Catalysts for Change: 5 Essential Strategies for Successful Transformations

Successful Agile and Digital transformation can bring huge benefits to organisations. They can enable organisations to accelerate delivery of value to their customers and streamline their processes. This allows organisations to remain competitive and respond effectively to the challenging demands in an ever-changing commercial landscape. Due to their benefits, large scale transformations are prevalent in our industry. However, a large proportion of these initiatives do not deliver the intended benefits.

In this article, we’ll explore five strategies to greatly increase the chances of success. 

1.   Start with WHY

According to Simon Sinek, an American author and motivational speaker, it doesn’t matter what you do, it matters why you do it?

Steve Jobs, Founder of Apple, the Wright brothers, inventors of the first aeroplane, and Martin Luther King, civil rights activist, all had one thing in common, they started with WHY.

WHY this transformation?

It’s a simple question and one might say it’s common sense, yet it is surprising how many organisations don’t give it sufficient focus. They focus on HOW and WHAT instead.

We can use different words for it, call it vision, purpose or anything we want. It’s essentially our motivation, our reason for doing something. And if we have a compelling reason, a compelling WHY, then it becomes easier to motivate ourselves, to motivate our teams to make things happen.

We can get so bogged down into the implementation sometimes that we forget the bigger picture, which is our compass, our north star.

2.   Focus on customer centricity

In the context of digital and agile transformation, we need to understand and articulate what problem we are trying to solve.

In fact, to be more specific, we need to articulate what problem we are trying to solve for our customers? The customer needs must be front and centre of our minds. This may sound quite obvious. However, a lot of transformations aim to make the organisation more productive, more efficient, more innovative etc. All great ambitions but ultimately, they fail to answer how it would help their customers. So the notion is to focus on customer-centricity and place the customer at the heart of what we do.

Customer at the heart of the experience

Additionally, we must aim for a clear line of sight between people using our products and people developing our products. In other words, a direct connection between customers and developers in the context of a tech company.

Perhaps it’s easy in a small start-up but this becomes incredibly difficult in a large corporation because there are multiple layers between these two groups. We have sales, account management, professional services, product management and so on and so forth.

Our litmus paper test is, can a software engineer describe how a customer uses their product?

Can a software engineer describe why and how a customer uses their product?

It is vital, when we are embarking on a transformation initiative, that first of all we understand how we are going to help our customers. What problem are we going to solve for them? How will their lives be better as a result of our efforts?

Second of all, does everyone involved know this is to a level of detail that is meaningful? And ensure that knowledge is not with a select few.

3.   Understand the human side of the transformation 

If we are embarking on a large-scale Digital or Agile transformation, this is going to impact people. There is no doubt about that.

There may be an organisational or departmental restructure. People’s roles would change. Some people might even lose their jobs.

In some cases, whole departments may be made redundant.

These are practical aspects of leading a transformation. Apart from amazing products and fantastic benefits, there is a real human cost. This cost and impact are usually grossly underestimated.

Now let’s not forget, it’s the same people who are impacted by the changes who are going to be the ones playing a vital role in the success of the initiative. These are the ones creating new customer experiences, creating new products etc. Think about their morale and level of motivation and how will that affect the outcome?

The reality is that we embark on a transformation with a workforce which lacks required capability and potentially capacity too. They’ll learn and adapt over time, but they are not there from day one and the transformation initiative cannot stop and wait for them to catch up. We can recruit for the required skills but that takes time.

Essentially, we run a transformation with people who might be experiencing different and in majority of the cases difficult emotions, lack the required skills and capability, and are likely to be lacking capacity too. It’s no surprise that a large proportion of the transformation do not realise the intended benefits.

The key takeaway is that it is important to recognise the human side of a transformation and create plans that take these dynamics into account.

4.   Prioritise resilience

In the context of a transformation or a change initiative, the first thing to do is to look after our own physical and emotional well-being.

There is a lot of uncertainty when embarking on a transformation initiative. There is risk of job security and there are likely to be changes in role and responsibilities. This can bring additional mental pressure on top of the pressures of day-to-day work.

It’s important to focus on our own resilience. If we are not in a good mental or physical space, then we won’t be well resourced to deal with the challenges of a transformation.

Using an analogy from an aeroplane, it’s like putting on our own oxygen mask before helping others.

We won’t be able to deal effectively with the constant challenges coming our way and help others around us unless we are fully resourced.

Unfortunately, burnout is too common in the workplace, especially when we are working on transformations.

5.   Nurture the culture 

It is important for leaders to nurture a culture of continuous learning, experimentation, and recognition to support a successful transformation. 

Learning Culture

In the fast-moving tech world, it is essential to keep our pencils sharp. The key is to consciously think about putting in place a structure and different types of resources to foster a culture of learning in the organisation. As always, leaders must go first and role model this behaviour.

Celebrating Failure

Innovative organisations create and foster a culture of experimentation. This means a culture where it is ok to get things wrong, it is ok to fail!

We understand this at an intellectual level. However, it takes a lot of effort and patience to really put this into practice.

We need certain guard rails in place to ensure experiments are appropriate from an organisational risk perspective and that we see failure as an opportunity to learn. The key aspect is to create an environment where individuals and teams can fail and not be penalised for it.

Celebrating Success

Top-down appreciation is good but peer-to-peer gratitude can do amazing things for morale and team cohesion. It contributes towards creating an environment which allows individuals and teams to flourish. Resulting in better outcomes for the organisation and the transformation.

In summary, these five strategies immensely increase the chances of success in an organisational transformation. It is also important to note that transformations don’t follow a linear path. One thing is guaranteed that there will be setbacks. It is therefore vital to inspect and adopt our approach based on feedback and learn from any setbacks.

About Mehmood Hasan 1 Article
Mehmood Hasan is an outcome focused Agile Leadership Coach and organisational change leader with the proven ability to deliver successful Agile and Digital transformation initiatives. He is passionate about creating high performing teams and his people-centric approach is focused on improving team productivity while also improving productivity of the wider organisation. Mehmood has expertise in coaching, mentoring and training product development and product management teams, and the wider organisation. He has over 20 years experience in a variety of leadership roles with a proven track record for implementing successful change initiatives in Bio-Tech, Financial Services and Information Services industries.

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