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The Anatomy of a Successful Transformation

How often do you hear organizations embarking on ambitious transformations that are vital to the success and growth of the company?

Ever wonder how a few of them turn into real success stories that jettison the company forward or why many sputter and fizzle out, leaving a stifling amount of capital debt without an associated return?

In transformations that I have had the pleasure of observing, I have found that the anatomy of a successful transformation is directly related in how companies prepare for and work towards that transformational vision and as a result makes an enormous difference between success and failure.

Are you leading a transformation within your own business? Ask these simple questions to see if you have the anatomy to be successful.

Have you created a compelling business case?

A business vision is the development of a future business model born from a sound understanding of the markets you serve, products you provide and your key differentiators in a competitive landscape. A bold business vision forms an existential foundation for the development of a business case for transformation.

Transformational change requires endurance of time, strength of financial stability and most of all a committed workforce to be in pursuit of the results you desire. A business vision that can be translated to what success means to every employee in the organization, not to mention an undisputable consequence if not embraced by every employee in the organization is what makes a compelling business case.

A good litmus test to determine if you have a compelling business case is to ask employees across your organization to explain their role in the transformation and see how well they can relate to the business case that has been put forth. A compelling business case creates the necessary constancy of purpose to continue to propel your organization towards achieving your vision despite the occasional detours that may be necessary.

Companies that start with a big splash, but fail to follow through beyond the glitz of videos, branded trinkets and press announcements without an actual business case that resonates with the masses in the organization will see their momentum fizzle away once the gloss of the excitement wears off.

Do you have an empowering culture?

Culture of empowerment is a time-tested pathway to achieving transformational change. This empowerment culture starts with a leader’s own behavior of humility, his or her willing to learn, and embrace the possibility of finding a path that may fundamentally be different or contrary to their current thinking. An empowering culture in a team stems from their acknowledgment and respect of the knowledge and experiential learning of the team that is closest to the work.

An essential ingredient of an empowering culture is the creation of a safe environment with generous boundaries. This requires an environment where ideas to solve problems from the grassroots level are highly encouraged, where teams are appreciated to experiment without inhibition, where failures are celebrated as a stepping-stone to innovation are behaviors that would create a safe environment.

Companies that do not embrace an empowering culture may tend to operate in a toxic scapegoat culture where fear and blame is the fuel for your transformation, where creativity and enthusiasm is stifled by fear of failure, where employees are afraid to take risks and even more afraid to speak out when they know that something is wrong.

Is there a strong commitment at the highest level of leadership?

Executive sponsorship makes transformations more effective by modeling the commitment needed from the organization to pursue the hard breakthroughs needed. Long arduous transformation efforts require commitment, encouragement, and prioritization by the executives to keep employees motivated. Transformations involve making disruptive decisions that may impact investment and staffing decisions that can only be made with dedication demonstrated from the highest level in the organization.

While day to day decision authority for leadership and management can be delegated, transformation results, responsibility, and accountability should be shared by every member of the executive team. Deep rooted in the culture of organizations is the inability to influence above their respective pay grades. Executive involvement provides the necessary impetus to make revolutionary decisions in the organization without the inhibition of levels and pay grades.

Successful companies infuse of a blend of external industry experts in partnership with internal business experts to create the right level of innovation needed to provide lasting results.

If you think you can get away with outsourcing the responsibility of your transformation solely to be planned and executed by external consultants or so called experts, as you are too busy with other priorities, think again.

While there is a certain unmistakable value in outside perspective, the most powerful desire to change comes from within and it starts with an enduring commitment at the highest level in the organization.

Do you have the necessary building blocks?

A transformational vision is undoubtedly a bold idea about what the future holds for the company. This distant dream can only become a reality only if there is a blueprint of how this vision can be realized along with building blocks that outline the steps to achieve your vision one step at a time. Creating these building blocks is necessary for employees to connect the dots between your vision and achievement of such vision and understand the role they play in the transformation. As an example, if you have a vision of where you would like to be in 3 years, start by breaking down your building blocks with where you need to be in the next 12 months and narrow this focus down further into quarters, months, and weeks until you have a clear step by step plan of how your vision can be achieved from where you are today.

While these building blocks can be crystal clear to define the steps necessary to achieve near-term objectives, any distant objectives will likely lack details and can only be directionally defined until further clarity or progress from near term objectives can be made. While these building blocks can provide a pathway for achieving the desired transformation, they also drive clarity and any necessary finetuning by way of reviews, validations, experimentation, market evaluation… by teams closest to the work.

Another important aspect of the building block is its ability to act as a mirror to track your progress relative to your vision in a metric driven way. These metrics can be measured on pace with the steps outlined in the building blocks through various dimensions such as time, cost and value achieved.

Companies that do not create the necessary building blocks not only tend to veer away from their transformational goals but may miss this realization until it is too late to reorient themselves towards success.

In conclusion, transformations are hard. Beginning with a well-established business case, one must ensure organizational commitment and an empowered culture to achieve the associated building blocks. With the right mindset and approach we, as technology leaders, are well positioned to drive our organizations in the transformational journey toward success.

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Murali Balakrishnan, TNCR Contributing CIO
Murali Balakrishnan, TNCR Contributing CIO
Murali is the Vice President of Information Technology at Acumed. He is an influential IT executive with a proven track record of enabling transformational change in an organization. He inspires employees to maximize their potential through coaching and he builds trusted partnerships and translates business strategy to an actionable blueprint. He follows through with successful execution using data driven insights. Murali is an avid learner and has great passion in the use of pioneering technology to help solve unique business challenges.
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