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How to successfully launch your business transformation.

One of the hardest things about delivering effective business change….

is how to get started!

You might be the recently appointed Transformation Director of a major products and services business. Or perhaps you are an Operations Director or manager within an engineering or manufacturing division. Or maybe a manager in a director’s team charged with getting a change programme up and running. You are under pressure to get moving and deliver results.

But where should you start?

In this first article of the series, I give you some practical advice based on my own experience of helping clients to get a business change initiative off the ground: “Getting Started”. This can be quite daunting, particularly if you’ve never done it before or, worse, you’ve seen similar projects fail in the past!

Also, the need for change can be triggered by a multitude of factors. But the good news is that there is a straightforward, common sense approach you can use to get things up and running, regardless of those factors.

With the help of this guide, you can put a practical framework in place to make success much more likely.

Kick-start: download our free Business Healthcheck that will show you how to get your transformation started. It’ll help you to break down your challenges and show you how to prioritise them.

Download the free Business Healthcheck

Setting the scene

Your organisation might have a very clear, well-written business strategy which now needs to be executed. Or it might not have one at all! Either way, what should you do first?

Alternatively, the trigger might not be strategic. Perhaps your starting point is that you, or your boss, or the managing director, have identified one or more major business issues that have to be resolved or you’ll miss your targets, lose market share… or go out of business!

Should you try to move on a broad front and deliver all the changes in one go? Or is it better to deliver some quick wins first and then expand? Should you have a signed-off business case in place at the outset? Or can it wait and, if so, for how long? Who should be on your team? And how can you pull the best people out of their line roles to start working on the change programme?

And those are just some of the challenges you might face as you’re about to jump in at the deep end.

If you get this first stage right – “Getting started”, you can rapidly build momentum and start to deliver tangible benefits quickly and effectively. But… if you get it wrong, you might never get the transformation off the ground or you might face problems, delays and failures throughout the programme.

In this series of articles on practical business transformation, I’ll be setting out a wide range of pragmatic tips and rules of thumb, based on many real-life experiences of delivering change under different complex situations.

My own experience includes: delivering change across the MOD and all the armed services triggered by the change in accountabilities for the £150 billion military capability programme; establishing a business and technology change programme for a £300m division of a UK aerospace and defence business, initially triggered by IT issues but quickly recognising that the business issues were more fundamental. At the other end of the spectrum, I helped a medium-sized technology and services business to radically change their organisation structure and go-to-market approach, partly triggered by the rapid departure of an incumbent director. I’ve also helped a small professional services business to transform its IT service and support.

As you read, please think about your particular situation and focus on what is most relevant to you. There are links above to a variety of case studies. You can also access some simple, straightforward tools that I’ve used to support this first stage. They will help you to clarify your thoughts and to prioritise the first stages of transformation work. Click here to request our Practical Transformation – Business Health Check.

Begin with the end in mind

What’s the most important thing when you start anything?

Begin with the end in mind (BWTEIM). This is my mantra for any work I do. And it is especially relevant at this first stage of the transformation life-cycle.

So, what is the “end” of the Getting Started stage? What outputs do you need to produce and what outcomes are you trying to achieve? Here are my suggestions:

a. The Issues. The list, prioritised and categorised, of the key things your organisation has to tackle. It might be the strategic targets that your organisation is trying to achieve. Or it might be the list of operational business issues you have to address.

b. Your vision. A short vision statement or a picture – a rough one – of what “the world will look like” once you’ve completed the change or transformation. Of course, when I say “the world”, you’re not trying to change everything! This is the key point: you need to be clear about the scope of your proposed change.

Are you aiming to transform the whole of your business; or just one poorly performing division? Or perhaps you just need to transform one function or department, e.g. Procurement, or Supply Chain, or Finance, or IT. Are the changes only internal or, for example, is your ambition also to change how you interact with your customers or suppliers or both?

c. Key People. The list of important people who need to be involved in, or will be impacted by or might resist the change. We management consultants have a tendency to suggest this is more sophisticated than it is, by referring to these individuals as “key stakeholders”. The term “key people” will do fine!

d. Business Case. You need a high-level business case. How much do you think it will cost to make the changes? What financial benefits and what non-financial benefits will it deliver? What’s the potential cost or risks if you don’t make the changes? Note: in the second article in the series I’ll be giving specific advice on how to build and manage your business case.

e. The Team. A first draft definition of the team that will deliver the change. Most importantly, who is the one senior person from your organisation who will personally back the change and ensure the organisation puts the right resources in place to deliver it? Some people call this the “Sponsor” or, using the public sector terminology, it might be called the “Senior Responsible Owner (SRO)”.

f. The plan. A rough-cut view of how you will break up the change activities into blocks of work – sometimes called workstreams or projects; and over what timescales – you might break these down into phases, waves or other such terminology.

