“Change leads to disappointment if it is not maintained. Transformation is a change that is maintained and it is accomplished through practice.” – B.K.S. Iyengar

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This has to change!

If you have joined a new company as an executive within the last 2 years or are in a new position, you will benefit from a fresh look at how your organization operates. You will definitely be able to see what works and, more importantly, what doesn’t work.

You have probably been recruited to make changes, to break the status quo and to transform your organization. Quite a challenge!

Whether it’s a transformation of your corporate culture, the adoption of organizational agility or a digital transformation, the impact on your organization’s way of doing things will be significant – as long as you don’t fall into a trap!

For nearly 10 years, I have been coaching executives who want to significantly transform the way their operations operate. Whether this transformation is necessary to address the slowness and inefficiency of operations, archaic work methods, a lack of innovation or to address the difficulty of attracting and retaining talent, these transformations have several elements in common.

While I (too often) go into action when the transformation stalls or does not produce the desired results, I would like to share in this article the most common obstacles I have observed.

 

Why change?

“Everyone works in silos. Everyone protects their territory and their budget. I feel like people have forgotten they work for the same company.” – Ian (Vice President, Digital Experience)

“While our competitors take our customers, we haven’t been able to launch a new application on the market for 5 years. Our bureaucratic operation drives me crazy.” – Alex (Vice President, Development)

“My president is putting more and more pressure on us to be more agile and innovative, but my teams continue to work as they did in 2001. We’ve been doing agility for years, I don’t understand what’s not working!” – Martin (Chief Information Officer)

The reasons for initiating a transformation are often similar and so are the traps into which clients have fallen. This is because clients are reacting to an increasing degree of dissatisfaction, leading them to initiate activities to change the situation. However, these actions are not part of a thoughtful transformation strategy, which results in being reactive, disjointed, non-optimal and creating obstacles.

 

8 traps to avoid

If there is growing resistance and your transformation seems to be stagnating, you have probably fallen into a trap. Passive resistance or open opposition to your transformation initiative are signs that your project will be slowed down and possibly stopped. Before you get there, it is possible to identify the pitfalls that are likely to appear in your transformation.

The 8 main traps that I have observed over the years are common to most clients. They relate to the way of approaching change, a poor understanding of the organizational culture, an incomplete transformation plan and a neglect of the human aspects of change.

 

1. Apply a solution that does not address the real problem

Rather than taking a step back from the situation to determine the best solution, many clients jump on the solution that seems appropriate to them – implementing a new work methodology.

Although adopting new work methods is part of the solution, it is rarely the first change to be made. Attempting to implement a new methodology without taking into account the culture of the organization, the desired behavioral changes and the openness to change of employees is an invitation to disaster.

When a manager decides to implement a new work methodology, he or she quickly embarks on training and implementation activities without understanding the context and particularities of his or her organization. The results are generally superficial and disappointing.

Applying a new work methodology without transforming the organizational culture and individual behaviors is a recipe for a long and unsuccessful project.

 

2. Embark on a transformation without understanding your corporate culture

Adopting agility requires preconditions for success. For example, agility is based on values such as collaboration, trust, openness, and self-organization. When the corporate culture is based on control, hierarchical power, and strict measurement, there will be significant conflicts between the transformation objectives and the corporate culture.

When a leader tries to transform his organization without paying attention to its culture, the transformation project will not only be very difficult, but it may fail completely.

Organizational culture complicates transformations. Since culture is not explicit, it requires analysis by an external observer. Take the time to conduct an organizational diagnosis before initiating your transformation in order to understand the context in which it takes place. A diagnosis will reveal important elements of your organizational culture and allow you to define an effective intervention strategy.

 

3. Start a transformation before you have a plan

The reasons for initiating a transformation are many and the willingness of leaders is often obvious. The frustration of these leaders leads them to start a transformation without realizing its scope, complexity and potential impact.

Many start thinking, “Anything would be better than what we are doing now!”. Although the frustration is palpable, it is generally a bad advisor.

By quickly embarking on a transformation project, these leaders fall into one (or more) trap(s). Results – their transformation is slowed down, success is delayed, and the transformation may eventually be abandoned.

Take the time to define a clear action plan, key priorities, stakeholders and identify the responsibilities of each stakeholder before starting to implement the changes.

