Does the business transformation emperor have clothes?

I have given a lot of thought to business transformation over the last few months especially as to how the practice of transformation can itself be transformed, given that only 27% of these programmes succeed.

In all my thinking, I have reached a position in which, contrary to my normal nature, I need to create a definition for business transformation. I used to think that the nature and purpose of transformation was obvious but I am now beginning to wonder whether one reason that transformations fail is because what we set out to deliver is not really transformation.

So where have I got to in my thinking?

Firstly, there must be a step-change in performance associated with transformation. Whatever the purpose of the organisation and however the achievement is measured, the transformation must lead to a significant and meaningful performance improvement otherwise the change is pointless.

Secondly, the transformation will probably include a significant strategic shift. This may consist of the introduction of a new product range or the entry to a new market sector, the shift to a new value proposition or a new acquisition, disposal or significant range discontinuation. It may also include a major process shift eg in operations or new product introduction.

However, I do not believe that all this is sufficient content for a successful transformation. Surely such a programme should make the performance of the organisation not only sustainable but also able to drive enhancement and improvement in a way that makes further transformations redundant.

I am rereading Good to Great in order to test my thinking and I notice that Jim Collins and his research teams identify a set of comparison companies that they call “unsustained comparisons”. These organisations showed a dramatic change in performance but this was not sustained over the longer-term, with results declining later. These unsustained improvements often seemed to be driven by the charisma of a new CEO but proved not to be embedded in the organization when the CEO moved on to other things.

For the sake of the organisations of which we are a part or whom we support with our services, I think we should be pushing for transformations that deliver an improvement that sustains and outlasts the tenure of the current leadership team. For me this is the type of business transformation that has clothes.

Andrew Kearns

Hartswood Management Ltd

Removing the roadblocks to delivering real improvement