Whether you are a leader charged with starting or rejuvenating a transformation or a consultant supporting leaders through one, there are a number of important factors to consider when starting on the journey.
The reasons for embarking on a business transformation are broad and varied. You may find yourself:
For leaders emerging from crises – whether having barely survived or spectacularly thrived – it’s been an emotionally draining time for all and navigating the ‘new normal’ is daunting. Will a hybrid working model work? How have customer needs really changed? Have expectations of investors shifted? How can I support my team to adjust to new patterns of working? The pandemic has compounded and added to the challenges faced by transformation leaders.
BIE sat down with Karen Thomas-Bland, a Global Board Level Advisor, Partner level Management Consultant and Non-Executive Director with over 24 years’ experience in creating break-through strategies, transforming and Integrating organisations, to discuss how leaders can navigate business transformations in a post-pandemic world.
Now is not a time to be timid. A year ago, companies that rejected strategies for being too disruptive are now finding they have not been disruptive enough. The best strategies are really stretching performance, and although some strategies seem unachievable from the starting point, many have reaped the rewards of boldness.
Now is a great time to take a fresh look at your business, think of looking at it through the through the lens of an entrepreneur, a board member or an investor and ask, What would they see as the biggest opportunities?
Once you have tested your strategy, it’s then about communicating a bold ambition for the future. In the past, businesses have looked at financial goals as the focus of their ambition and whilst this is still fundamental, the boldest visions are much broader and encompass goals around people, planet, purpose, prosperity for all and profit.
Transformations typically begin by creating a sense of urgency – it generates momentum and encourages individuals to align. Initial urgency, however, won’t sustain an entire transformation, leaders need to communicate the change effectively. They must convey the requirement for personal, emotional and sustainable change by giving people a positive reason to believe in the need for it. Now, more than ever, an engaging and persuasive narrative to bring people with you on the journey is vital. If the transformation story is compelling, you will feel significant energy and momentum around it.
Business transformations always carry an element of risk – the stakes are high, reputations are on the line and often you are asking your team to do things they haven’t done before – indeed you may be doing things you haven’t done before. Creating a culture of psychological safety, where no one will feel penalised for taking small bets that may not succeed builds trust and confidence. In today’s hybrid working environment it’s also helpful to tune in to those often-weaker cultural signals which happen when people are physically distant.
If you want to change human behaviour or rational, benefits-led messaging won’t work on its own. In order to really connect with and change people, connect with them emotionally and make communications more human - centred around being personal, meaningful and open.
Transformations thrive on a series of cycles; building out proof of concepts, piloting them, syndicating those that prove the business case and then implementing them at scale. These cycles need waves of energy from people to carry them through. It is therefore important to balance the energy of your teams with the urgency of the project. Following the emotionally and physically draining events of the past 18-months, it goes without saying that we are all exhausted and in need of a break. Businesses, on the other hand, are urgently trying to regain a sense of normality again. Leaders must be careful not to over-exert their teams as we begin to return to offices and grasp at pre-pandemic life.
With this in mind, it is important that businesses going through transformations strike a balance, understanding how their teams are feeling whilst maintaining momentum throughout the transformation – a marriage of the two will maximise their chances of success.
Transformations aren’t fleeting activities, you have to be in them for the long haul. Managing the ebb and flow of the project and understanding when to go fast versus when to give teams time and space to rest, recover and regroup, will provide the best results and keep employees from burning out.
Given the events of the past 18-months, it is imperative that organisations start taking transformations seriously as they are here to stay. Until recently, many organisations have not delivered large transformations well - each time a new change project is launched with great fanfare, previous lessons have been forgotten or buried and the collective corporate memory lost. To prevent this and prepare for future transformations, businesses must build organisational muscle when designing and executing transformations, learning each time a change programme is executed and using those learnings in future transformations.
While the last few months haven’t been easy for any organisation, those that have thrived set bold transformation strategies, put people front and centre, balanced energy and urgency and are building transformation muscle to remain resilient.