I like to challenge people’s thinking and as it’s that time of year when university graduates are looking to step into work I thought it would be good to have a look at what it’s actually like to work in Business Transformation. This isn’t a complete overview – the aim today is to get you thinking.

What Skills Are Required?

It will come as no surprise to learn that working in business transformation requires a whole raft of complementary skills. What continues to surprise is the extent to which organisations think they can execute successful transformation without them. Often it’s because of ignorance so let’s take a look at what they are.

They fall into four broad areas:

  1. People management – understanding how the various types of persona interact and how best to get them working together.
  2. Creativity – especially in getting to the root of problems and then devising good solutions.
  3. Governance – making sure the planning and related matters are given due attention, resisting the temptation to charge ahead regardless.
  4. Technical – more specific to the organisation and its markets or technologies. This can often be managed by specialists or perhaps be outsourced.

Useful Experience and Where to Get It

Profiling People

There’s only one way to advance here and that is to make sure that you understand yourself before attempting to get your head around other people’s behaviours. There’s a wealth of information online about profiling and various inventories. It’s best to combine a handful looking at the different ways in which people perceive the world around them and how they like to communicate. In many situations you can sign up and get some form of free profiling for yourself. Just beware that not all are as rigorous as they ought to be.

You can look at various tools like Jungian typing – the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory [MBTI] being the easiest to get hold of and complete. Even just reading about this subject will give you insights into the complexities.

Typically I’d look for a Personal Profile Analysis that is related to the DISC inventory (Dominance – Influence – Steadiness – Compliance) which is recognised as being very relevant in how people operate in a working environment, particularly in relation to leadership traits.

Add to that some input on Emotional Intelligence – like TEIQue (Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire). The works of Daniel Goleman are also very helpful in getting into this subject.

Then there are other tools, like assessing an individual’s Team Roles and a variety of other insights. The key is to understand how they fit together. In order to do this, anyone wanting to work in business transformation would be well-advised to get some training. That comes as part and parcel of the Business Transformation Accelerator programme at robwherrett.com.

Problem Analysis

There’s quite a deal of patience required in doing problem analysis and problem definition well. Getting experience can only be achieved through repeated involvement in this type of activity but it is also possible to look at case studies or major events in the public domain where big changes have occurred. Start your investigation by looking at how the problem was defined then ask yourself the sorts of questions the employees or team members should have asked. Does the evidence support the original definition?

You will almost inevitably find that the solutions were based on a false premise and by working this out enables you to develop a more critical approach when dealing with a real problem in your own organisation.

Be aware that this exercise is also going to be slightly frustrating as you start to understand the mess created by those in real life who didn’t do things properly.

This kind of activity is something we should all do but frequently is overlooked because of the assumption that we know what the problems really are. Remember, you are only going to get good at this by practising and that’s best done by having someone to challenge your thinking. It’s no good just digging around a bit – this needs a structured approach and use of a variety of tools/techniques to give a blended insight.

So to get this experience you should talk to people who are thoroughly grounded in these techniques and their application. Then keep applying them even to relatively mundane problems until you see how they can change perception. Once you understand this the whole area becomes a lot easier to deal with and it will help you overcome the scepticism of others who just want to get on with solutions.

Managing Creativity

In order to manage creativity well you need to know how and why the various elements work and fit together. At the very least engage in an online creativity course here. There really isn’t a wealth of structured learning elsewhere on the internet in this regard. Single techniques may be described but those working in transformation need to have a good grasp of how to combine them and which ones are appropriate to circumstances.

When it comes to managing creativity you need to be conversant with a suite of techniques that, put together, will give a reasonable spread of approaches. Again a number of these are online but get hold of a copy of 101 Executive Uses for a Square Camel. It’s the most comprehensive starter pack with enough to cover most likely scenarios and resources. Many of the purely online tools aren’t either appropriate or useable in everyday situations


Avoid planning that is sending you down the route of Gantt charts and work breakdown structures. By all means get an understanding of what those do – that’s essential background knowledge. On the other hand think Critical Path. Think about Dependencies that need to be completed for the next stage to move on.

In fact one of the best quick ways to work this out is to imagine planning a house move, working backwards from the completion of the move-in. What came immediately before that? Every last little step and component has to fit somewhere. Then run through things from start to finish (on paper) and look to see whether you missed anything out? Why did you miss it? What was the dependency? After a couple of tries you will start to see patterns emerging.

Some things run in parallel. Others don’t just *happen* they have to be initiated somehow. So a really good planner figures all of this out and can then slot it into a timeline, working backwards from an end point.

Programme Governance

The key is to control your investment in change or transformation. So gate-managing each stage and only releasing resources accordingly is the best way to do this. I teach people how to do great Programme Governance using the tools and resources with which they are familiar – and it works far better than the formal methods such as PRINCE2 and MSP (Managing Successful Programmes).


As mentioned earlier – this is reliant on the specialisms of the particular organisation. It’s infrequently the case that a real techie is entrusted with running a transformation. For one thing it’s not their bag so to speak. So if YOU are actually in the hot seat, the best and only advice is to get a small cell of technicians who can advise. On the other hand they need to be managed quite firmly. Experience tells me that tech experts will run away with things a long time before they deliver the fundamentals, if they are not kept on a short leash.

Managing offshored or outsourced partners is critical here. They need to be given very clear guidance as to what is expected and when. Otherwise their own agendas will cause mayhem. On the other hand it’s a good role for the business transformation manager – keeping on top of things without having to micro-manage.

What NOT to Expect

The first thing NOT to expect is that a transformation is going to be easily defined at the outset. It’s a response to an underlying problem or pain and a desire to tackle that by major change rather than just some incremental improvements. So any sign of a pre-determined set of plans is not (or should not be) on the cards. That way lies the #metoo approach to the world and while it may improve things, it’s hardly transformation.

Secondly don’t expect things – define them and make them happen. That comes about by careful planning and execution. Transformation, as if by magic, only happens in fairy tales.

The Rewards

Getting a transformation activity on the rails and making good progress is hugely satisfying. You will see people grow in their (new) roles. Enlightenment will change the approaches to familiar issues. Finally you get to look back and see the journey to a worthwhile destination. It’s one of the best feelings in management.

Doing it Within an Organisation

There’s a slight contradiction about working in business transformation. Doing it as a consultant as opposed to running things entirely from within an organisation. The latter can be hugely effective by bringing alongside the various internal stakeholders. Knowing who to talk to and their areas of responsibility is quite powerful. On the other hand there’s the slight questioning at the back of people’s minds. “Does this guy really know something we don’t?”  It’s hard for work colleagues to recognise someone they have viewed as a peer suddenly running a major disruptive change that affects everything.

On the whole it’s better to have something of a third party standpoint. It makes it easier to step back and have a more holistic view. So it can help if the leader is not completely embedded in existing structures and organisation. The idea of a skunk works – where a few individuals cook up new approaches – is probably the easiest form of working on transformation from within.

Where Can You Get Help?

Perhaps you want to work in or lead a business transformation. So what is it you need help with? Let us know and we can point you in the right direction. If you’d like more information then you can also follow this link.

Rob Wherrett can be contacted at https://robwherrett.com/contact/

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