion this effort?
Magnitude: Don’t leap before you look: before committing to a transformation, consider the size of the change. In evaluating your people and structure, you have a better idea of the amount of change that is possible. Big change requires dedication, resources, and buy-in. Consider these two approaches:
Some changes go better little by little. If your management team is already stretched to capacity, consider breaking the project into smaller, bite-sized pieces. Plan to tackle the simpler changes first, generating momentum with quick wins. Then communicate these successes to the larger organization. This creates a culture of change, and makes harder changes more likely to succeed.
Other changes are easier to swallow in a single gulp. Some situations are better suited to making a big change all at once. In that case, look for small initiatives that you can group together to form a larger transformation strategy. You may be able to pass an unpopular (though valuable) initiative if it’s bucketed with more popular changes.
Here are some initial questions to consider when evaluating the magnitude of a transformation:
- Does my management team have the available capacity to guide a change?
- Can this initiative be broken up?
- Can it be combined with other initiatives?
- Will the size of this change affect its likelihood of success?
In summary, improve your organization’s implementation by strategically assessing your people, organization structure, and project magnitude. Carefully calibrating these three key components will help your organization adapt nimbly along the road to transformation.
 Bucy, M., Finlayson, A., Kelly, G., and Moye, C. “The ‘how’ of transformation.” McKinsey. Published May 2016; Accessed August 2017: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/retail/our-insights/the-how-of-transformation.