Transformation – Where Do We Start?

So, you want to transform your business?

Perhaps you have already decided that technology is the key. You have started to establish a Programme and talk to potential suppliers. There is a burning platform. The business will suffer if you don’t do this. Everyone agrees it’s the right thing to do.

But how clear are you on what “it” is?

You will be wasting a lot of money if you don’t have crystal clarity, and full alignment. Key questions are: why? What are the implications of not doing it? What will be different? How will we measure it? And, what are the key changes we expect to see in the organisation?

A few years ago, I was called into a sizeable utility organisation. About to embark on a £200M transformation programme with a known organisation, they were seeking some independent advice. I spent three hours with a group of stakeholders, working through a list of questions. In my opinion, there were a lot of strong foundations in place:

  • It was very clear why the transformation was needed.
  • The scope of the programme was well defined.
  • Roles and responsibilities were mapped out, including the role of the supplier.
  • Stakeholders were engaged, measures were already in place.
  • The narrative had been established, and the outline communication strategy was agreed.

Then I commented that their transformation journey implied significant organisation change. They talked about contact centre colleagues’ roles changing to include a sales element (previously customer support only), and seamless movement between channels.  This implied organisation re-alignment top-down, potentially changes at exec level, and a considerable investment in colleagues’ skills changes which would probably include recruitment as well as development.

When I asked whether this conversation – about the organisation changes required – had happened with the exec team, the response was ‘they wouldn’t like that’.

And yet, these were the core changes required to realise the intended benefits.

My advice to that organisation was not to spend a single penny of their planned £200M until they had a Transformation Strategy written down, developed with the exec team, that included an outline of how the organisation was going to approach the required organisation changes. Otherwise, the chances of realising any of the intended outcomes in return for their investment, was very low. As a wise colleague of mine once set, they would simply end up with a ‘very expensive train set to play with’.

Contrary to behaviours we have all learned, there is no blueprint, playbook, or method, which guarantees you success in transforming your business. Often these constructs are simply ways of “outsourcing” the transformation process – to another team, to a supplier, to a programme vehicle, to a process … or often all the above. Sound familiar?

Successful transformation is about facing into the challenging questions upfront. Tackling transformation head on, is about, guess what … tackling transformation head on. Sounds simple, but it’s often not what happens, and it’s tough to do. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it successfully!

Let’s say you have decided your support functions are no longer fit for purpose for where your organisation is headed. Your processes are sluggish. There is too much bureaucracy, too many people spending too much time on low value rather than high value activities. Things take too long, and there is not much value add. You are convinced that a new ERP system is a significant part of the answer. You have already spoken to suppliers, who not surprisingly, agree with you. A new ERP will provide world class processes “out of the box”, and this will be a catalyst for transforming your support functions.

And yet, an ERP system will address none of the challenges described above. The ERP system is a tool which can support improved ways of working. But, to address your challenges, you need to work out how the organisation needs to change, and the approach to tackling those changes.

Take some truly independent advice. Work with your exec, and your support functions to develop a transformation strategy, which answers the key questions (why, what, what will be different). Include the outcomes you would like to see from the transformation, and workshop how those outcomes could be delivered. Set up a team to begin working on the changes you have identified.

And then, only then, ask the question about the part that technology may have to play.

This way your programme is outcome led. Updates with exec and Steering Groups should lead with progress towards those outcomes. Engage your people fully in the journey, as this will make success far more probable.

In a world where the pace of change is rapidly increasing, and your success will be defined by how fast you can move, you will need to radically rethink your approach to change and transformation. My advice – tackle it head on!

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