The objective is an activity, not a meaningful outcome
Successful transformations are driven by compelling visions. Ultimately it is all about execution, but if the execution is not delivering anything that will make a meaningful difference, it is all for naught, even worse, a waste of resources. Compelling visions inspire people and are a northstar for thousands of individual decisions across many functions.
A big flag is if the transformation team has defined transformation as the delivery of a new system, as opposed to a significant change in the company’s capability and/or value proposition. How many ERP transformations have simply delivered a similar value chain/proposition and customer experience as the old ERP? Same with software licensing systems or subscription management platforms — how do they fit into a vision of what the final outcome will be?
Make sure transformation never loses focus on the before and after picture; what will meaningful change in the value chain and/or value proposition.
The executive leadership team only considers the project in a cursory way, once a quarter
If the transformation project is just a short conversation once a quarter at the regular quarterly review of other initiatives, and executive leadership is otherwise not engaged, then there is not enough wood behind the arrow to make the transformation happen.
The executive team must be aligned on the transformation, they must be engaged, and they must drive it. Every member of the executive team that the transformation impacts must drive it. For many transformations, that means every part of the company and every executive.
If executive leadership is not engaged in a frequent and detailed way, then it is not a priority, and it is not going to happen.
The operations team is defining the transformation
While everyone else in the company is running around doing their day job and worrying about meeting quarterly goals, the operations team is often left to handle the transformation without much engagement from the rest of the company.
The problem is, an operations team left alone to drive a transformation will normally just do what they have always done, and the before and after of the transformation will be the same. This is not a knock on operations people, the point is, that operations groups are not always the “customer” of the transformation. Often it will be the functions responsible for customer experience/customers, partners, sales, and other groups. These groups need to be driving the transformation.
Make sure the functions impacted by the transformation are driving the transformation, don’t let others “stuck” with the job of getting it done, design and implement the solution.
Your transformation is not planning for or realizing quick wins
The lack of quick wins is death for transformations. Quick wins create momentum, success points, and political cover for the weeks and years ahead that a transformation will occur over.
One of the challenges with transformations that are gated by big systems projects is that it is hard to demonstrate progress until the new system goes live. This is exacerbated when companies have a waterfall mentality instead of fast iteration, which is needed in innovative new approaches that may need to react quickly to market feedback.
If your transformation is DEFINED by a big system project, you may have multiple problems. Regardless, plan for, and execute quick wins to make sure engagement with the transformation is kept at a high level.
You do not have a change, empowered, and initiative oriented culture
Culture eats strategy, execution eats strategy, software eats the world. You have probably heard it all. When it comes to transformation, culture eats everything.
Employees are loyal to culture, not to strategies or execution plans. Culture is what employees do when nobody is standing over them with a whip. Culture dictates the ability of organizations to change and evolve; to take initiative for what has to be done. A brittle culture will wilt under pressure, and in the worse cases become a corrupt culture, taking short-cuts to achieve company goals. There is nothing like a transformation to test a company’s culture.
If you do not have a change, empowered, and initiative oriented culture, chances are, the transformation will face a steep uphill battle. You might be better off acquiring a company that has already made the change that you are looking to make.