The CIO Insight: The Pitfalls of Transformation Lite

How to spot watered-down Transformation and reframe it for success

Chris B Lord, January 2018

Disclaimer : The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Babcock International Group

Transformation is HARD, there are many books and articles on the subject. People who have successfully delivered a Transformation from start to finish are in high demand and they have the short-cuts to ensure success.

Even seasoned Transformation executives are often caught by the gap between the right words and the wrong actions.

I have been in many conversations that start with “I want to Transform how we deliver great services to our customers”. After a few questions, these become “I want to keep doing what we’re doing now but better, faster and cheaper AND I want to be able to talk about Transformation to the market AND deliver some cool new services”.

I call the second definition “Transformation Lite” and it is far more prevalent than the executive press suggests. Real Transformation is complex and hard so confusing it with an improvement programme is misleading and will lead to disillusionment.

Transformation Lite generally revolves around the boundaries of what is to be Transformed, minimising the cost of Transformation or retaining core elements of the existing organisational processes, tools or structure.

If you want to upgrade from the Lite version to full Transformation then here are three things to think about.

First, make sure the Transformation addresses the key pain points of the organisation. It is critical to identify the key risks and opportunities and align your strategy. Then build your Transformation to support that vision. Otherwise, you will be spending a tremendous amount of time, effort and passion moving deckchairs around. It is surprising how often research reminds us to align strategy to big initiatives and this is never more important that with a Transformation. To uncover your fundamental Transformation goals, talk to as many people as possible – senior, junior, suppliers and customers (always talk to customers) to understand the pain they feel.

Second, expose the key emotional background that will slow down and gum up your Transformation. I refer to those parts of the organisation the Board is particularly proud of or which they are especially worried about. These areas will almost certainly be hard to change and will need significant understanding and communication because they elicit an emotional response. Logic alone will not win arguments, you will need to be very clear on the impacts to these areas through the Transformation and continually look for strong imagery to show benefits. You must NEVER brush these areas under the rug; they can derail your successes elsewhere.

Finally, does the Board recognise that the culture will need to change to embed the Transformation and ensure it endures? Describe how the company will feel after the Transformation, how it will make decisions and how it will deal with uncertainty. You do NOT want to be able to say “It shouldn’t be much different from today but faster and leveraging (insert cool tech here)”. This is tricky as it is very daunting to accept upending something that has worked well to date. Again, logic and argument are unlikely to work so use the power of storytelling. Describe a day with the new culture and operating model, tapping modern tools and methods to show how more fluid, responsive or impactful the organisation has become.

Not addressing any of these individually is not a blocker to Transformation, it is the combination that will guarantee inertia wins, leading to yet another headline change that didn’t quite deliver. Transformation is about achieving a step-change outcome for the organisation that unlocks massive new opportunities. Aiming for anything less while making deep change is not worth the pain or the effort.

Chris B Lord recently joined the FTSE 250 engineering services firm Babcock International as CTO. He moved from Collinson Group, the customer loyalty experts operating through brands like Columbus Direct and Priority Pass.

Chris Lord, FBCS MIET

I am a CIO/CTO with a 20-year track record of innovation, transformation and delivery through leadership of international teams with budgets of over £100 million. I have driven many digital transformations and have monetised data in multiple markets and industries, including regulated and data-driven organisations. My experience in both large corporate and SME organisations has given me a strong commercial background with exposure to most aspects of corporate governance as well as addressing and driving value from complexity at optimal cost. I worked in the USA for 7 years and have managed teams spread across Asia, Australia, Europe and North America and speak fluent French. I have a number of articles published and have led my teams to many awards. My ideal role is one where I am delivering digital transformation and monetising data through vision and innovation to scale companies globally. I enjoy an atmosphere where I can work pragmatically and openly with multiple cultures. Please contact me on lord.b.chris@gmail.com if you are looking for support with corporate advice or coaching/mentoring.

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