Is it inevitable that transformation programmes lose momentum?

The Business Transformation Network recently hosted an event on "Is it Inevitable that Transformation Programmes Lose Momentum?" at the Haymarket Hotel in London. 

The conversation was open and varied, touching on a wide variety of subtopics including:
1. How do we ensure a new programme will deliver long term value to a business and stakeholders through strategic alignment? 
2. How can we maintain a focus of value throughout the transformation journey?
3. How can we ensure continued value after the transformation is 'complete'?

We live and operate in a time where change is inevitable and has become almost second nature, putting businesses in a constant state of flux. In line with this, businesses are running transformation programmes at an increasingly frequent rate, facing the inexorable loss of momentum that comes with it, so how can we make sure that our businesses stay on track when all the necessary movements and decisions seem to fail for unexplainable reasons...?

Is failure and loss of momentum inevitable?

It depends.

Transformation programmes can vary widely from business to business. Each is influenced by a variety of factors from sponsorship to leadership, stakeholders, consumers - all of these can impact to slow down or change the course of a programme, but this loss of momentum is not completely inevitable.

The general consensus was that the level of criticality around a transformation can affect the momentum and its ability to 'stick' after, for example, if a change is highly critical and is required for the survival of the organisation, then the transformation is more inclined to be fast-paced and will stick, due to the level of urgency associated with it.

Equally, leadership and strategic alignment are important as, ultimately, it comes down the internal politics behind the transformation. The importance of having a champion for the transformation within the senior leadership team cannot be overlooked, as the ensuing power struggle can be difficult to overcome, especially when considering the level of fear change instils in people (demonstrated in the Kubler-Ross Change Curve) at all levels of an organisation, and they can help 'bring the people along' on the journey.

Everything is constantly changing, both within business and society, yet we all want to see value immediately. One of the hardest areas for transformation is the pressure of the expectation of instant gratification from the investment made in changing, and how during a time where the change of pace is so quick, the turn around time on transformation projects needs to be significantly quicker, as the average 3 year period means the transformation is already out-dated by the time it is fully completed. To do this, organisations need to define the outcomes that they expect and clearly prioritise these, as momentum can easily dissipate when people are trying to work towards contrasting goals, with fluctuating priorities.

There was widespread agreement that consolidating the transformation with a vision and outcomes that align with the people, is fundamental for maintaining momentum amongst transformation programmes as it provides everyone with a joint goal that they are working towards together.

How can you ensure a transformation programme will deliver long-term value through strategic alignment?

Engage. Plan. Deliver.

Transformation must always start with a purpose and a set of defined outcomes, from this a team can be built comprising the right people to ensure the transformation keeps momentum and is successful in the long-term. Unfortunately, many organisations want to move too quickly when it comes to change, often overlooking the importance of having a shared vision, purpose and outcomes, meaning the wrong people can be assigned to the project which in turn starts the whole process off on the wrong foot. 

The importance of ensuring you have the right team during times of change is integral and can completely alter the success and momentum of the project. Generally, organisations make the assumption that people are ready and automatically supportive of change (which is rarely the case), opting to conduct change in a top-down manner, when realistically the people on the 'front line' understand the customer needs more thoroughly. Getting these people on board should not be overlooked, as it could have a significant impact on the long-term success of a transformation. Organisations need to engage their employees prior to beginning the transformation programme, to ensure that any issues or challenges can be placated early on, thus allowing the organisation to involve and bring people along with the change. Using this approach, organisations can create a sense of responsibility amongst their 'front-line' employees, which in turn can help create a high level of engagement and maintain momentum throughout a programme, whilst also sustaining the changes once the programme is complete. 

How can organisations create long-term value from transformation programmes?

Survival is a key theme behind most forms of transformation, particularly successful transformation. Organisations need to have a strong business case for transformation, with a competitive understanding of the value it will bring them in the long-term, without damaging the employee engagement. Storytelling, communication and transparency are crucial to successful transformation programmes. Organisations should communicate to understand how the change is being received and what that means for the wider organisation and the change in the long-term. 

How to maintain value from a transformation programme?

Organisations need to begin looking at what is being done today, and assessing how we can change this for future success. The consensus amongst attendees was that when a transformation programme was deemed to have ended, it is the beginning of a transformative business, that sustains change through a culture similar to continuous improvement, and when we get to that point, the role for transformation becomes redundant. To achieve this state, organisations need to collaborate and engage with the customer to establish their wants and needs, by demonstrating what could be, as opposed to asking what customers actually want, as they don't always know (Take Henry Ford, for example, with the development of Cars from the Horse and Cart, his customer would have never known they needed this, unless they were shown). 

In short, transformation is essentially dead, and a form of continuous improvement is the more desired state of change, characterised by constant feedback on the change in the form of double or triple loop learning. The way organisations change is also changing, focusing less on big, upfront risk-based investments, focusing on instead using incubator forms of investment to encourage customer-focused change and innovation within organisations. We live in a world that is constantly changing, so we're in a constant state of flux, yet we are still educating our future generations in the same manner. Business is a micro-chasm of society and currently, our societal challenges are being reflected in education which is remaining the same and is woefully under-preparing the future generation for the pace of change and the work environment they're going to inherit. 

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This event write-up is exclusive to The Business Transformation Network.