COVID as a catalyst for Business Transformation and change by Jess Tayel

For years business transformation programs have been on the agenda of so many organisations

They are those big dreams, big problem fixers, the initiatives that will take us to the next level. Those initiatives that, unfortunately, never get done or take ages to get started.

This situation in itself presents a contradiction. We know what we need to fix, but at the same time, we are not really in a hurry.


Platform of urgency

In my experience, it has been one of 2 responses when asking organisations about their upcoming business transformation initiatives:

  1. The slow option: We know we need them, but we have time
  2. The fast option: We wanted this yesterday, Let's do it

It takes a long time

The perception around the duration of a business transformation program is that it will take a long time to get it done. And when we work from this mindset, those programs tend to stretch to occupy the space of time, and we end up with at least 18-24 month plans.

I have always been anti excessively long duration programs and saw that many business transformation initiatives can be cut by at least 33% and still deliver what they meant to achieve.

I was always frowned upon or get some raised eyebrows when I go to consult or mentor leaders in business transformation and challenge them to cut the program duration by at least 33% (if not 50%).

Anyway, this was the pre-COVID era. So, to summarise: 2 things were the main observations.

  • Business transformation initiatives sit on the pipeline for too long.
  • And they seem to be designed in a way that makes them take too long to get delivered.

With COVID, things changed.


Of course, there was a time when the uncertainty levels were through the roof, and many corporate initiatives, if not all, came to a complete halt.

Yet, probably, later on, some organisations started to look back and evaluate. Some decided to keep on with BAU and stop all projects.

COVID as a catalyst

And some realised that to continue to stay in business and grow, they would need to pivot and solve those chronic problems that they knew they had for a long time but did not feel the urgency to do so back then.

For those organisations, COVID served as a motive and a catalyst that created that platform of urgency to put transformation back into the agenda.

The old ways of doing things don't work

However, with all the motivation and enthusiasm, some organisations failed to get the momentum to run transformation programs in a way that keeps them in business, and are still using the old ways.

By old-ways, I mean:

  • Treating transformation as one big project, not as a program of works, which involves a lot more than the standard project management deliverables and more into change management, process, strategy execution, dealing with the higher level of ambiguity, culture adjustments, creating sustainable change, communicating with our end customers, having robust and meaningful conversations, and delivering right first time.
  • Takes ages to deliver: I was actually surprised that some organisations that I know that used to allocate 15-18 months for a transformation program pre-COVID have cut the project to 6 months during COVD and still delivered on its original business outcomes!
  • Comes with a cumbersome governance and decision making,
  • Lacks alignment to customer needs,
  • Lacks clarity in what we are trying to achieve and what success looks like

This way of doing transformation has expired and is getting us nowhere.

During COVID, I have worked with organisations that successfully delivered transformation programs, that placed them back into the market and put them on a sustainable growth path. Those organisations have applied the following mindset tactics and different ways of working:

  • Fearless focus: Focus on delivering on the critical few in the right sequence (the needle movers) rather than having too many projects.  
  • On point communication: In addition to the need to communicate clearly, communication also needs to be on point to design and deliver a successful program of works. There is also the additional complication of introducing working from home; and this has made the importance of communicating clearly, empathetically and inclusively even more critical compared to pre-COVID time.
  • Relentless clarity on a holistic and inclusive approach: To create a fit for purpose business solution that works for our customers, staff, relevant stakeholders and achieve business outcomes; We need to ensure that we include the right stakeholders and fully understand what problem we are trying to solve, to achieve what objective and how to make the change adopted and sustained.    
  • Work on an accelerated path to design, delivery, and a sustainable change: When working in the mindset of achieving faster and better, it is vital to consider doing the right things and doing things right. Spending quality time designing a solution that will work, instead of unnecessary iterations and working more collaboratively, rather than in silos helps in accelerating the path to delivering value. The accelerated path doesn't mean jumping our guns straight into delivery but rather to ensure that we are indeed working in an aligned manner and that we are solving the real problem 
  • Adopt a practical approach and a get-it done-mindset – A lean-approach. Examples of this would be: cumbersome governance, complex decision making, not involving the right people, not making the information readily available, not empowering the team, producing complex text-based documentation etc.

Old ways or new ways?

You might be wondering, but there is nothing really new in the list above. Yes, I know, but the question then becomes, why do we see many transformation programs not deliver on the business outcomes in the expected time frames if there is nothing new in this list?

The point here is: We no longer have the luxury of doing things the old way - that does not work. The standard for delivering transformation and change has been elevated, and it is now no longer optional but mandatory. It can mean the difference between life and death for a business if these "new ways" are not the compulsory holy grail of delivering adopted and sustainable change in organisations.

What has COVID thought us is that:

  • We need to do it right the first time because we cannot afford it any other way.
  • More is less: we have limited resources, so we might as well focus on ONLY what matters rather than have too many open projects that see no light and are all competing for the same resources
  • If we are not working for our end customers, then who are we delivering to?
  • Money and time are two very precious commodities, and we need to be very careful where we spend it. I am not referring to the program approved budget, or vendor contracts or purchasing of hardware but also the small ticket items such as time spent on meetings, delivery, thinking, designing, doing the work, time spent on any form of rework (recurring meetings, multiple cycles of reviewing documentation, lack of proper onboarding etc.)
  • We absolutely need change management to be part of the business transformation program from the beginning (regardless of the scale of the transformation) and we need to ensure that what we deliver is as embedded and sustainable as possible; the most critical criteria of success.

In conclusion, COVID, and any form of significant disruption really, has dramatically shaken the boat of organisational change and transformation.

It has become apparent that for businesses to continue to be in business and grow; We will need to quickly resolve our chronic problems to continue to have a substantial competitive advantage in today's market.

The pre-COVID ways of delivering projects, change, and transformation is no longer serving us as businesses, customers and even employees. It is critical to change our ways of creating change in organisations if we were to stay in business and continue to grow.

I would love your views on how COVID has changed your organisation's views on change and transformation.

In the upcoming series of articles, I would like to continue to follow the theme of COVID and transformation and dig deeper into the importance of transformation, what makes it work right first time in half the duration allocated without the stress, overwhelmed and complexity.


This article is exclusive to The Business Transformation Network.



Jess Tayel serves organisations, professionals and leaders in the space of business transformation and change management to deliver faster, better, without the overwhelm, complexity and stress. All while creating better work environments, productive and fulfilled teams and happier customers 

She also helps business transformation professionals and leaders accelerate their career progression to elevate their status, income, productivity and delivery so they can have a better quality life at work and outside work 

Jess travelled the world to deliver large and complex business transformation and change programs in over 11 countries across 5 continents for the past 22 years.

Jess has served in various capacities as a leader, consultant, mentor, trainer and facilitator in both strategic and hands on areas of Business transformation such as managing &  designing business transformation programs , PMOs, project & program management capabilities , business process improvement, business analysis, technology and business systems implementation, customer experience design, business agility, future ways of working, team communication and change management

Jess is also a number 1 international best selling author, a speaker and big fan of tennis, squash and soccer. She now lives in Sydney, Australia and enjoying the summer 

If you would like to have a virtual chat to pick Jess’s brain, please reach out on LinkedIn or book a time to chat on