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Transformation programmes: why we've been asking the wrong question

Transformation programmes: Why we’ve been asking the wrong question

For years – decades, actually – it’s been easy to find data and opinion about the failure rate of transformation programmes. From ERP implementations in the 1990s to digital transformations today, the story is depressingly familiar: more than 70% (Forbes, IBM et al) of programmes fail due to lack of vision and leadership, unclear understanding of the problem being solved, an inaccurate view of customer needs, failure to secure employee buy-in, selection of wrong technology – to name but a few of the myriad of reasons.

And it’s all true. But the real problem is that we’re answering the wrong question. Consider this: rather than “why do transformation programmes fail?” try asking “why do we run transformation programmes?” Transformation has become a normal and integral part of business, and it has been for the past 20 years.

The days of viewing most transformation activity as a programme with a beginning, middle and end should be long behind us. Indeed, it is debatable whether it was ever a good approach. But as the pace of change continues to accelerate and its nature becomes ever broader in all aspects of our lives, the need for a fresh perspective becomes clearer all the time.

The reality is that the norm for pretty much any business is that they are now in a state of permanent transformation – constantly migrating towards new business models, constantly asking questions about how they need to modify and adapt all aspects of their organisation both to survive and thrive in the business environment of today and, in parallel, to be charting their course towards a future that may be both very different and fairly imminent. And most likely, by the time that future arrives, there will be something else new on the horizon. That’s the reality of business today, and it’s one that is so at odds with the focus and timescales of multi-year transformation programmes that the challenge just cannot be ignored.

That’s why Bloor is such a passionate advocate of the concept of Mutable, which is what we call that state of permanent transformation. From your business operating model to how you engage with your people, from how you deploy technology to your organisational values, behaviour and culture, from engagement with all stakeholders to giving employees space to develop innovative ideas and value propositions, Mutable, or permanent evolution, touches every aspect of the organisation. It sets the strategic and leadership agenda. As Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini wrote in 2014, “What’s needed is a real-time, socially constructed approach to change, so that the leader’s job isn’t to design a change program but to build a change platform – one that allows anyone to initiate change, recruit confederates, suggest solutions and launch experiments.” In short, every aspect of a modern organisation needs to be geared up to change continuously as the dynamics of the business and marketplace evolve. The new paradigm is about the fabric of the organisation: the mindset, behaviours and ways of working of the people within that organisation.

So where will the pressure to embrace a Mutable way of thinking and operation come from? You may be phenomenally good at understanding the markets in which you operate, the ecosystems of which you are a part and your customers and competitors present and future. Even so, the sheer range and complexity of our modern business world leaves many companies facing simultaneous challenges on multiple fronts. Will it be a global tech company coming into your space and disrupting the market? A well-funded start up? Will it be changes in customer attitudes to environmental issues that affect how you make, sell or deliver your products? Legal and regulatory change? Evolving attitudes to diversity and inclusion or to workplace safety – emotional as well as physical? A technological breakthrough that brings artificial intelligence into the heart of your business? On the subject of technology, how are you going to optimise those difficult decisions about what you invest in and why? And on top of this, you know very well that responding to such factors isn’t going to be enough. Success will often depend upon the organisation’s ability to get on the front foot and to be driving the change rather than reacting to it – to be set up, indeed designed, to be a change maker, not a change taker.

Is your organisation on the road to becoming Mutable?

Click here to arrange a free 30-minute consultation with one of the Bloor Navigator team to walk through our Mutable Self-Assessment

Tim Connolly
Tim Connolly

Tim Connolly specialises in business growth, business models, leadership development and employee engagement.

His work helps organisations grow profitability and value by optimising their use of people, process and technology and converting innovative ideas into practical solutions.