Transformation as a new business discipline
In business, there is only one constant: change. The world around us evolves at breakneck speed, rendering the very same approaches that made us successful in the first place outdated. We are living through an exponential and overwhelming wave of advancements in technology: internet of things, artificial intelligence, machine learning, quantum computing, blockchain, augmented reality, 3D printing, big data, and others. We have seen our world turn upside down with the COVID pandemic, not to mention the war in Ukraine, inflation, political divide, global warming… you get the picture.
While some leaders are open to the abundance of possibilities that lie ahead of us, the majority are still trying to hide behind the nearest rock. They pretend that nothing has changed, hoping they can get to retirement without having to deal with the issues at hand. And they do so ignoring the impact their omission has on their companies, their employees, and their customers. They let their fears and inabilities to face challenges dictate their actions and behaviors.
Given that the pace of change only continues to rapidly increase, it is time to formalize Transformation as a new business discipline, just like Marketing, Finance, People Management, or Technology. Transformation should be seen as a new muscle for your company: the more you exercise it, the stronger it will become, and the easier it will be to implement even more changes.
Transformation should be seen as a new muscle for your company: the more you exercise it, the stronger it will become, and the easier it will be to implement even more changes.
In order to make this happen, you will have to address a few points: implications for the executive team, ideal profile for the transformation leader, and impact on the rest of the company.
What does this mean for your executive team?
You need to hire a Transformation Leader who will work directly with you to define your transformation agenda. This person will be responsible for:
Helping you define the vision. They will work with you and the entire executive team to understand the market and trends, technological advancements, and the company’s current situation. They will also articulate the new vision in a compelling way.
Translating the vision into a plan. They will work alongside workstream leaders to ensure that their plans are sufficient to meet the defined goals. They will also own the integrated company plan, milestones, and status reporting.
Ensuring the plan gets executed: They will work with leaders across the company to make sure that plan gets executed and implemented. Along with executive sponsors, they will provide thought leadership and help remove obstacles when needed.
Leading the Transformation Office: They will oversee all activities from the Transformation Office, which is responsible for the governance of your efforts (read more here).
Can you assign this role to someone already in the executive team?
Of course, but success in this case depends much more on the individual’s prior experience with transformation and their bandwidth (which is often an issue, given how busy everyone in the executive team usually is). If you are unsure whether someone in your executive team has what it takes (in terms of skills and/or time) to be your transformation leader, then it is very likely they don’t. You are much better off starting a search for a new person to join your team.
Were you to combine roles, the best fit would be with your Strategy Officer. If you don’t already have one, then the answer is clear: add a new member to the executive team. If you do, you need to pressure-test for the right profile. While there is some overlap between the two roles (primarily around diagnostic and design work), transformation tends to be much more hands-on and operational. Make sure to bias the role (at least 75% of the time) towards transformation.
What is the ideal profile for the Transformation Officer?
Your Transformation Officer must have a “get things done” mentality, with a strong track record to prove it. They must be willing to roll up their sleeves and work alongside the transformation team when needed. They must be excellent people developers, coaching the transformation team through the journey. They must be able to influence the organization and move people into action. They must have experience transforming multiple functions and mastery over running large, complex, and lengthy processes. They must have expertise in change management and be a strong communicator. And, if you are lucky, that person has already dealt with failure and has learned how to recover and grow from it.
The right person will be values-driven, ambitious, self-motivated, and committed to driving real impact. Ideally, they will have strong self-awareness and low ego. It isn’t necessary for them to have experience in your industry, since their skills are transferable. If you can, opt for someone with experience in the same vertical of your company, either B2B, B2C, or B2B2C.
What does this mean for the rest of the company?
As Transformation becomes a new function, you need to think about how to embed it in the DNA of your company at all levels. You shouldn’t expect mastery across the board - that will be confined to your Transformation function and to some people who intuitively grasp the concepts and embrace it within their teams. However, all employees must start to cultivate openness to change, ability to contribute to project-based work, and ability to learn new skills.
A great way to start the dialogue within your company is to invite your leaders (and then employees) to transformation workshops to introduce key concepts: accelerated pace of change, imperative to transform to remain relevant, 5 stages of grief, success factors for transformations, common pitfalls, and inspirational stories of success. You can also combine that with hands-on exercises to shine a light on their own change journey - to start to draw parallels between the personal transformation they have already experienced with what the company will do. Done right, these can provide a powerful springboard to improve on existing cultural elements and kickstart a new way of working for your company.
It is time to make the commitment to establish Transformation as a true business discipline in your company. This is not a nice to have, or something you can leave for later. We are talking about survival here. Maybe not survival for the next year or two, but for the next several years to come. We need leaders who can manage the day-to-day without sacrificing the future of the company. You owe it to your board, to your employees, to your customers, and to yourself.