A variety of events can lead a business to transformation, from a change in the competitive landscape and shifting economic conditions to business expansion or contraction. Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has been the impetus for transformation. For many businesses, the crisis has brought to light problems that were lurking long before the coronavirus but were never addressed. After the dust settles, nearly every manufacturing organization will have been triggered to transform their operations because at least one element of their business showed weakness under the stress of the pandemic.
While the reasons for organizational transformation are generally compelling, most leaders will still fail to get a transformation off the ground. Why?
1. They Are Unaware. It is all too common for leaders to focus so intensely on high priority aspects of the business, such as budgets, sales figures and the bottom line, that they fail to take a broad look at the state of their operations. In this case, leaders are simply unaware of shifts in their environment that should be recognized as a trigger to transform their business. I’ve spent my career guiding organizations through transformation, and I’ve seen leaders unaware of the need to transform time after time.
2. Benchmarks Lead to Comfort, Not Change. Benchmarks are a great resource for pointing leaders in the right direction. The mistake leaders often make is only looking at benchmarks that confirm what their organization is already doing. In those cases, benchmarks provide reassurance and comfort, but not change. Instead, turn to benchmarks that challenge your business. One way to do this is to look beyond your industry for best practices.
In a 1996 paper, “Construction as a manufacturing process?” innovation strategy advisor David M. Gann illustrates that looking beyond one’s industry can reveal new possibilities. By studying manufacturing processes for cars and airplanes, he discovered that traditional construction could become a manufacturing process and make it possible to complete a two-story family home in one week.
3. The Status Quo Is Good Enough. Some organizations are content with the status quo and satisfied with the methods, processes and products that made them successful. They don’t have time to step back and see potential for the future. These leaders are known for phrases such as “We’ve always done it that way,” and “Why should we rock the boat?”
4. Failed Attempts Hold Leaders Down. It’s not uncommon for leaders who have failed at business transformation in the past to believe they shouldn’t try again. This mindset, however, will never lead to growth. From the market to technology and consumer needs, things have evolved since the failures that continue to haunt them. These leaders must trust that transformation attempts in new circumstances will produce different results. Change is inevitable and leaders must step up to the challenge regardless of past failures.
5. Analysis Paralysis Blocks Forward Motion. Sometimes leaders seek answers but get caught up in analyzing facts and making comparisons with no real outcome. This state of overanalyzing can stall progress. Leaders who are scared of failure may continue to overanalyze in order to avoid making the wrong decision. Others may just lack the know-how to get them through the initial steps.
6. Past Success Leads to Complacency. This may seem like an odd reason for failing to initiate a transformation but sometimes, organizations hold on tightly to the things that have already made them successful and, as a result, they fail to evolve.
Awareness of the factors that prevent transformation efforts is the first step toward ensuring your transformation gets off the ground. Once you’re aware and have determined that transformation needs to happen, consider these practical tips:
- Initiate a semi-annual or annual analysis of resistance to change as part of your leadership routine. Equilibrium is only disrupted when forces in favor of change are greater than the forces against it. Identifying resistance to change will help you formulate strategies to overcome it. When instituted as a regular exercise, this will systematically prompt the conversation and provide the necessary structure to ensure you don’t fall victim to the pitfalls reviewed earlier.
- Tap into external experts to help facilitate the conversation. A well-orchestrated facilitation will provide structure and prevent the group from avoiding discussion of uncomfortable but necessary topics.
- Recognize the difference between knowing a transformation is needed and executing that transformation. If your team participates in discussions with no real action to initiate transformation, you’ll lose credibility and miss important opportunities for meaningful change. Discussions and analysis of transformation efforts should have clear next steps.
Transformation can seem daunting and intimidating. It will come with fear and new challenges.
However, with awareness and the conviction to make your organization better, it’s possible to move past the challenges, inspire the people around you and get your transformation off the ground.
Edwin Bosso is founder and CEO of Myrtle Consulting Group.