Business Transformation – ‘Eating The Elephant’

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Business Transformation – ‘Eating The Elephant’

At some point, whether due to mergers, cut backs, new products, new business models etc. most organisations at some point will initiate a “Transformation Programme” or “Change Programme” in which, as George Harrison put it, “All things must pass”. Unsurprising perhaps in the ever moving 21st Century business environment? Maybe not but what is surprising is that, in many cases, more thought and planning is out into deciding a sufficiently impressive name for this magnum opus than into a comprehensive design and delivery plan for it. For instance:

  • It is not uncommon to see the posters go up, the press releases out and the mouse pads imprinted for “Programme GeeWhiz” while management still haven’t decided what this actually is and most staff are completely unaware of the existence of it at all or what role they might have in it.
  • If anyone does have an idea of what its about then it is probably only a small part – they can only see a part of the “Elephant” so no one knows what the whole one really looks like yet.
  • Most of all the management team can fail to realise that a transformation programme is not just another change project – by nature it is holistic – impacting on all areas of operations with many interdependencies and complexities so no area or persons can opt out or assume non involvement.
  • If any transformation start off this way then it is almost certain this uncertainty and communicative confusion will remain throughout the programme up to and including the acceptance of, recognition of and quantification of success for any outcomes.

To avoid this sorry state takes only a few underlying pre-requisites:

1) Forget the Name – start with REALLY understanding why you want to start this programme – “Why are we doing this?” Amazingly many organisations can’t clearly articulate this. Consequences of starting in this way will be endless scope creeps and uncertainty that nobody will feel satisfied at any stage. You simply can’t do a “design and build’ make it up as you go approach with such comprehensively impacting change. You must have a clear reason/driver for it and a clear vision of the end state before starting.

2) Have a champion with real clout in the organisation – preferably the CEO – A high-level executive buy-in for the change will help both sell and maintain enthusiasm and support for the duration of the programme. If this person can regularly and clearly state the vision in terms all can relate to then it will be worth ten project managers working in a fog.

3) Ensure the senior and middle management really understand the impacts on their areas and don’t just pay lip service to the Chief Executive:

  • This is the holy grail of a successful transformation programme. Many programmes fail or drag because these people only realise the impacts well into the programme and then start withdrawing support or making changes.
  • At the outset, change is as much about ensuring buy-in from executive and functional leaders within the organisation than actual operational changes themselves. Each of these managers need to fully understand and buy in to the implications of the programme for them and what is required in the programme of them, their business areas and their people.
  • This will also have an added benefit in driving the overall behavioural/cultural change which is often required to work within the new operational environment. The supportive and “lead by example” visible behaviour of leaders and key role players will visibly speak to the new way things should be done. Over time staff will mirror this until the new ways will become “emprinted” permanently.

4) Build a Foundation of Good Governance bare essentials to ensure a successful achievement of the goal are:

  • A clearly defined, scope managed business case – i.e. you know what you are trying to achieve and what it will look and feel like when you do achieve it and any changes to the goal in flight will be reflected in the expectation of the look and feel of the outcome. An overall programme manager who understands all the disciplines involved and how to manage them all holistically towards the end goal
  • Relevant numbers of project managers to take responsibility for specific outcomes within the overall delivery of the goal.
  • Defined best practices, controls and measures for Project progress, review and tracking governance.
  • A programme management office to set, and report on those PM governance practices.
  • Be happy with your success – if you achieve what your vision was then acknowledge it – don’t look for additional benefits that were never promised – the “ Oh I thought you said we would get xxxx from this…” crocodile tears disappointments stated are often from managers who did not fully participate in all of the previous steps above.

But as a last word on governance – I return to the first words: ” A clearly defined, scope managed business case”. If you’ve defined what you want and managed as above you will get it – so be VERY clear on the what……….

“As long as I sit in this chair, all future catastrophes will be planned by me.” (‘allegedly’ – President George W. Bush)

“Don’t worry, I have plans: Plan A – Mess up a perfectly clean house. Done that.” (The Cat in The Hat (movie) – Dr Seuss) –



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