I’ve been fortunate to be in a position to have led more than my fair share of transformations. It’s become nearly second nature to me, and I can identify what are the critical things to focus on for a large-scale change.
Hence it is striking to me that others can’t see or take action on what is so obvious. But if you have never been in this situation, it is like arriving at a foreign country and you don’t know a word of the local language.
First, let’s remember that a transformation is where the business has a real need to make a change. This may be likely to be a burning platform, where an old legacy system is creating an uncompetitive position in the marketplace or where the whole ecosystem is being disrupted with startups and new entrants.
Either way, managers and the CEO are paying specific attention with careers at stake – this is what makes transformations harder from any normal large scale program of work that you have seen.
The ‘heat’ from such transformations will bring out the best and worst of humans. It is not going to be possible that the journey will not have much discomfort and adjustment. So here are a few tips for your transformation journey.
1. Maintain your perspective
It is often the hardest thing to do and not that simple when there are fires to fight each day and often on multiple fronts. But having a broader perspective and keeping that on the journey is really critical. To develop that perspective it is all about understanding the essence of why this change is occurring and what exactly is going to make a real difference.
In every transformation there are “nice to have” elements that are thrown into the mix by others who truly believe this to be ‘critical’. Being able to quickly discern, what is really important will stop wasted effort and being sidetracked.
To maintain this perspective, that will become increasingly difficult. That's actually where a quality assurance advisor can be really valuable. Find someone who is truly independent and I don’t mean engage the Big 4 accounting firms, but instead an executive who has been through this change and can provide you a monthly informal review.
2. Inspire and engage the team
Too often I hear about transformation being flooded with consultants and contractors. While I understand that many staff are competent with ‘business as usual’ tasks and that’s the rationale for them being excluded from a large transformation, then I believe is the wrong approach.
The staff members that have demonstrated that they can learn and have ae past track record of delivery should be given this opportunity.
Your task as leader is to inspire them as to why they should commit and also be inspired to be on this team.
For every successful transformation, there is also a smooth transition into production and ongoing project or product development. Frankly, you can’t achieve this without engaging the team that will also accept the longer term responsibility.
3. Make the tough decisions with transparency
In every transformation there will be unpopular and difficult decisions that don’t appear to have an easy answer. Yes, you do have to make these calls and this is part and parcel of the leader’s role.
But making these decisions should bring you in contact with the team to provide counsel and their thoughts prior to any final deliberation. By giving your team the respect of obtaining their views, will make acceptance of your final decision a little easier.
Once you grant “transparency” to the process, that this is “hard” decision and also follow through more broadly in sharing this when the time comes for the overall team to be aware, this will also help you gain acceptance.
There is nothing more frustrating than to be on a transformation and seemingly a random decision is made that creates more work or rework for oneself.
4. Trust but verify
A transformation needs you to be both an orchestra conductor and also a jazz player. There has to be clear instructions and songbook for the larger team, but you also want your leaders to be given the accountability to play jazz and ‘improvise’ as required.
That is where ‘trust but verify” comes into play. It is impossible to deliver a transformation by micro managing and controlling every aspect of the work. I’ve seen leaders try to do this and often fail or have a complete break-down. There is an element of assembling the right group of leaders and getting them to effectively work together.
Playing jazz to keep the situation moving in the right direction is often better than stopping and tuning tools. In every transformation, you are often running against the gravity of the ‘revenue run rate’. Unfortunately, once the train has started, it’s hard to stop without derailing the entire process.
5. Take a shot of courage
While this sounds somewhat gladiatorial, there is always going to be times that you will face management board that don't really understand or appreciate how hard a transformation has become.
That’s when you need to fortify yourself and take that ‘shot of courage’. The self belief you can takeaway from this is significant, as fear can be quickly seen as a lack of confidence.
When there is the business future at stake, there will always be a strong bias to support you when you are backing yourself.
David Gee is the former CIO of CUA where he recently completed a core banking transformation. He has more than 18 years' experience as a CIO, and was also previously director at KPMG Consulting. Connect with David on LinkedIn.