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ADVICE FROM THE TOP: PANEL INTERVIEW WITH PAUL SIEGENTHALER

by Paul Siegenthaler on 14 Sep 2015

Interview with Paul Siegenthaler, business transformation expert

Paul J Siegenthaler has helped numerous merging or acquired companies to integrate successfully, and has driven major business transformation programmes across Western Europe and North America, ensuring they deliver the business case their shareholders had been promised.

What are the key challenges organisations face when managing business transformation?

There are three main challenges. First, is that if your business has come to the view that it needs to change because there is a problem or it’s losing money, the chances are you are already struggling more than you think.

The second is properly understanding that the people you’re most likely to entrust with a transformation are likely to be your good people. They’re almost certainly good because they’re maximizing their capabilities and capacity. Underestimating the bandwidth required to focus on a transformation as well as Business as Usual is very common.

Finally, you’re unlikely to have all the skills you need for a transformation, no matter how capable your people are. Really understanding how things could be done differently usually requires an external fresh pair of eyes. Only when you really understand the ‘from’ and ‘to’ can you begin to have honest conversations internally.

In your experience, how are organisations approaching managing business transformation? What works/fails?

I see a lot of businesses that fail to understand the subtleties behind organisational change. To be successful you’re going to need ‘inspirers’ and also people who understand the mechanics of seeing a project through. These qualities are very rarely found in one person. Managers are generally not subject matter experts – they are there to provide a coherent framework, ensure there’s good project management and that issues get a speedy resolution. Leaders, on the other hand, motivate and drive change.  They’re the ‘pull’ to compliment the managerial ‘push’.

I’ve also found that people tend to maintain their focus on the end point without realising the tweaking and flexing of bandwidth that will need to be undertaken to get there. It takes many by surprise during the transformation journey.

Another mistake is taking your foot off the pedal once the deliverables are finished. You have to bear in mind that people were in their comfort zone at the start point of the journey. I find you need to concentrate on embedding change for at least a year post-transformation.

What is your experience of the level of internal capability organisations usually have in managing business transformation?

Most of the technical aspects of a transformation, such as governance, stakeholder engagement you can pretty much learn from a book. I tend to find that the real gaps are around genuine leadership qualities – the type that can empower, motivate and win hearts and minds.  Also, depending on how an organisation is transformed, the need for new capabilities may emerge that are non existent in the current organisation.

In your experience, how easy is it for a business leader to identify and address capability gaps?

Unless you’re an organisation that undertakes a lot of change projects it can be really hard. People don’t change their attributes and their way of understanding the world just because you have a change project on the horizon. You can benchmark capabilities with the help of specialised consultants, but if you’re not sure at the outset what your critical success factors are, this can cause you big problems.

How would you suggest approaching developing an internal capability in managing business transformation and what advice do you have for business leaders managing business transformation?

To remember that it’s always easier to understand the gaps in your plan than to know what to do about them. I also think there’s merit in doing the diagnosis work ahead of time to try and understand the differences in cultures and leadership styles within your organisation. These can be differences in ways of working or, increasingly these days, cultural and behavioural differences that come from working across different countries.

The main things to look out for are:

  • Make sure you are not under-resourced
  • Invest enough time and effort into communications and engagement
  • Identifying the natural leaders
  • When you think it’s finished, it’s not really finished

What are the three top tips you would give other business leaders around building an internal capability in managing business transformation?

There’s really just one main piece of advice and that’s around knowledge transfer and knowledge retention. If you really want to build internal capability you need to use the extra bodies as backfill and put your own people in the transformation driving seat. The process tends to take them out of their functional world and give them a unique opportunity to get an end-to-end insight into the business which can be extremely valuable.

Paul J Siegenthaler has helped numerous merging or acquired companies to integrate successfully, and has driven major business transformation programmes across Western Europe and North America, ensuring they deliver the business case their shareholders had been promised. Following a Masters degree in Economics from H.E.C. Lausanne and an MBA at London Business School, Paul spent the first 17 years of his career as Managing Director reshaping the companies acquired by an international group, before focusing solely on the business integration of broad scale international mergers and acquisitions, across a number industries.  He is a regular lecturer on the subject of post-acquisition business integration at H.E.C. in Paris and London School of Economics.

How to approach your business transformation

Topics: business transformation

Paul Siegenthaler

Written by Paul Siegenthaler