As my hunt for a (corporate) transformation algorithm goes on, I continue to put together my thoughts as they crystallise.
In this article, I look at three transformational truths too often ignored by leadership teams.
Many transformation programmes start as an executive offsite.
Smart leaders gather with smart consultants to have smart conversations. They combine information with personal beliefs and best intentions to imagine a new future for the business. A roadmap to success. Going home, they feel good about the company’s next adventure.
I have done this more than once.
Whether as a client or as a consultant. I, too, have gotten wrapped up in the strategies we put together. The training programmes, org-charts, timetables, systems, accountabilities and budgets we proudly wrote on flip charts and PowerPoint slides.
As I hunt for a (organisational) transformation algorithm, I now know we regularly missed some major points of attention.
Sure, all our operational topics had value. But we had insufficient discussions on what really mattered: the storytelling, the employee experience and that as leaders, we would never really control the transformation we intended to start.
If we had taken these elements into account, we could have saved some transformations that went wrong and have made the successful ones even stronger.
So the next time I’m invited to a strategic offsite, I’ll take along the following three truths. They may come in handy.
TRUTH #1: Every transformation starts with a story
Playing with KPIs, parameters, feedback loops, and organisational structures may give you a feeling of progress. But any change you achieve only goes skin deep. The moment you look away, the 'old ways' reassert themselves.
True transformation only happens when your people redefine the narrative of your company. The story that explains how their (corporate) world works. How money is made and things are done. How each of them fits in the bigger picture.
These paradigm shifts are both hard and easy to achieve. They are difficult, because every new thought is at odds with legacy systems, engrained beliefs and short-term profit concerns. Not to mention that any outcome is uncertain.
But they are also easy, as getting started doesn’t require you to invest millions in technology and knowledge. All you need is to tell a new story.
Suggestion #1: For your next ‘transformation’, think of the paradigms you are challenging and the new ones you want to put in place. Then focus on that story with everything you’ve got. Once you get your people to yearn for the sea, they will figure out how to build a boat themselves. (Yes, that's a Saint-Exupéry reference).
TRUTH #2: Stories change through experience, not PowerPoint
As a leader, it is tempting to ‘enlighten’ your employees with a new strategic direction. Show them the way. Tell them what to do. If anything, it makes you feel smart. But every parent knows that life doesn’t work that way. Despite well-intended warnings and advice, the kids will only really learn from their own experience.
The same applies to your employees. You can tell them to be customer-focused, agile, or inclusive. But if they don’t experience for themselves what this really means and internalise this, the best you can hope for is compliance (and that’s not transformation).
Suggestion #2: Replace your PowerPoint presentations with (immersive) communications that make your people ‘experience’ the strategic change you are looking for. Make it personal. Even for your leadership team.
TRUTH #3: You cannot prescribe transformation. It emerges.
Organisations are complex systems. They result from hundreds of internal and external variables that interact in more ways than we can understand. Every impulse you introduce into this system has dozens of unintended - and unpredictable - consequences.
This means that any rigid transformation strategy will disintegrate upon first contact with the business. Or at least deteriorate. This can cause delays, frustration and wasted consultancy bills.
Suggestion #3: Rather than 'prescribe' what change/transformation should look like, give directional impulses and see what happens. Update your views as you go. Let reality be your guide.
If I am fair (generous?) to myself, I have worked on these topics in my career. But I have been less deliberate about them than I could have been. I’ve relied on intuition and assumption, where I could have been proactive.
In the future, I may not always be able to officially put these topics on the transformation agenda (hey, corporate life is full of compromise). But I will keep them in my back pocket to ask questions and give them the attention they deserve.
How about you?
Want to ‘level up’ your next transformation programme?
Then let’s have a chat or brainstorm over virtual coffee and see where things go.
Even if we never do business, I’m sure the conversation will be mutually enriching. Which feels like a good idea in itself.
Alain Thys is an experience architect who helps organisations drive profit and transformation through experience.