Its been my professional lot in life for many recent years, and currently, to work with customer programs that were titled as “Business Transformation”. It’s quite an impressive and interesting title. As with most business enterprise software or consulting companies, this term has been well exploited in their sales and marketing materials. It’s been used to infer that completing a particular business initiative successfully will transform the business – meaning radically altering the state of the business to a new place of efficiency and profitability.
However, with decades of observation of these “under my belt” so to speak, it’s interesting to think about how well they have lived up to their description. In fact, for some, they may say such labeled initiatives indeed were transformative but not in a positive manner, and actually could be labeled as a black swan event. Here using the black swan as a metaphor, describing an event as one that is unexpected with major adverse impact, as coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
Failed business transformation programs could fit that; starting out with great expectations of promise and benefits yet ending with huge losses and disappointment. How possibly could this happen and how to prevent?
From experience, I would say it is the simple yet profound “3 R’s” of business transformation realization that facilitate reaping the benefits of breaking through to a new dimension of business success.
Unfortunately, instead of a transformational experience like the Danish tale of the ugly duckling becoming a beautiful swan, sometimes a black swan appears. One study I read said 1 in 6 business transformation programs were a black swan event, and there were other studies with varying statistics of even greater failure frequency.
Obviously, the impacts in such events are huge; a clothing manufacturer went from a program budget of less than 10 million to a charge against earnings of almost 200 million; a retailers “modernization program” went off the rails and drove it into bankruptcy; problems with an international airport technology program cost a country close to a billion in lost business revenue; and most all cause personal tragedies for thousands who lose jobs.
But success in this type initiative is within the grasp of organizations if they aggressively follow these basic yet profound “3 R’s” of business transformation realization:
1. Be Ready. Use extremely proactive change management that not only focuses on the soft components but also the hard measurable factors, from facilitating the transitions of the program team in the different phases to cope and deliver, to the change enablement for the business to receive the change and cope. Know exactly what winning means from the beginning, by knowing what progressive results or wins you can and will achieve and have it in the business case with ownership. Also, know exactly what it will take to deliver. Don’t wear any rose colored glasses handed to you by someone. Have the right team, with the appropriate management, industry, and process experts needed, including software experts so to leverage smart technologies as accelerators.
2. Be Realistic. Stay within yourself by staying within organizational resource, timeline, and budget abilities. Too much scope is usually the elephant in the room that still crushes business transformation efforts. Butterflies are better than elephants. Utilize chain reaction transformation by starting small and manageable and get beautiful result after result in near-terms, instead of going for the big one trying to swallow the whole thing (big bang they call it) and getting crushed with the weight of it during a long drawn out timeline.
3. Be Relentless. In risk management, hedging against uncertainty and facilitating manageable win after win with rigorous testing and validation from solid QA assurance. This provides a validated controlled progressive chain reaction and not over–expansion that turns into a self-feeding runaway implosion. Just say no – to business line leaders or consultants with changes in scope after you know good planning was done. Then just do it, with the necessary commitment and actions required – with tenacity, showing the all-in commitment at every level from executive support to each program member and business end-user.
You get the idea. Even at the risk of some calling it simplistic, taking such a straight-forward approach with these attitudes along with good planning and execution, you can map out a transformative game plan for your business organization that’s not a honker but a winner.
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