As a business leader or consultant, you’ll likely be involved in a number of game-changing, broad-scale initiatives – such as a sales organization restructuring, a partner program redesign or a company-wide ERP roll-out. These efforts share some common characteristics: massive organizational change across multiple groups, redefinition of key business processes, significant resource requirements, and high executive visibility, to name a few.
Here, we’ll call this kind of large initiative a business transformation effort, and outline some of the key elements required for this kind of effort to succeed. This post supplements two other pieces of guidance that we’ve offered elsewhere:
- Our white paper on High Stakes Initiative Project Management, which provides insight on how to handle five common challenges in large business initiatives
- This blog post by Ray Rasmussen, the managing principal at The Spur Group, offers perspective on what makes business transformation efforts successful
In addition to the above guidance, there is another set of “make or break” success factors that can be easy to underestimate or overlook. While these factors may seem like basics, it’s surprising how often they get glossed over – and yet transformation efforts fail if they lack one or more of these:
1) Single point of leadership. When leadership is splintered across multiple individuals and groups, it’s easy for things to fall apart. Decisions – even simple ones – take weeks, stalling project momentum. Conflicting leadership guidance creates confusion among team members. Milestones get missed. In contrast, a single leader clarifies accountability, creates consistency and accelerates decisions, allowing the project to maintain momentum and engagement.
2) Leadership conviction. Transformation efforts are hard. They don’t produce rapid results. They typically involve heated discussions. They often require long hours. Given the challenges, leadership must continually reinforce that the effort is a top priority through demonstrated the conviction & visible support. In most cases, the leader must dedicate significant personal time and hard work to keeping the effort on track. Without a committed leader, tough projects like this routinely fall by the wayside.
3) Confirmed investment. Even if a cross-organizational transformation effort has a single, committed leader, it cannot deliver on its objectives without significant, dedicated resources. While the need for adequate investment may seem obvious, we have seen numerous cases where this need is overlooked. Transformation efforts are inherently resource-intensive – business impacts must be analyzed, process revisions developed, job descriptions revised, training created, and so on. As a result, these initiatives must be resourced to support the work effort required. Investments should be clearly sourced and assigned at the outset; otherwise the project team is forced to waste time “tin-cupping” for resources instead of getting project work done. And if the team isn’t successful in securing resources? The effort dies on the vine.
4) Sufficient, dedicated staff. In the same vein, a transformation effort cannot succeed if it is a side job. People’s day-to-day commitments take precedence if transformation responsibilities are added on top of existing workloads. When forming the initiative team, leaders must recognize this by helping team members rearticulate priorities and shift preexisting workloads. Only then will the team have the capacity and support necessary to effectively deliver on their mandate.
5) Commitment to address operational issues. For many leaders,things like tool functionality and enhancements aren’t all that exciting. But this is the area I think is most neglected. Unless the operational environment is set up to support the transformation, the effort falters. In other words, asking people to change without making the necessary systems, tools and operations adjustments to enable the change guarantees failure.
What factors have you found to be critical to success in business transformation efforts?