Successfully mastering transformations

In retrospect, the last two years in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic can be seen as true transformation boosters for companies: In addition to digitization and agility projects, strategic repositioning has increased – to name just a few of the reasons for management to commission a comprehensive change.

However, a transformation is much more comprehensive than a simple “change” – both in terms of the breadth and depth of the changes as well as the duration and consequences for the strategic orientation of the company. It often represents not only a selective change, but rather a fundamental change in strategies, structures, processes, and corporate culture.

Although many companies have already gained experience in successfully dealing with change in recent decades, this is no guarantee that they will also be able to cope with transformations. There is much more at stake here. If you are expecting a recipe for success or a “blueprint”, then unfortunately we have to disappoint you- these do not exist. Each transformation is unique and places specific demands on those responsible for implementation.

There are however some success factors that are helpful in the implementation of transformations. From our point of view, it is not surprising that these have to do above all with the affected people or with their attitude and perspective as well as with the ability to change.

Prerequisites for a successful transformation

  • It must be clear to all parties involved why the transformation is necessary and what it ultimately serves. Let’s take the example of digitization: this should not mutate into an end in itself. Instead, the actual purpose should be in the foreground: an efficient design of the service provision in the company and the clientele as well as the increase of one’s own competitiveness.
  • Top management should lead by example and drive the transformation in the sense of a role model function. For example, the agility of a company can only bear fruit if managers give up decision-making powers and leave their employees enough room for self-organization.
  • “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum men together to get wood, assign tasks, and divide the work, but teach men the longing for the vast, endless sea.” This quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is also trendsetting for transformations and shows the desire of people to actively participate and act self-determined.

Design principles of successful transformations

  • Every transformation is unique and complex. You embark on a journey into the unknown without having a carved in stone target image in mind. As a result, standardized process models cannot provide a remedy. The implementation is exploratory and in dynamic loops, whereby new findings are always incorporated into the solution.
  • Changes can only be made by the participants themselves. According to the exploratory character of a transformation, the procedure resembles a learning process. The two aspects of time and creative freedom are decisive here. Internal or external companions promote the reflective ability of the participants and give impulses to create new solutions bit by bit.
  • Managers often focus on “hard” aspects such as structures or processes as well as the efficiency of service delivery during transformations. From our point of view, however, it depends above all on the “soft” side of the transformation, among other things on the development of a collective mindset or a useful culture of togetherness. Without them, structures and processes can only function to a limited extent.

What makes transformations successful

  • Open communication and transparency about the progress of a transformation and what has been achieved are the be-all and end-all in order to develop the trust of those involved in the process. Setbacks on the journey are the basis for new learning insights. Celebrating interim successes motivates and welds together. Project marketing provides a wide range of instruments that should be used throughout the entire transformation.
  • Of course, at the end of a transformation, it should be ensured that the agreed goals have been achieved. It seems even more important to us to ensure the sustainability of the innovations created. Otherwise, the organization will fall back into its old patterns. This can be achieved, among other things, by continuous monitoring of the target values and support beyond the end of the transformation.
  • Ultimately, not only the result of the transformation itself is important for the company, but also the experience gained during implementation. These can be used sensibly for new change projects. In times like these, which constantly bring new challenges, the adaptability of a company is one of the most important success factors.

Author: Reinhard Wagner, Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung

References

Koschke, Alexander (2019): How does the “agility” trend affect project management? Munich: Tiba Management Consulting.

Lang, M. and Wagner, R. (eds.) (2020): Das Change Management Workbook. Successfully shaping changes in the company. Munich: Hanser.

Wanner, Markus F. (2020): Empowering Transformation. Successfully shaping transformations using the example of “agility of the organization” on the way to an adaptive organization. Munich: Tiba Management Consulting.

Schurig, S. and Wagner, R. (2021): Requirements of Transformations for Project Management. In: projektMANAGEMENT aktuell 05/2021, pp. 22-26.

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