Tackling Transformation: Where to Begin?

Your company has a really big transformation to tackle. Where do you begin? How do you start? Sometimes taking the first steps can be the hardest part.

A few lessons from my experience:

Always begin with the end in mind. You must have to have a really clear vision of what success looks like and how you will know if you’ve been successful.

It may take three years or five years (or longer), depending upon the scale and complexity of your change. Don’t rush it. It’s always more complex than you think it will be.

As a leader you must find the balance between moving ahead consistently – and perhaps pushing people out of their comfort zones – without being unrealistic and ignorant of the facts on the ground. Otherwise your team members will not remain engaged and continue to transform with you.

Build in quick wins throughout the journey. These are essential during the first year to demonstrate progress and build momentum. Then they become just as important to show perseverance as the transformation evolves and continues in the middle year(s).

The trick is finding “wins” which are meaningful to various stakeholder groups. What’s important to senior leadership is often not the same as what’s important to entry-level employees. What headquarters values often varies from what the field values. Build your plan accounting for all of those needs along the way.

Factor in the big picture. The business never stands still while transformation takes place. Parallel initiatives are invariably underway. You cannot operate in a vacuum. Look at all of the projects, initiatives and programs in relation to one another. Identify dependencies and overlaps.

For example:

  • Where are you assuming something is in place by year-end for you to build on for the next Fiscal Year?
  • Where are multiple initiatives impacting the same target audience in the same quarter? Does someone’s timeline need to flex so this department is not sent into a tailspin?
  • When exactly is customer service for the biggest (and most profitable) accounts most at risk?

Involve your team in designing tomorrow. At the beginning you don’t have all of the answers for what the future state will look like or how it will operate – that’s impossible. Involve a cross-section of team members from throughout the company in helping determine those answers.

Keep the lines of communication open. Transparency is important. As Patti Johnson explains in her book Make Waves, it’s important to experiment (this is different from a pilot). Tell employees these are experiments. Learn from them.

Your team will buy into the ultimate solution when they helped create it. They will disown it when it was forced upon them. Find ways to involve them in areas they can influence.

Betsy Winkler is a Partner at PeopleResults. She has been helping clients navigate  change transformation projects for over 25 years. She can be reached on Twitter @BetsyWinkler1. Sign up to receive the PeopleResults blog at Current.