NB: Use terms that your organisation will be comfortable with and that will avoid confusion with other initiatives running in parallel. Also, I think it is very important to set a strong delivery-oriented tone from the start of the change. To that end, I would always advise you to set some key target dates – “Milestones” – for when key outcomes need to be achieved.

g. Governance. An outline of how your organisation should manage and control the proposed transformation work. Ideally, you should have a view of the embryonic “steering board”, preferably with the sponsor as chair, and several key people you’ve identified who should be picked for their skills, knowledge of the business, their network of relationships et cetera.

However, you might also want to deliberately pick at least one sceptic or even an outright detractor. If you are confident you’ve got the right priorities and vision for the change project, you should be able to “bring them around”. I’ve often been in situations where the most ardent detractor at the start of a change programme ends up being one of the most passionate, committed evangelists for the transformation, once they’ve started to see success for themselves.

Doing the work

But how do you get from a blank sheet of paper to all these useful outputs I’ve just described?

It is very rare – never, in my experience so far – that an organisation is so mature that all of the above just neatly fall into place. As I suggested at the start of the article, a business change or transformation programme can be triggered by many different events or circumstances and each of these can put a slightly different twist on how you should pull this coherent set of outputs together. To give you a feel, here are just a few of the business change triggers that I’ve come across:

  • A major legislative change
  • A top-level management decision to set a new strategic direction
  • A merger with another business or organisation, or the acquisition of one or more organisations
  • A loss-making business or subsidiary needs to be turned around
  • A set of processes that are inefficient, reactive, poorly understood and executed in multiple different ways by poorly trained and unmotivated staff
  • Overly complex, cumbersome, failing IT systems
  • A new CEO in the post with a new vision, strategy or objectives for the organisation
  • A poorly performing division or an individual director
  • The aggressive activities of a competitor business or a new entrant to your market

…. and the list goes on.

It is possible, but very unlikely, that all of the above outputs from Getting Started are already in place from a previous stage of work, e.g. if your organisation has just completed a strategy project the work may have gone as far as planning the implementation of the strategy. In my experience, it’s rare that all the above building blocks are ready and often the best strategists have little or no practical experience in how to actually implement something effectively. So, assuming the building blocks are not in place, I would always recommend carrying out what I call a “High Spot Review”.

High Spot Review

Depending on the size and complexity of your organisation or particular circumstances, this High Spot Review should take around three to six weeks to complete. Anything less than three weeks and I can almost guarantee that you will miss something, or just not have time to ruminate on the issues. If you take more than six weeks, you’re in danger of being drowned in the details, or senior management might think you’re wasting your time, and their money, by “navel-gazing”.

It’s important to build a small, focused team to deliver the high spot review. Partly because one person can’t possibly have all the necessary skills, experience and background knowledge. More importantly, this is the initial step in gaining internal buy-in, understanding the issues and challenges, and starting to build some organisational momentum behind the change.

The high spot review must comprise a balanced mix of information gathering and analysis. This should include reviewing existing relevant business documentation, for example:

  • strategy, vision and mission statements
  • financial budgets
  • current programme and project plans
  • existing (“as-is”) organisation and process charts;

You should also carry out interviews with a selection of key people within your organisation. And it is crucial that you not only meet a range of the most senior directors in the business to receive their “pearls of wisdom”, but also that you talk to people at various levels of management and staff, including those who operate at the more junior levels.

As you progress through the review, start to synthesise a consolidated and simplified list of the key business issues and challenges. Make sure you record the evidence and sources for each issue and ideally also gather real quotes from the interviewees, highlighting personal views of what is not working now, and their views on why it isn’t.

These personal insights can be a very powerful way to get the message across to top management that “something must be done”. If you pitch them correctly, they can be just as effective, if not more so, that a set of financial statistics or a list of problems and issues. Here are some examples we have gathered from real projects:

“We’ve created an industry around utilisation of staff”

“It doesn’t really matter how long it takes – the customer is paying for all of it.”

