Non-linear transformation: The internal struggle

Neil Kelly

  • Partner, transformation, Wunderman Thompson
Neil is a specialist in digital consulting and product strategy responsible for leading strategy, technology and product teams to deliver significant business and customer value. He leverages technology to build innovative, engaging and intuitive customer experiences and has worked with enterprise clients in both the UK and Australian markets.

Let’s face it, transformation is messy. Every business is different, with a set of specific challenges based on a mixture of external (the market, competitors, regulation) and internal factors (technology, people and process investments over time).  

I have worked with a range of businesses across multiple sectors and geographies. The transformation process is complex, emotional, time-consuming and certainly non-linear. The ultimate goal being to a) understand changing customer needs and wants and b) react to those changing needs and wants faster than the competition.  

While there is no one right answer as to how to transform, there are several common principles for tackling the internal portion of the journey.  

Alignment  

Alignment is the one of the most important aspects in the transformation of any business. Your team, from the CEO down to the newest intern, must all share the same direction and purpose.  

Transformation often starts with a piece of corporate strategy (the burning platform) and I’ve seen varying attempts at trying to align a business around a new direction. Some fail to communicate at all, others simply distribute the unfiltered strategy recommendation. The best try to shape and tailor messaging to different levels of the organisation centred around the transformation principles: Why and how are we changing?  

Failure to properly align teams can lead to great performance in the wrong places, or perhaps even worse, poor performance in key areas. Businesses are the sum of their people and sufficient time, energy and budget should be invested in aligning the business behind a common purpose, both at the start and at a regular cadence throughout a transformation.  

Measure and communicate openly  

Once a transformation path has been established and communicated, it’s important the performance over time is openly reported. I suggest doing this via Objective Key Results (OKRs). OKRs should be part of the transformation strategy itself – let’s not forgot that if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. So it’s imperative there are agreed ways to measure change, good or bad, over time.  

We must also be open to the fact we are transforming in what is likely to be a hyper-competitive and changeable market. Therefore, OKRs may well show decline over the short-term. While obviously not desired, these results should not be shied away from. They should be communicated openly along with the conviction and reinforcement of why the transformation strategy is correct, and the business is on the right path. After all, internal change takes time and must be done (or at least started) before the market will see the positive results of that change.  

That said, we must also be open - in the right circumstances - to changing or adapting our approach. Transformations can often take several years, and in this time competitors and the external market is changing. Measuring, reviewing and adapting approaches should be considered, but again the communication of this should be open and honest.  

If your people understand the reason for change, the tactics or plan and the measures of success, change should be simpler and more rapid.  

Collaboration approach and tooling  

For most businesses, fundamentally changing the mindset and how to operate will require serious collaboration. It’s unlikely people will be in the same place, whether globally located, interstate or perhaps just remote local workers. Collaboration tools are key as they allow for borderless, fast and efficient communication. These also support access to key people in the organisation for questions and recommendations during periods of rapid change. It should also allow partners and third parties to join and share in the conversation.  

Again, I’ve seen different approaches here. The best is to encourage ideas, suggestions and home truths from all layers and areas of the business. After all, who better to explain the impact of proposed change on customers than the people interfacing with them day-to-day.  

Part of this comes down to culture and ensuring everyone in the organisation feels like they have a voice. Part then comes down to the collaboration approach and tooling selected. By ensuring you have a fully inclusive approach, you’ll create forums, conversations and healthy debate. If you do it right, you might even create measurable data on the thoughts, feelings and even change fatigue of your teams.  

These principles are in no way exhaustive, but they do provide some guidance on what to consider at the beginning of any transformation project. In my experience, the people involved in the transformation will make or break it for the organisation. A good plan with no buy-in will fail – likely in a costly and chaotic manner. Spend ample time explaining, collaborating and aligning, so your teams can then focus on the doing.      

 

Tags: strategy, leadership

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