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To the Chief: Transformation Doesn’t Have to Be Difficult

Written by Terri Wallin

Transformation, the art of dramatically altering a current state in your leadership behavior or your organization to a new and fundamentally different one doesn’t have to be difficult. But often it is. Many people don’t embrace change, must less a transformational one, which makes transformation difficult. When approaching a transformation, the executive must be open to both self and organizational transformation since s/he will ultimately lead the organization through the transformation.

Acrobatic businessmanHere are a few key questions that can help you assess your ability to execute transformation successfully.

1. Are you patient or do you try to rush through a change? Can you stay in the game and on task long enough to have the transformation implemented successfully?

  • Many transformational changes take several years to fully execute and shift the culture. Because the timeline is long, it takes incredible patience to move through the transformation and have the culture shift with it.
  • The key to successful transformation is for the leader to know when to go fast and when to take time through the process of transformation.

2. Do you know how to execute transformational change?

  • Transformation requires a culture shift, since it is a dramatic move from current state. As the executive leader you oversee the effort and it requires you to have expert skills in execution.

3. Are you committed to where you want to go, no matter what? Are you willing to take a risk even if it results in losing your job?

  • Because transformation means moving to something that is new and different, there is risk. Sometimes the original plans won’t or don’t work and they may need revision. Bumps will inevitably occur.
  • Depending on the level of risk, your job can be in jeopardy if the financial health of the organization is imperiled. Most boards understand to a point. Then they will take action on behalf of the organization, including having you leave.

4. Do you engage your board of directors before, during, and after the execution?

  • Most of us don’t want to be surprised. Ensuring the board is behind the transformation is critical. Keeping them apprised of progress and obstacles at a high level is critical. Having appropriate metrics that reflect progress is important to share with the board.

5. Do you align your management team and ensure they buy into the transformational direction?

  • Alignment of management is one of the most important functions of the executive. You simply will not be able to transform your organization if you have disengaged or misaligned leaders.
  • Alignment requires focus from the executive and courage to exit management team members or employees who can’t or won’t engage in the new direction.

6. Do you understand the current culture and do you know the culture you desire with the transformation?

7. Do you assign work well – are your directives clear?

  • Review outcomes of initiatives you’ve led. If the majority of your management team did as you asked, you are likely clear. If not, assess your communication – the messages and the methods to ensure you are clear. Improve your communication skills if they aren’t strong enough.

8. Do you keep track of progress as time evolves or just trust everything will get done?

  • Tracking progress requires diligence to ensure you are on track. With transformation you have to be purposeful and create strong processes to ensure everything is moving forward.
  • Assign someone who is competent in project management to track the progress so that it doesn’t fall to you.

If you answered “no” to any of the above questions you have room for improvement before or with your transformational planning. And you aren’t alone. According to Dr. John Kotter, only about 5% of all organizations execute strategies successfully. And while it probably isn’t fair to give all of the credit for the failure to the chief executive, there certainly is ownership. Often if the executive looks at his/her behavior, s/he will find that with a bit of self- improvement, transformation can occur in the organization more easily.

Once a successful transformation is experienced, learn from it – what went well, what could be improved. Incorporate any improvements into the next transformation. Soon you will shift to a culture of transformation. Your employees will get better at supporting the efforts as it will be part of the cultural expectations.

Transformation doesn’t have to be difficult, but it does require leaders to embrace the efforts and to have the courage and patience to see the transformation through to completion. And ultimately it gives your organization a competitive advantage as you master transformation – your organization becomes nimble and can move as the market demands.

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