“I know it looks complicated but at the end of the day we always deliver!”

“Inducting new staff is embarrassing.”

“We really only use SAP for cost collection – we run the business on spreadsheets.”

“We must not confuse profitability with competitiveness.”

Start to generate an initial ballpark estimate of the financial benefit opportunity. It only needs to be rough figures at this stage, to be refined in the more formal Business Case Development stage – Reminder: I’ll be covering the business case in the next article in this series. One very important piece of advice here: make sure you have a genuine finance professional in your team, to shape and own the business case and ideally someone who has a strong reputation with your finance director.

As you synthesise your findings and pull together rough costs and benefits you’ll start to see some commonalities or overlaps between the issues. This will help you to work out how the required changes should be grouped together and the relative importance of each and thus the ideal timing for delivering them.

There is no magic recipe or standard logic path to follow for defining the timing and structure of the programme. You will have to use elements of judgement, instinct and intuition. It’s very important to have close colleagues around you to act as sounding boards – you ideally want to receive plenty of constructive challenge to make sure you’re going in the right direction. This is something that I have a lot of experience in doing and there are no “black and white” answers. If you would like to use me as a sounding board, and I promise there are no strings attached, please follow this link to arrange a free consultation phone call.

Give some serious thought to who must be involved in the programme: Particularly the sponsor, plus the person who will be in the driving seat to deliver it: the programme director or project manager – or whatever role title fits best in your organisation. And also the key members of the Steering Board which I mentioned earlier. At this stage, you don’t need to have selected all the team members who will actually deliver the programme. However, one of the other advantages of the interview stage is that you will almost certainly come across people in your organisation who may be very passionate to make change happen; or have a specialist skill you need, or might just be very strong team players who could help you to establish a high performing team.

Towards the end of the high spot review, I strongly recommend that you share a trial run of the key findings at least to the sponsor and perhaps a few of the steering board members. It is always worth having a one-to-one session with each of the key stakeholders before you hold a review with the full board. It is remarkable how differently senior people can behave in a one-to-one meeting compared to their behaviour in a group forum with their peers or seniors.

Once you’ve held the trial runs, you nevertheless should hold a formal checkpoint with the sponsor, or sponsor-designate, as the chair. It’s very important to make sure you stimulate debate and discussion in the session. Avoid at all costs a “death by PowerPoint” session, where you blandly walk through your slides and everyone just nods. This checkpoint is the first key milestone in your transformation, so it is vital that it is full of energy and constructive challenge, and that you build a collegiate sense of what needs to be done and the urgency to get it done.

What next?

What is the key outcome you’re looking for from this checkpoint at the end of Getting Started?

In a nutshell, you are aiming for agreement, at least in principle, by the Steering Board that there is a strong enough case for making a change to your organisation. This case should ideally be a mix of the financial benefits set out in your embryonic business case, and the top level qualitative benefits, such as improved effectiveness, increased customer service; more motivated workforce, greater competitiveness et cetera.

You also ideally want the go-ahead from the board to kick off some early work to deliver quick wins. Again, this is crucial for building the momentum and credibility of the transformation. And last but not least, you want the board to approve the next stage of work: to flesh out the business case in more detail and to start establishing the delivery framework – the programme or project structures and resources to start planning and delivering the changes in earnest.

One final, over-arching piece of advice about Getting Started and the High Spot Review process. Be flexible and conscious of your organisational politics throughout the work. For example, your organisation might be sceptical about the “Transformation” word. In which case, don’t use that term! Or take your time to build the approach and buy-in from the senior “political” players. For example, you might just kick off a low key “Issue gathering” stage first, before undertaking a full High Spot Review. Then share the top issues with senior management, ideally identifying at least one “burning platform” issue which shows that “doing nothing” is not an option.

I hope my advice and experiences have helped you to think about your situation and inspired you to move your key change initiative or transformation forward. Or at least helped you to focus your thoughts and start to put a practical framework in place.

If you’d like to use our Practical Business Transformation – Business Health Check tool, please click here

Or to use me as a sounding board for your embryonic transformation programme, please click here to set up a free consultation call.

And finally, please look out for the next article in the series: The business case for transformation.