Planning a Transformation Program? Avoid These Blind Spots

Everyone wants to find new ways to grow and stay ahead. Organisations are asking how they can transform their business, products and services. They want to innovate and create amazing new customer experiences.

Cue the ubiquitous transformation program.

Whether it’s digital transformation, cultural transformation, structural transformation or all three, it seems that nearly every organisation has embarked on a transformation journey or is preparing for one.

But transformation is hard work. A 2015 McKinsey Global Survey found that transformation track records hadn’t improved in 10 years.

Here are some blind spots to avoid, gleaned from our work supporting clients through large transformation programs.

1. Don’t underestimate the power of (real) communication

There are three things you need to do: communicate, communicate, communicate

Leaders need to be crystal clear about the why, the where and the howWhy we’re transforming; where we’re going (what the future will be like when it’s successful); and how we’re going to get there.

In How to Beat the Transformation Odds, McKinsey & Co writes that communicatingespecially about progresscontributes the most to a transformation’s success.

Specifically, their global study found that it helps when leaders develop a clear change story, share it across the organisation, and communicate openly about the implications for day-to-day work.

[Related: How to Jumpstart Change Management in 10 Steps]

2. How much effort will the transformation require?


Executives can fail to understand that large programs will add to employees’ (already substantial) workloads. This can create resistance.

When organisations launch large programs of work, they often don’t realise or know how to deal with the fact that employees are already busy with their day-to-day jobs.

When considering a large program such as a transformation, calculate how much work employees will have to do beyond their existing responsibilities.

Authors of The Hard Side of Change Management recommend that no one’s workload should increase more than 10%. Go beyond that, and resources will be overstretched and something will have to give—either normal operations or the transformation program. Morale will suffer and conflict may arise between the program team and operational staff.

When calculating the additional effort a program will require, also consider if this is on top of already heavy workloads. The program may be transformational in all the right ways, but employees are likely to resist it if it demands more of their scarce time.

In supporting a client to reset a complex and lengthy safety program, we spoke to employees across the organisation. Here is what people said about the impact of the program on them:

  • “Everyone has to align and plan across the corridors. This was severely under-resourced and the change management underestimated.”
  • “It’s the right way to go, but the business has underestimated the cultural change. I don’t see anything in the change management plan for how the business plans to overcome the dichotomy of a rules-based culture and risk-based thinking.”

Leaders need to be prepared to reprioritise (and deprioritise) other initiatives to create capacity for the transformation. 

[Related: 5 Strategies to Reduce Change Saturation and Change Fatigue]

3. Manage the component projects as a portfolio, not individually


If not managed as a portfolio, projects can crash into each other and create a pile up

Organisations usually kick off several (sometimes many!) projects to achieve the transformation objectives. If the portfolio isn’t managed properly, the projects end up competing for attention and resources. 

Rather than each project swimming in its own lane, the projects need to be managed and tracked cohesively, as a portfolio. This is especially important when it comes to planning engagement activities.

Here’s what we heard from employees about the safety program:

  • “It’s complicated and there are so many projects it’s hard to get your head around”
  • “Too much going on at once and not clear about the interactions between the various projects”
  • “The program feels like a series of disconnected tactics – there is little integration”

How the projects communicate is crucial. Join the dots between the projects and the transformation objectives—don’t expect employees or their managers to do that themselves.

(Bonus 🌟: having a cohesive, program-level narrative makes planning project communications much easier!) 

4. Top-level commitment

Lack of effective change leadership is one of the top risks to implementation failure. (Capacity is another.)

If employees don’t see their leaders backing an initiative, they’re unlikely to change.

A tip for leaders from The Hard Side of Change Management: when you feel you’re talking up an initiative at least three times more than you need to, people will probably feel that you’re backing the change. “No amount of top-level support is too much,” say the authors.

On the safety program, employees said: “Individually leaders are supportive but there’s a lack of alignment across leadership. If we had that alignment, it would be much easier to implement.”

[Related: Accountability: The Missing Link in Making Change Stick]

5. Measure and track progress

Establish clear metrics for success and track their progress throughout the transformation journey

Some leaders worry that large transformation programs will fail simply because they’re too long. (Early enthusiasm will wane, say sceptics; problems will crop up and objectives will be abandoned.)

In fact, research by the Boston Consulting Group has found that long projects that are reviewed more frequently are more likely to succeed than short projects that aren’t reviewed frequently.

Set goals, schedule milestones and track progress—throughout the transformation journey. This is the best way to know if you’re on track, identify gaps and spot new risks.  

[Related: Characteristics of a Truly Change Capable Organisation]

We can help you succeed

If you’re planning a transformation or you’ve already started one, take a moment to consider how it’s going. Is your operating environment transformation-ready? 

We can help you review your progress or your readiness and make actionable recommendations. Get in touch with Ian Roughsedge for a confidential conversation.

Over to you! Are there other transformation blind spots you’d add to this list?

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