• Ken Leung

5 Transformation pitfalls to avoid

Over the years the Directors and Consulting Partners at Outvie have been involved in a number of major corporate transformations and have learnt a lot of hard lessons. Here are the key pitfalls that we have encountered.

1. Leaders not engaged and have not created the environment for change.

Often the leaders of the organisation recognise the need to change, instigate a transformation programme and then delegate sole accountability to a programme to deliver the change, we call this absentee ownership. We don’t believe that is right, in fact it's downright dangerous. We have witnessed a number of programmes where the lack of leadership involvement has led to failure. Often, this occurs where the leadership don’t have sufficient experience in leading change and therefore have not created an environment that is conducive to change. The operational environment is very different to the transformational environment. Their experience in leading in one environment does not necessarily translate to the other.

Leaders that are not engaged are unlikely to provide a compelling rationale for change that generates a sense of urgency. They don’t recognise, or understand, that to transform, it's vital to have a compelling rationale and a clear vision that enthuses the organisation to want to do it. They also don't recognise that, as leaders, they need to create the right environment to pull change into the organisation nor do they appreciate the need to be role models, by demonstrating the desired behaviours.

2. Weak and/or Siloed Design

In order to transform the business operating model, it is important to have a clear, holistic and joined-up design from the start, covering people, process, information and technology. It’s also important that the design builds on the current strengths and not just fixate on fixing what’s wrong, otherwise there is a risk that the ‘baby is thrown out with the bath water’ as the programme seeks to overhaul everything, whether it’s needed or not. This not only risks throwing out the ways of working that give the company its identity and strength but also risks fuelling discontent and resistance as people get confused with the aims of the transformation programme and why it wants to change something that works. Without a joined-up design, it also becomes almost impossible to integrate silo-ed aspects of people, process, information and technology resulting in a sub-optimal operating model. Ultimately, wasting the effort and resources necessary to transform in the first place.

3. The Why, What and How are not aligned

Having a clear rationale (why) is vital. But it is also vital that the rationale is underpinned by a clear set of outcomes (what) that the business needs in order to move it towards the vision and achieve the benefits of transformation. These outcomes in turn need to be underpinned by a clear holistic and joined-up design (how) that the programme must deliver. Robust alignment connects the why, what and how together to ensure what is ultimately delivered is what was intended and needed. Without this alignment transformation programmes risk lacking a clear direction, get bogged down with delivery details, lose focus and fail to communicate with the leadership who find it difficult to ‘see the wood for the trees’ and ultimately lose confidence in the programme and the people leading it.

4. Too agile to deliver

Nowadays, there are very few transformation programmes that don’t have some form of agile delivery. Whereas using an agile and iterative approach to develop digital customer applications can be very effective, the same approach does not bode well when implementing a large complex ERP platform. Even, if a bimodal or ‘2-speed’ approach is adopted, care must be taken to ensure that dependencies between the two modes are proactively managed. Poor planning can result in delays arising from situations where the ERP team, using a waterfall approach cannot synchronise with the agile team who are working at a different speed. It is important that the right environment is created to ensure that bimodal IT delivery teams can effectively work together, and with their stakeholders, to avoid costly delays.

5. Too much focus on delivering the programme and too little on delivering change

Many transformations programmes fail because the majority of the focus is on delivering the ‘artefacts’ of a programme. This includes implementing the technology, defining the processes and designing the new organisation, and then attempting to push the associated changes into the business rather than creating the right environment to pull the change into the new operating model. It’s all too easy to forget that the people delivering the day-to-day operation need to be properly engaged to plan implementation so that operational managers can 'fly the plane and change the engines in mid-air' to deliver the benefits.


To effectively transform, we don’t believe that change can be pushed onto people. We believe that the right environment should be created to enable people to pull the change into the organisation using a coherent approach that integrates the delivery of the programme with the management of change. Outvie has a wealth of experience in working with clients to shape their transformation programmes and help their leadership teams to create the right environment for change. Let us know if you want to know more.

Ken Leung is a Co-founder of Outvie Consulting and an expert in business design and transformation.

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