Picture the scene: You’re the CEO of a business whose financial performance is heading south.

You’ve identified one of your immediate remedial tasks – a fundamental re-design of your IT and supply chain infrastructure.

Looking across your organisation at your top talent, you’re trying to decide who should lead this crucial transformation project.

You know your people, but how do youknow who has the right mix of skills and capabilities to see your change programme through?

“Unless you’re an organisation that undertakes a lot of change programmes, it can be really hard,” says international turnaround expert Paul Siegenthaler.

“People don’t change their attributes and their way of understanding the world just because you have a change project on the horizon.”

And that’s the problem. You know someone’s a fine operational manager but can they lead and inspire a team? You have strong leaders but are they capable of really getting on top the programme detail?

Independent specialist Jim Gunn is familiar with the scenario from his time advising mulit-national organisations as a BIE Associate.

“Normally this situation is quite challenging,” he explains. “Because most business leaders have been running the organisation day-to-day and may be parachuted into a transformation or programme director job as part of a wider strategic role or a career development plan.

“We also see scenarios where an individual is in the twilight of their career, nearing retirement, and it reluctantly becomes a last assignment, so the motivation and vested interest may not optimal.”

So in addition to assessing competence and ability, you also have to factor in whether your programme lead has the staying power to see the transformation through.

Of course, you can assess internal capability through an initial ‘health check’, preferably performed prior to designing, and initiating the programme. But even then you might not be guaranteed smooth passage.

“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, it can still cause you big problems,” advises Siegenthaler.

And there’s an added complication to consider, as flagged by experienced turnaround CEO Giles Campbell.

“Transformation is about much more than just capabilities,” he says. “It’s about changing the whole shape, focus, behavioural norms, cultural expectations and proposition of a business. It’s going from A to G in one step, skipping out B,C,D,E,F – and that requires skill and experience.”

The answer to the capability conundrum could come in many forms. You might, just might, be lucky enough to be blessed with a natural transformation leader – someone with the perfect combination of grip, drive and flair.

Alternatively, you might bring in a consultant or interim to provide the necessary macro leadership or micro management.

A third, increasingly popular, option is to look at an associate team model – engaging a collection of temporary experts who are able to flex in order to back-fill your own people or provide specific skills at crucial stages of your transformation programme.

But the overarching message from the experts is clear: Turnaround capability requires a wide range of skills rarely found in someone who hasn’t ‘been there and done it’.

So do your homework. Understand the capabilities you might need. Look hard to see if you have them in house. And if you don’t – or you don’t know – seek help.


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