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Joseph's Blog

Transforming Optimism on Transformation

The word transformation is all the rage in business today. I suspect that’s a byproduct of another trendy word disruption.

Given the speed of change ignited by start-up businesses and technology companies, many established and larger companies find their lack of nimbleness to be a liability. The challenges of accelerating new behaviors across a sprawling enterprise (often across multiple locations, if not countries) conjures up images of a Herculean undertaking and they frequently are framed as “make or break” endeavors.

Let me give you a few examples of seemingly essential transformations:

Large Retail Chains – Despite a myriad of tactical interventions, retail decline continues with brands like Kohl’s, Macy’s and JCPenney reporting a continued slide in first quarter earnings. To stop the bleeding, according to AdAge, Macy’s plans to transform the way it markets promotions. Kohl’s will strive to increase “personalization, simplification, and clarity” and JCPenney is pivoting to “more digital and social.”

Financial Institutions – For the past several years consulting firms like McKinsey & Company have been sounding the siren for revolutionizing service delivery. Specifically for banks, Henk Broeders and Somesh Khanna of McKinsey note, “If the last epoch in retail banking was defined by a boom-to-bust expansion of consumer credit, the current one will be defined by digital. This will include rapid innovation in payments and the broader transformation in systems enabled by digital technologies. The urgency of acting is acute. Banks have three to five years at most to become digitally proficient. If they fail to take action, they risk entering a spiral of decline similar to laggards in other industries.”

Automotive – Last year Business Insider issued a report on the challenges ahead for leaders in the automotive sector noting, “…the automobile as we know it will transform. Over the next five to 10 years, this internet integration is expected to change the car ownership model, create a new platform for consumers to access content, lead to fully autonomous vehicles, and revolutionize the auto industry. The market position of the car today is similar to where the smartphone was in 2010 — it’s just taken off and is ready to explode.”

Ok…enough of the “sky is falling”, “beware of disruption”, and the “speed of change is out of control” talk!

What can leaders in any size company do to create change readiness and enterprise-wide success on mission-critical transformation agendas? Here are 6 things to consider:

  • Strategically identify what needs to be “transformed” and limit key priorities. Nothing assures failure like adrenalin fatigue in which leaders exhort a “burning platform” for a tireless list of initiatives.
  • Tactically craft a vision for the desired change outlining:
    1. the benefits of the change.
    2. the risks of not changing.
    3. what is in it for the person being asked to assist in the change.
  • Identify a sponsor for the change supported by senior leader involvement, a team of the sponsor’s peers, internal and external stakeholders most closely affected by the change, and effective communicators.
  • Develop a communication plan that repeatedly shares the change vision and engages supervisors throughout the organization to personalize and activate the message.
  • Anticipate, identify root causes, and manage inevitable pushback. Teach effective methods for listening and work through active and passive resistance.
  • Build on Momentum – celebrate successes and stay the course!

Just as urgency for “transformation” reverberates throughout business articles and books, so too does skepticism about organizational success involving enterprise-wide change objectives. Some authors paint such an ominously negative picture, why should any leader even try to change an organization?

My experiences have been quite different as a consultant in small, medium and even large, complicated, multi-national businesses across sectors like automotive, retail, financial, healthcare, and professional services. In fact, I am a harbinger of hope for well-crafted transformational visions manifesting into the day-to-day actions across an enterprise.

It takes prioritization, rationale, communication, sponsorship, engagement of frontline leadership, resistance-management skills, celebration of victories, and sustained focus BUT transformational change can and will be achievable!

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