Is it just me or is there an increasing level of business change that is being badged as a ‘transformation’? Is it all genuine? Do we really have this many organisations undergoing a process of radical change? Changes that go beyond small adjustments; changes that will leave little or no resemblance with their past configuration or structure?

A genuine transformation orients an organisation in a new direction and takes it to an entirely different level of effectiveness. Examples of business transformation could be…

  • A dramatic shift in which markets are served and the value proposition for customers.
  • A disruptive approach to simplification and digitisation of the core value chain, taking advantage of new technologies and rethinking business strategy.
  • A new operating model to position the company for stronger growth.
  • An overhaul of the core IT infrastructure as an enabler to more efficient processes, better information flows and richer data analytics.
  • A blank sheet approach to research and innovation to increase the number and the quality of products and services.
  • A redesign mandate to standardise and revamp vital functions and processes in pursuit of reduced cost and improved performance.

Yet in the past year, I have seen a variety of examples. Very few have appropriately used the transformation badge, and been successful at it. Most have started out with the types of audacious outcomes listed above, however very often the intention has become diluted through poor execution. In these cases, the result is often incremental improvement: small adjustments that build on what is already there but with no fundamental change in character. You might argue that the outcome is still positive in changing the way that things are typically done, however, the bigger picture here is about the lost opportunity.

So when a Transformation Programme deteriorates into a series of incremental changes with no fundamental shift in character or configuration, credibility is lost, money is wasted, people become cynical, change resistors become stronger and energy is lost.

Transformation Programmes do not (or should not!) be a regular occurrence! These are large scale changes that cost the business time and money and require strong leadership focus and energy throughout the organisation. So when a Transformation Programme deteriorates into a series of incremental changes with no fundamental shift in character or configuration, credibility is lost, money is wasted, people become cynical, change resistors become stronger and energy is lost. These damaging consequences of a poorly executed transformation or inappropriate use of this badge, are not easy to recover from and gradually these experiences collect in the legacy of the organisation to the detriment of its future performance.

If you are reading this post, there is a strong likelihood that you are; in the midst of a Transformation Programme, about to be involved in one, or, you are reading simply out of curiosity! I was wondering about the best way to help you detect an inappropriately badged transformation or to help you identify with signals of one that is going off the rails. Rather than ‘tell’, I thought I would ‘ask’. I hope the list of prompts and questions below help you to answer for yourself how well your transformation is set up for success…

  • Is the Exec team clear about their hypotheses for transformation? Has this hypotheses been well informed with facts, evidence and data?
  • What support is in place so that the Executive Team can provide the change leadership that will be critical for success? Have they delivered change of this scale before? Do they have conflicting strategic priorities? Will they be able to afford the time to provide their strategic steer for this Transformation?
  • Is the Programme Team built with A-players from the different levels in the organisation? Is there enough emphasis on the team’s dynamics? Are external contractors being proactively managed and integrated into the Programme’s ways of working?
  • Is there a capability building programme to enable the individuals to deliver the transformation goals?
  • Has appropriate external support been aligned to the programme to supplement and transfer the skills?
  • Has there been any test of the organisation’s readiness to take this on? Has this been done in the context of how change typically gets delivered in your organisation, and also what else is coming down the pipe?
  • How effective is the communication so far? Has it mobilised the organisation? Does everyone see the end game? How are we testing for ‘understanding’ of the messages?
  • Which change signals are being sent down the line? Are any ‘no regret’ moves being initiated – smaller changes that can lay the path for the bigger ones to follow?
  • Is there a roadmap showing the building blocks of the changes? Is the scope clear? Are the blocks significant enough?
  • Has there been an impact assessment on day to day operations? Can the organisation manage the scale, nature and pace of this transformation and still keep the business running?
  • Are the goals and deliverables specific enough to hold individuals to account on delivery? How are these tied into the organisation’s performance management system?

These are just a few of the early signals that indicate that a business is serious about its transformation efforts. If your answer to any of the above is not a resounding ‘Yes’ then there is a strong likelihood that your transformation will deteriorate as the life of the programme progresses OR that what the organisation is actually embarking upon is an improvement project.

So I leave you with this departing thought inspired by a blog post I read recently…

Chameleon or Butterfly? Which would you choose to describe your Transformation Programme?

  • Are you creating an appearance of change to satisfy your stakeholders but in reality you are doing nothing to threaten your existing structures, ways of working… i.e. very limited intrinsic changes!?


  • Is your change more fundamental emerging from your cocoon as an attractive butterfly and worthy of all great premiums?