Ingredients for success in transformation
In this article, I would like to share some of the ingredients for success that resonate most with me concerning transformational programs and initiatives. There are many important aspects to consider no matter what the nature of the initiative is. These emerged from my 30+ years of experience of which about 20 are as an executive of the IT function.
Much of the learning comes from the gift of collaborating with great people, benefiting from their wisdom, their tips and tricks. Other learning comes from facing challenges, resolving problems and sometime falling flat on my face. The latter related to nosedives tends to stick more…
Whether you are preparing for business or digital initiatives does not matter. If they are transformational in nature, I suggest you include these ingredients in your recipe.
Sponsorship. The more important the initiative, the higher-level sponsorship you will need. If I have a program that stays within my function, I will keep that role for myself. However, when I embark on a business initiative, divisional or global or anywhere in between, I will ensure strong business sponsorship. If a digital solution enables it than I will probably act as a co-sponsor. Ensure your sponsor will have the full interest required and that he or she will own it, have the credibility and ability to remove all the roadblocks the project could face. We all have too many priorities to deal with, if people do not see the initiative as a top priority for the big boss, why would they focus on it!
“Identify the profile you are looking for, what great looks like and do not compromise! Your best people are already in the most important areas of your business and you will likely have to balance short-term pain against long-term gain”
Leadership. There are two sides to this coin. From the initiative side, you need a driver that not only gets things done with rigor and pace but also someone who can rally the project team and the organisation behind the endeavour, the challenges, the changes and that can ensure other leaders support and help carry it through the finish line. On the other side, management within the business, facing the changes generated by the initiative, also have a key role to play. They need to ensure adhesion of changes through time. Your change management group should help on this aspect. These leaders need to be equipped to play their role. Carry the right messages, escalate through the appropriate channel, and do not accept to fall back to previous practices. A project team can deliver according to plan but operational leaders can reject, neglect or fall back to previous practices making the new solutions a partial or total failure. Leaders on the receiving end of the solution are just as important to success.
People. It is so critical to get the right people on the bus! The competencies will vary based on needs and context. Truly understand the requirements so you can select the people with the right skills. Probably even more important is having individuals with the right attitude and the right mindset. Identify the profile you are looking for, what great looks like and do not compromise! Your best people are already in the most important areas of your business and you will likely have to balance short-term pain against long-term gain. The question is, how important is this compared with the rest? No business have great people sitting on the sideline and waiting! Make the tough choice!
Change management. Projects affect people. Your most valued asset! What they do, how they do it, what tools they use, what process they follow, who they speak to, how they see themselves. Projects can turns pros into rookies for a short time and allow new comers to rise and shine beyond expectations. Are your customers or suppliers affected? How will they react to your changes? You need to understand all of that to best plan, communicate, support and adapt. You can have the best « what » fall apart because you did not pay enough attention to peripheral impacts on your stakeholders. Change management is bigger than communications and training. If you think that just about anyone can improvise himself or herself as a change management expert, think again, that is a profession. You can develop your reflexes, and you should, but if you embark on something significant, do not underestimate this, get the pros to help.
Governance. This factor is as much about guardrails as it is about agility in decision making. You need to agree and align on what you are trying to solve, on objectives, scope, measures, roles and responsibilities, and so on. That is the base, the “W5”. You need to clearly define what you are after and ensure everyone aligns. The second part of this is about pace and efficiency. Empower your leaders to make the bulk of the decisions (I hope you picked the best people) and give them a fast track escalation path when they need direction. Keep only exceptional escalations for the steering committee. In my book, empowerment and simplicity are key.
Take this for what it is, my personal, high level, and non-exhaustive list of success ingredients for transformational initiatives. If you have all of the above nailed down with confidence; I suspect you will more than likely have success in the end.