Business Transformation – Can This Really be Easy?

When people start learning to drive there’s often a fear that they won’t be able to cope. It seems complex because there’s so much that is new. So what about Business Transformation?

Well running a business transformation is pretty much in the same league. You are going to be doing lots of new things all at the same time and as a first-timer haven’t had the experience to make much of it automatic.

However, by taking things steadily to begin with it’s really not that tricky. You are going to get yourself set up in the driving seat. Metaphorically you will adjust everything – mirrors, seat, steering wheel, checking the gear is in neutral or park and so on, as well as buckling up BEFORE you even start the motor. We know what happens if you start the motor with the car in gear and the handbrake is still on and your seatbelt isn’t fastened!

So it is with a transformation. Do your start-up checks to find out if you have the right problem in your sights. Do you have the right people on board to even begin? And so on. It’s all in the preparation just like your first driving lesson. That includes having a read about the techniques and rules of the road (for which insert How to Plan and How to do Programme Governance).

Where to Start?

Don’t assume you know what should happen. Instead you should question everything at the beginning to make sure you are setting out to do the right things for the right reasons. All too often major changes are begun with a #metoo approach – just copying what everyone else appears to be doing in your industry or sector.

That’s a recipe for disaster in the long term – you will never get ahead of the game by taking that approach and it may not even be the right answer for your circumstances.

Instead start by asking “What is the problem that we are trying to fix?”

What Are the Biggest Issues?

Three common failings:

  1. The leaders don’t actually know 100% what their problem is and start out without validating that understanding.
  2. There is a lack of openness to challenge – instead more junior team members blindly assume the boss knows everything.
  3. Everyone operates in their own silo and the communication (especially regarding dependencies between components of the transformation) doesn’t happen or, if it does, it’s usually too late. This will blow your budget and your schedule out of the water.

Keeping Things Simple

Making things understandable is key to the whole process. The easiest way to do that is visually – not a position paper or pages of script.

This should focus on a visual plan or route map showing the ultimate destination and the components required to get there. The ideal is a network diagram showing how it all fits together at a high level and the various dependencies that flow from that.

For instance, if Activity B requires Activity A to complete beforehand then there’s a logical flow. You can find a short video from our Business Transformation Accelerator showing how to do this by clicking here.

Even very complex transformations can be reduced to a single sheet of paper using this method. Those are understandable by everyone and for more detail it’s possible to drill down with questioning to look at what’s happening or what is missing. It’s far better than planning using Project Software.

Many transformations fail because people don’t understand what is happening or how it all knits together. So put it on show and keep it updated.

We Know What We Need to Do – Let’s Just Get On With It

Stop right there.

That’s NEVER the right approach in a major transformation programme. Instead the first steps AFTER questioning your problem will be to understand the people available and to assemble a small cross-functional team with an appropriate mix of skills to take this on.

Even at this point, the team should be encouraged to do detailed root-cause analysis of the problem. Their differing perspectives are likely to highlight aspects you may not have thought of and it will also serve to get their engagement with what is to follow.

Merely charging ahead in a hurry will have the usual effect of more haste – less speed. So don’t do it.

Don’t I Already Understand my People?

Possibly. But honestly, in the context of planning a major transformation, the chances are you haven’t thought about them in the right ways. So, setting aside particular technical skills or knowledge, you need to get a feeling for how they perform in teams. Who are the ideas people? Who gets the jobs done by taking on the routine tasks and finishes them to a high standard and on time? Who has co-ordination skills? Who is the fixer who can dig out resources the team may need?

Beyond these kinds of thing you ought to spend time understanding the styles and preferences of the core team (it’s probably only going to be a handful of people to begin with). Find how they like to communicate. In writing? Verbally? Using images? Are they listeners? Are they very analytical or do they take a “big picture” approach to things? (You will need both.) How well do they connect to other people in key areas of your business or to external stakeholders?

You need a mix of types and styles – otherwise the whole thing will grind rapidly to a halt because everyone thinks the same way and there will be no challenge of assumptions.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Communication throughout is hugely important. The wider group of people whose lives are going to be affected by all that’s happening need to be engaged.

They too will have different ways in which they like to learn about stuff – so make sure your communications are a mix of types and styles. Get a junior member of your staff to kick the tyres to make sure they are accessible and are not just management-speak.

Above all, get the senior team (C-suite, Partners etc) to walk the talk. If they are seen to behave in ways that contradict the messaging then your transformation will rapidly sink without trace.

We’ve Defined the Problem – Now What?

This is where most organisations fail by omitting the next step. That is to get creative in thinking about potential solutions. Most people just look around for something obvious or what other businesses have done in similar situations.

That may work but is unlikely to be a fabulous outcome. However IF you are investing in a major transformation why wouldn’t you want fabulous at the end of it all?

So here’s where you should insert a key set of activities – to generate a wealth of possible solutions and then (and only then) to validate those against resource constraints. These activities will involve the use of creativity techniques in a number of different ways to generate ideas and stimulate thinking. Don’t expect one individual just to come up with some bright ideas – that puts too much pressure on their shoulders.

Instead, by using structured techniques you can tap into the collective brainpower of the core team and that will generate masses of options. In amongst them all there may some absolute gems which you would never have come up with. So, if you haven’t already, go and get a copy of the book 101 Executive Uses for a Square Camel (ISBN 978-0956130525) it has all the techniques you could wish for right at your fingertips.

The Solution is Coming into Focus

Now you have an idea of what the solution entails, then life becomes fairly straightforward.

You start by planning and working out the phases to get to your end goal. With a big transformation there are likely to be several stages, so break it down into logical pieces and get the governance structures in place to manage it.

Remember – you have worked out in outline what those governance structures are going to be by doing your reading and preparation before you started out. Now you can fine tune them to the actual plans that are coming to the surface.

At this point you still haven’t commenced work on the delivery. However you WILL have a great idea of what is needed and who is going to do it. Also how that is all going to be controlled. From here on it’s a series of interlinked projects with their budgets and plans. Don’t tell me that you’ve never done those before.

How Do You Turn All This Into Reality?

That’s where we can help. Get in touch and start the conversation. We’ll help you design a template for going forward as part of a free consultation. We look forward to helping you transform in ways that take account of where you are as well as what you do. If you’d like more information, then you can also follow this link.

Rob Wherrett can be contacted at

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