4. Neglect the human aspects

Many leaders are simplifying their transformation. They see their transformation as a simple change of tools. “My teams used to work in waterfall, now they will be Agile”.

Although your transformation will necessarily lead to new ways of doing things, it may fail if you neglect the human aspects of the project.

Humans have emotions and reactions that are sometimes unpredictable. You risk being slowed down in your ambitions simply because you have not considered the perspective of certain people, because your communications are poor or because your plan of attack is incomplete.

Avoid focusing strictly on adopting new tools. Instead, approach your transformation as a “human behavioural psychologist” and integrate change management and communication expertise into your transformation project

5. Avoid addressing real problems

Your transformation will reveal weaknesses in your existing business processes and dissipate the smoke that currently hides some low-performing employees. The changes brought about by a transformation make visible the opportunities for improvement as well as the weaknesses.

You must therefore be ready and willing to correct business processes and manage performance issues at the risk of not reaping any benefits from your transformation.

An organizational transformation is similar to a home renovation project in that you will sometimes have to tear down walls (sometimes right down to the foundation) before you can start building something better.

A transformation always involves significant changes in business processes. Avoid procrastinating with operational issues. The longer it takes to resolve process and people issues, the longer it will take to reap the benefits of your transformation.

 

6. Underestimate the amount of time it takes to make a real difference.

If you think you’ll get significant results quickly, think again. Organizations are complex and people are unpredictable. Your organizational transformation will be much more difficult and much longer than you can imagine. It is therefore critical to strategize thoughtfully rather than later realize that you need to backtrack because the path you have chosen is not the right one.

When transformation is not properly planned, initial timelines will be exceeded, behaviours will not change, and you will have to constantly repeat the rationale for such a change.

Rather than suffer for several months, seek advice from experts who can share their expertise with you and take the time to properly prepare your transformation.

7. Don’t be afraid of criticism

Until people fully understand the changes you are trying to bring about and feel that they have more to gain than to lose, they will resist.

Many leaders perceive this resistance as failure, when in fact it is an opportunity.

Employees will express their opinions and may show resistance. These are signs that they have not been heard. While some will have only negative criticism to offer, a large majority of employees want to contribute positively to the success of the company. Their opinions are often useful as they reveal flaws in the transformation plan and activities that could have been forgotten or poorly executed.

Rather than seeing resistance to change as a problem, it is useful to view it as an opportunity to improve the transformation strategy.

8. Don’t really want to change

The word “transformation” is scary. Many clients say they want to improve the way things are done, change the culture and evolve to become more adaptive. However, when I mention that this is a transformation, they tend to react. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no! We are not ready for a transformation.”

If you just want cosmetic changes to the way you do things, don’t go for a transformation. Instead, try localized improvements.

However, if you want improvements that are not marginal, a transformation of ways of doing things will allow you to become more adaptive and responsive to your challenges.

Take the time to ask yourself what you are willing to do to transform your organization and what you are not willing to do before you embark on the journey. Use this information to define the scope of your transformation. Don’t be afraid of the word, just define the scope of the desired changes.

 

Conclusion

Organizational transformations are complex, but they are not impossible. By taking care to avoid the most common traps, you greatly increase your chances of success. To learn more and implement an Agile strategy now with our consultant, contact us or visit our page here.

The next article in this series presents a tool to start a transformation on the right foot.

 

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Martin Proulx

Humans voluntarily invest their time and energy when the context is appropriate and the purpose is meaningful. My contribution is to help organizations create these conditions in order to benefit from people's natural motivation.

After having been a company and business unit leader for more than fifteen years, I have been working as a strategic advisor and executive coach for almost ten years. I support leaders from different business sectors who wish to accelerate the transformation of their business units towards greater organizational agility.

In a pragmatic way, I propose solutions that allow you to quickly obtain positive results on which to build your transformation project.
Après avoir été dirigeant d'entreprise et d'unités d'affaires pendant plus de quinze ans, j'interviens comme conseiller stratégique et coach exécutif depuis près de dix ans. Je soutiens les dirigeants de différents secteurs d’activités qui souhaitent accélérer la transformation de leurs unités d’affaires vers une plus grande agilité organisationnelle.

De manière pragmatique, je propose des solutions qui permettent d’obtenir rapidement des résultats positifs sur lesquels construire votre projet de transformation.

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