How to Orchestrate a Successful Company Transformation

At some point in their careers, nearly all CEOs face the challenge of dramatically changing their businesses and organizations in order to sustain the success of their companies.

You may be a new CEO who was brought in to improve performance of a stalled company. Or an incumbent CEO dealing with disruptive technologies that are driving changes in your business model. Or a founder CEO with a window of opportunity to drive hyper-growth.

Whatever the situation, you are the only leader in the organization with the perspective and scope of authority to strategically determine “what” about your company needs to change and “how” to bring about those changes in ways that lead to sustained success.

While every situation is unique and there is no cookbook recipe, here are 4 practices that we’ve seen CEOs follow to successfully design and orchestrate major transformations.

1. Starkly contrast your old and new business strategies.

To help people get and stay focused on what they need to do differently, be crystal clear about how your strategy has changed and create a “one-liner” that can be seared in to people’s memories and into the working priorities of the organization.

For example, the CEO of a slow growing technology equipment company proclaimed, “We are moving from selling products to delivering solutions,” and went on to describe how the top priority tasks and need for collaboration among account managers, sales people, product designers and developers, and corporate and product managers would change.

Driving that level of “from-to” clarity makes the changes real for people and accelerates execution.

2. Make hard decisions about people on your team before launching a transformation.

Most CEOs know that they can’t succeed unless they have people on their senior team who are committed to, and capable of, executing their transformative strategy. And…just like all humans, CEOs can have blind spots about people or may be reluctant to make changes that would strain relationships.

As an extreme example, one CEO we worked with abruptly discovered that two of his team members lacked commitment to the new strategy when they stood up and walked out of an executive team meeting that was intended to launch a transformation initiative.

While he eventually transitioned those team members and went on to lead a successful transformation, he could have avoided the drama, distraction, and delay in the transformation by objectively evaluating the readiness of team members and reconstructing his team before attempting the launch.

3. Work with your team to design and integrate changes in your organizational “hardware and software.”

Most transformations involve designing and implementing a set of initiatives to drive required changes in the business and organization. All to often, those initiatives focus on changes in strategy, structure, processes, IT systems, metrics—the “organizational hardware.” Yet, what is as, or more, vital is adequately integrating and coordinating changes required in leadership, talent, and culture—the “organizational software.”

The inevitable result is a stalled transformation and failure to deliver anticipated business results. CEOs who succeed in transforming their businesses engage their teams in defining changes needed in both the hardware and software of their organizations.

And they determine the sequence and timing of change initiatives through an initial diagnosis of organizational strengths and limitations.

For example, the CEO of a financial services company that was transforming itself into a global fin-tech leader began his transformation with a focus on culture, and specifically on creating a culture of collaboration that would foster innovation. He then quickly moved to talent, and specifically acquiring, retaining and developing leadership and technical talent needed for the transformation, before fully launching other strategic initiatives.

Doing so enabled faster and stronger execution of initiatives that have already positioned the company for leadership in the digital world.

4. Strategically deploy and equip leaders to drive initiatives and lead organizational changes.

Initiatives that are designed to transform businesses are typically coordinated through a Program Management Office or similar initiative governance structure.

While initiative leaders and the PMO can help design and initiate changes, sustainable implementation of changes needs to be driven through line management. The increased need during transformations for initiative and line management leaders who can design, lead and manage change creates a challenge for the CEO to determine how to best deploy existing leadership talent.

CEOs who deal with that challenge effectively work with their teams to do four things:

  • Prioritize and limit the number of initiatives that the company undertakes to avoid the all too common “initiative overload.”
  • Design an efficient initiative governance structure, and specifically define leadership roles and related skill and time requirements.
  • Analyze leadership talent and make strategic decisions to deploy the right leaders to key initiatives and line management roles.
  • Provide coaching or other developmental support to help leaders in key roles to execute initiatives and lead the implementation of changes.

While there are other to-dos for CEOs, we have found that attending to the four practices described above will help you successfully address some of the most challenging aspects of leading a major transformation.



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