In the first of a series of articles looking at the challenges and opportunities inherent within the world of business transformation, Fabrice Rodrigue, head of BIE’s Business Consultancy division, sets out the importance of laying strong foundations during the mobilisation phase.

Never has the old carpentry saying ‘measure twice, cut once’ been more apt than in the complex world of business transformation.

Whether it’s a multi-million pound systems overhaul or an internal restructure in response to changing market conditions or a change in leadership, getting the basics right at the outset simply couldn’t be more mission critical.

Most business leaders have experience or an understanding of particular elements of the transformation journey, for example how to launch a programme, or have an idea about key steps along the way, such as making a compelling business case or carrying out a capability analysis.

But even very senior executives can be limited by either not knowing what they don’t know or forgetting that effective mobilisation actually begins several steps before setting the scope of a change programme.

First, you need to properly understand the cost of actually going after something. Much of what makes up that cost is how many people you’ve got to put on it, how long they’re going to be doing the work for, what additional skills and capability you might require.

Then you need to break it down even further, to understand what these people will actually be doing, what their deliverables are etc. That’s how you properly cost off a programme – getting real granularity over clarity of scope, skills and duration. In my experience, it’s what people rarely do, or at least rarely do well.

The next stage is getting a crystal clear picture of the Target Operation Model (TOM). How will the new organisation work? What will it look and feel like? Where are there likely to be tensions and cultural clashes?

The final piece in the mobilisation jigsaw, once you’ve got a clear picture of the costs, is understanding and articulating the benefits. A successful programme will be clear from the outset what the investment in transformation is going to deliver. If you’re spending two million, you need to have real numbers at the end to justify that expenditure and provide a measurement for success.

Get this cost/benefit picture clear and it will allow you to come up with a credible implementation blueprint – one that sets out clearly how you’re going to mobilise and structure a body of work to go after a known prize.

It’s absolutely critical to understand and plan for these distinct phases at the outset, which is why at BIE we’ve moved towards a new ‘management consultancy lite’ associate model.

The traditional recruitment model has been based on working with a client at each stage of a transformation process to evaluate a role and then find the right person to fill it.

However, increasingly in today’s fast-moving marketplace we’re being asked to partner with our clients from day one in order to properly evaluate the outcome of their transformation and then structure tailor-made teams to deliver that outcome.

Rather than bringing in a big four consultancy at significant cost to scope a programme and then a recruiter to resource it, we’re providing a more integrated, ‘one stop shop’ solution.

It’s an approach that sees clients getting better value for money because everyone involved in the project is an experienced interim in their specialist field, be that HR, Finance, Supply Chain or Transformation. And it’s proving particularly attractive to clients who want to maintain a focus on business as usual during the transformation period and at the same time build their internal capability for future change programmes.

I know of a number of well-led, market-leading organisations who are currently paying the financial cost of trying to get a major transformation back on track after having failed to understand the true complexity of the journey.

In one example, I’m working with a client that wants to design a new TOM because they instinctively feel that they’re not as efficient as they could be. They’ve set themselves a target of saving £20million by 2020 without properly understanding their current model and therefore whether they’ve even got the infrastructure to deliver anything like that figure.

It goes back to the point about not knowing what you don’t know. And that’s why getting the right advice at the right time – even if it’s just a reality check – is so important.

There’s a saying in management circles that the best leaders don’t hire people they can manage, they hire people who will challenge their thinking and provide fresh ideas and perspective. The same is true when planning a transformation.

I’ve seen too many programmes fail because a programme director has been appointed from within because they’re excellent in their day job. It absolutely does not follow that they will understand the mechanics of mobilising or delivering a transformation – but it takes a brave employee to admit that and an even braver one to admit midway into a project that they might be failing and it’s gone off-track.

The reason we’ve gone to such lengths at BIE to build experienced internal consultancy capacity is because we understand these dynamics and appreciate how lonely it can be at the top of a business about to embark on a major programme of change.

We’re here to be a critical friend and sense-checker for our clients, so that when it comes to having the discussions about skilling and resourcing a transformation programme, the parameters and well understood and the journey is properly mapped.

It’s the quality we believe sets us apart from our competition and a direction of travel we believe will provide added confidence and assurance to the recruitment market.

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