NASA explains in the Tyranny of the Rocket equation that the energy required to launch anything outside of the earth’s atmosphere is massive. If you do not invest in reaching escape velocity then Earth’s gravity will repossess the spacecraft in a not so gentle way.
“Traveling from the surface of the Earth to Earth’s orbit is one of the most energy intensive steps of going anywhere else. The first step, about 400 kilometers away from earth, requires half of the total energy needed to go to the surface of Mars.”
Change and transformation projects are like launching rockets into outer space. A successful transformation project requires adequate planning and substantial energy to successfully set-up a project from the beginning. That first step can be the most important. If the right amount of focus and energy is put into the onset of a project, the project will have enough momentum to get off the ground. While the overwhelming number of transformations fail, there are some things that can be done to help your project beat the odds. Here are 5 keys to a successful transformation:
1. Demand Clarity
Simon Sinek, best known for popularizing the concept of Why, says it best; “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” The first step to every transformation effort is to clearly state your purpose. Defining Why enables your organization to move together, fight complacency and persevere through obstacles. Achieving clarity is more of a project than a simple task but it is essential to enrollment and buy-in from your organization.
- Why – the compelling/inspiring reason that the organization is undertaking the journey. This is a purpose, cause or belief.
- How – the strategies that will be utilized to achieve the goals. This is what sets you apart from your peers or the current way of doing things.
- What – the tangible things the organization provides. This can be new solutions, services or processes.
It is tempting to start with What but history has shown that organizations that start with Why are infinitely more successful. Why is the core of a project and directly impacts the success of How and What. Why enables organizations to come up with innovative ideas for How and What. Why is also a pivotal point in change management. If people don’t buy into Why, then they’ll never have enough momentum to progress any further and run the risk of falling into the “valley of despair”.
2. Consider all the dimensions
There is a tendency to overly focus on a single aspect when organizations think about doing something new or better. For example, an upstream organization might think the key to better production is better processes and technology. This might be true but it may also require restructuring the organization to remove barriers and align teams. It might also require new people or providing existing teams with new skills. People, process, technology and organization are interconnected. You need to analyze and address all these areas for any project to be successful. An honest assessment of what you already have in place enables you to identify gaps to delivering a successful transformation. We like to look at these 4 areas when thinking about transformation projects:
- People – Do you have the skillset in your organization to successfully transform? Are the right resources available to spend the time on the transformation project?
- Process – Identifying the business processes that needed to be changed, added or even removed to support the enterprise.
- Technology – Do you have the tools needed to help manage and support change? This can include specialized hardware or software or collaboration tools to enable communication.
- Organization – Is the enterprise properly set-up to enable collaboration and are teams empowered to successfully execute their function?
3. Optimize before you maximize
Very rarely is the transformation project simply about something new. When undergoing a transformation project, it’s common to uncover other broken processes that you didn’t realize were there. Usually, there are a series of operational and foundational projects that must be accomplished along the way before you can start working towards the future state.
- Operational projects – addressing things we struggle to do today
- Foundational projects – things that must be done as a precursor to transformation (e.g. establishing a PMO office, identifying dedicated space)
- Transformational projects – where the future state is so different than the current state that people and culture must change in addition to operational and foundational elements
Recently the CEO of one of our clients wanted a daily “Performance-Year-To-Date” (PYTD) for trading activity. The report was simply how much profit or loss had been generated in this performance year (e.g. March to March or Jan to Dec). The key was that the front, mid and back office had to agree on the number. What sounded like a simple report was actually a transformation because operational and foundational elements had to be changed in order to achieve the desired results. This included the revamp of accounting processes, additional staff, alignment across four different parts of the organization and reconciliation of 4-years’ worth of data. The transformational project shed light on some operational and foundational elements that needed to also be changed. Optimizing all of these areas created the ability for executives to safely scale the trading organization with greater visibility and control.
4. Establish Governance
Answering the question “are we there yet?” requires that everyone have an agreement on where “there” is. It is also helpful to have agreement on a realistic timeframe for arrival. What causes many organizations to give up on the transformation is lack of clarity around the journey. This results in frustration that can override the compelling reasons for why the journey was undertaken in the first place. In order to successfully govern a transformation, you must have….
- Roadmap – a plan on a page that maps the journey from start to finish
- Project Plan – a detailed task lists to get from A to B, B to C, and so on
- Steering Committee – a group of key stakeholders with authority to help manage issues, provide feedback, advise, and serve as a sounding board in a structured way
- Leadership Team – a project manager and an owner of the transformation
The project manager and owner of the transformation are typically different people. Both should be required, active participants in the Steering Committee. It is important to define these roles, responsibilities and expectations from the start.
5. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Communication is key to transforming. It is a common need for everyone in the project. Adequately meeting the communication needs of everyone in the team can be the difference between success and failure. When communicating, consider the following:
- Identify stakeholders – identify people who will be impacted or can have an impact. Take note that sometimes members outside the immediate project team need to be communication too. It’s also important to define who is the person(s) responsible for communicating to the group. Mixed messages and inconsistency from multiple people can lead to confusion and miscommunication.
- Tailor messages and content – keeping everyone aligned is important but not everyone in the team need the same type of communication. The CEO will care about one level of detail while the IT director in charge of the systems will require a completely different set. The rest of the organization may just want to know “are we there yet” and will require something totally different. Monitoring engagement is a helpful way to optimize and tailor your communication.
- Communicate often in many different forms – although email is the most common way to communicate with member of the team, sometimes it’s more effective to meet with members. Creating a communication plan with a variety of channels will reinforce the message for those who access multiple channels and minimize the chance that things get missed for others that have a more selective choice of channels.
It’s rare that someone goes through a transformation and thinks “we really should have communicated a lot less” or “we spent too much time communicating”. Communication, when done right, maintains enrollment and excitement. Constantly reminding your team the importance of the transformation and the great results that can achieved is inspiring and will help motivate the members. It also helps identify and resolve issues. Open communication encourages people to work together which leads to higher productivity.
Change is hard but with these points we hope that the path to a successful transformation is a little easier. The pain and process will be worth it once your transformation is complete. Once you decide that a transformation in your company is needed, we have written Setting up a Project for Success that talks about things to do to make your project successful.
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