How To Build A Bridge Across Your Transformation Chasm

Today, companies are buzzing with talk of transformation. Transformation is pervasive — some even say “operational.” KPMG’s 2017 Global CEO Outlook says that today, “Rather than seeing transformation as a discrete program, with an abrupt transition … many businesses will have accepted it as part of ‘business as usual.’”

Transformation, however, is different in every organization. Whether tagged as agile, digital or organizational, it varies in size and scope. Some organizations are rolling out or scaling agile, others are automating business processes and still others have defined large-scale organizational or digital transformation initiatives. Often these efforts occur simultaneously — intertwined moving parts designed to drive a company’s reinvention to meet modern demands.

Regardless of the differences, all transformation efforts have something in common: They are about moving the organization from a Point A to a better Point B in a dramatic way. Transformation implies big change designed to drive growth and profitability. It affects most departments, business processes and technology platforms in the company, and it almost always impacts customers.

Bridging The Transformation Chasm

Transformation is daunting, particularly because business must continue as usual. Your organization is standing on one side of a transformation chasm and it wants to get to the other side. It needs a strong bridge to provide direction and support. This starts with a stable, durable footing.

As I’ve worked with companies in many stages of transformation, having faced both successes and failures, I’ve identified three components that create that foundation.

1. A Compelling Future-State Vision

Transformations scare people. Some customers will wonder why things have to change — they like the old way of doing business. Others may be excited by the vision but will get frustrated during transitions, especially if they are bumpy. Employees will worry about losing their jobs. Even company leaders may resist. Those affected by the change must understand why it’s important. This is conveyed through a well-crafted, compelling vision that answers these questions: “Why are you making this change? How will it benefit our employees? Our customers? Our partners?”

When employees buy into the vision, it motivates them and they become transformation champions. When they don’t, you will lose them early, the journey will be difficult and outcomes will be poor. When customers buy into the vision, they look forward to the changes with excitement and patience. When they don’t, you lose their loyalty and often their business.

A compelling vision also helps drive your transformation in the right direction. Teams can tie every decision to it as they are reminded of the “why,” and it will motivate them with an understanding of how they are making a difference for the company and its customers.

2. Committed Change Agents

Geoffrey Moore, the author of “Crossing the Chasm,” said: “One of the most important lessons about crossing the chasm is that the task ultimately requires achieving an unusual degree of company unity during the crossing period.” The same can be said for transformation initiatives. Developing this depends on internal champions of change. A successful change agent is one who is good at developing new ideas, communicates and collaborates effectively, spreads ideas and motivation and is eager to drive organizational change.

Since most large-scale transformations are driven from the top down, company leaders are important change agents. They must align with the vision, goals and roadmap. If you are a leader initiating a transformation, engage your peers early. They are essential allies.

Don’t forget, however, that change agents can come from anywhere in the company. Beneficial change often emerges from the bottom-up — this is how agile took a foothold in most companies. Look for strong change agents everywhere. In an agile transformation, these may be agile enthusiasts on the development team or in a business unit. In a business process automation project, it may be the people who perform that process today. Empower these people to provide leadership and make recommendations. This gives them pride of ownership that will spread to their peers, making them some of the best change agents you can find.

3. An Appropriate Level Of Structure

Large-scale transformation initiatives entail multiple, interdependent programs and projects in flight simultaneously. There must be structure and governance at the organizational level to coordinate team efforts, manage dependencies and roll-up reporting to provide a holistic view of transformation progress. The structure is also critical for coordinating communication across efforts. Multiple projects involve the same stakeholders — both internal and external. Communication should be designed at the highest level to keep employees, partners and customers engaged, manage expectations and provide instruction when needed.

If your organization has a program management office (PMO) in place, leverage this group and bring them in as early as possible. If it doesn’t, you will need to create a bespoke PMO. Organizations without strong program management competencies usually require help. Outside experts can provide a proven management framework and experience-based depth of program management knowledge that organizations without a PMO often lack.

What’s Next?

These three foundational components — a compelling future-state vision, committed change agents and an appropriate level of structure — will give your organization the strong footing it needs to support your organization’s transformation journey, but they’re not all you need to consider as you move forward. In future articles, I’ll share more about how to leverage the people in your organization and proven best practices to optimize your transformation planning and execution.