4 Essentials of Business Transformation

May 13, 2015
If you have been in business for a few years, you have seen some terrific transformations (Jobs and Apple) and some not-so-terrific ones (Ron Johnson and JC Penney). What makes one successful and another a failure is fodder for an entire industry of consultants, educators and writers. It makes a fascinating area of study and management consulting. Following are a few common success characteristics that I have seen in my career.

In order to transform an organization, involvement of top leadership is critical.  This ‘involvement’ requires ‘heart and soul’ buy-in from the CEO on down. From the very top of the company there needs to be a simple, public and foundational vision.  It almost has a life of its own as the enthusiasm of the leadership invigorates the company and breathes life into the initiative. It creates the gravity that causes the rivers of innovation and ideas to flow into the “DNA” of the company culture.

If you need a good example of this, look to GE and Jack Welch’s Six Sigma initiative. This highly successful initiative was launched within a huge global conglomerate. It improved quality, drove simplification and eliminated waste and bureaucracy from even the most stubborn areas of the company. Billions of dollars were won in contracts and saved in costs. The company was transformed and streamlined.  The simple vision, public enthusiasm of Welch’s team and operational infrastructure (‘rhythm and rigor’) of the program became a part of General Electric’s DNA for years to come.

2. “THE MARATHON EFFECT” (William and Susan Bridges)

It is important to understand that every individual involved in the changes goes through “transitions”. William and Susan Bridges said there are three basic transitions every individual (affected by change) must undergo:  1. Saying Goodbye,  2. Shifting into Neutral and 3. Moving Forward. Like the stages of grief, every person must move through the stages to reach the ‘New Beginning’. We will save a more detailed discussion of the Bridge’s Transition Model for a later article.

It is important to be aware of these transitions and any inconsistencies throughout the company.  There are many ways to deal with the issues as they arise – but they must be dealt with directly.  Keep in mind the “marathon effect”.  This is where leaders have already gone through their personal “journeys” to acceptance. It isn’t reasonable to assume the rank and file will fall into line just because the boss says so. Training should take place to provide tools and techniques necessary to help others get through their journeys to the promised land. An infrastructure of support systems can help with this.


Stakeholders must be involved. With the context of a transformative simplification program there will be many opportunities for individuals to participate. Provide a structure and culture for them to do so; even if you think you know what the final tactical solutions will be.  One secret of an effective sustainable change, is found within the means by which solutions are designed and implemented. By facilitating stakeholder involvement they become vested in the final solution and will act as ambassadors for its success.

4. “SUCCESS BREEDS SUCCESS” (and “What Gets Measured Gets Done”)

“What gets measured gets done.” Understand what success looks like and make it part of the vision. Tightly align the objectives of the program and each of its component parts with those of the company. When alignment and vision is unclear, the separate projects appear as “thrashing” and success is very uncertain. Wherever possible, quantify the objectives and results. Measures are an part of the underlying ‘Rhythm and Rigor’ of the program.

Each “project” within the initiative should be well-defined with very clear metrics for success developed up front. The “victory metrics” are critical to determining the scope of the effort and when “victory” can be declared. (As a side note, be careful when a project metric is an “average”.  Averages can be very deceiving when they are used as the only measure of success. We will cover that in another article.)

Failures occur even with the best laid plans. Sometimes it is bad luck, underestimating the company’s capacity to change, not predicting the market’s response well enough, or any one (or more) of many things. It happens. Encourage the risk. Continue to embrace change. Fail quickly, learn from the mistakes and move on.

Ensure that top leadership and the rank and file use the metrics to track progress, make adjustments and absolutely … strike that … ABSOLUTELY … CELEBRATE THE SUCCESSES!