It ain't what you do ... it's the way that you do it
I have just finished reading a recently published survey on the success level of corporate transformations. One of the conclusion of the report is that “companies are no more successful at overhauling their performance and organisational health than they were ten years ago.”
As with all the surveys on the success of company transformations, there are recurring themes of pre-requisites to success; engaged C-suite, clear & consistent communication, having a compelling change story, broad ownership of the change etc. There always seems to be the need to find a different or new angle, which becomes if not the silver bullet, at least the one thing that no one else has included in their pronouncements on how to be successful.
The latest apparently is “getting the buy in of front line employees and managers.”
In 2010, a colleague and I read a report on change and transformation failure. This prompted us to research previous published reports. As far back as 1985 Larry D Alexander(1) published a report in which he concluded that failure was due to a lack of executive vision & leadership, lack of effective communication strategy, failure to create and communicate a sense of urgency, lack of structured methodology and project management and a few more. It all sounds very familiar over 30 years later.
Whereas these recurring themes are all very important, when will these eminent organisations and consultancies realise that there is no single magic spell, no one missing ingredient. Successful transformations require a number of ingredients that, dependant on the specific organisation, will need to be blended differently for each specific need.
In short, it is not what needs to be done; it is more how it needs to applied in that specific environment and culture.
David Jones, Director of Waitrose Supermarket Chain part of the John Lewis Group said in an article written by Roger Trapp and published in Forbes On Line in September 2016(2) “Process is vital, but personality is very important, too. We need to deliver things with humanity. The key thing for me was working with people who understood that. We wanted external help, but we had to ‘earth’ it with the Partners (staff).”
This was precisely talking to the how this specific transformation was shaped, designed and is being executed.
This how, also has to accommodate the Real World. Big complex transformations take place over many months whatever assumptions the original plans and forecasts are based on have a nasty habit of being affected by outside forces known as the Real World! During these times the original course will have to be modified and the leaders of the transformation will need to maintain confidence and ambition and ensure the outcomes are not compromised. This doesn’t change what is being done but invariably will modify the how.
One of my favourite songs of the 1980’s comes to mind by The Fun Boy Three and Bananarama It aint what you do (It’s the way that you do it). Wise words I think.
Chris Bevan is a Co-founder of Outvie and an expert in leading large scale business transformation.
(1) Successfully Implementing Strategic Decisions, Long Range Planning Vol 18 No.3
(2) Forbes article: http://www.forbes.com/sites/rogertrapp/2016/09/20/a-leading-retailer-seeks-to-prepare-for-the-future-while-sticking-with-its-culture/#993a78819704