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Business transformation: making change stick

Discover why it’s important to take everyone with you on your organization’s business transformation journey and why data is central to lasting cultural change.

Published by orgvue 

Most business transformation projects start well. The ambition is clear. Commitment is high. People are engaged.

The early weeks and months see a lot of action and encouraging momentum as teams throw themselves into the task. Deadlines are made and kept. Project KPIs are tracked. With a final push, the project is delivered more or less on time.

Job done.

Of course, it’s not as simple as that. The reality is, it’s one thing to complete a business transformation project and another to deliver enduring business transformation. Old habits die hard. It’s easy for people to slip back into old ways of doing things, to find workarounds for new systems.

So, how do you ensure you make hard-fought change stick for your organization?

Establish your baseline

Every successful transformation is at its heart an exercise in moving from an under-performing current state to an improved future one. It’s why, at the outset of such programs, organizations spend time and energy crafting their transformation strategy, detailing what success looks like for the business, its customers and employees. But while the end goal may be clear, gaining an accurate picture of the business as it is today can present a significant challenge for transformation team leaders.

Top-line metrics will be relatively straightforward; they are easily accessible in the company’s technology systems, from finance software and ERP solutions to business intelligence and customer relationship management applications. While these provide useful contextual data for why the business needs to change, transformation itself is delivered by people. And that’s where things get messy.

In virtually every large business across any industry, even the most tactical transformation efforts will be complex people-focused challenges. Their many moving parts include employees, managers, processes and ways of working. But what people do day to day can be quite different from their job descriptions, especially when roles have changed over time to meet new and expanded challenges.

Why should this matter? Because to make business transformation stick, you need to be able to measure performance improvements in meaningful ways. You need to be able to quickly and easily determine whether you’re on track to deliver against your transformation objectives over the longer term.

Measure what matters

Today’s leaders and managers have access to virtually limitless amounts of data on almost every conceivable facet of their businesses. But just because you can measure something, doesn’t mean it’ll help you meet your objectives.

While the data points for assessing business transformation efforts are many and varied, to get the insights you need about whether you’re delivering meaningful change, you should focus on data that demonstrates whether you’re on target to hit your key objectives.

For example, if your project is primarily aimed at reducing cost, having a clear visual dashboard that shows where you are against plan (e.g., headcount against forecast) and how this is changing over time is better than a bewildering array of detailed spreadsheets.

You should, of course, be able to drill down into the data to analyze it at the enterprise, cost center and individual level but don’t miss the wood for the trees.

Measure when it matters

Importantly, you should make sure you can view critical data on a regular basis, not just at a quarterly or yearly review.

By doing so, you’ll be able to spot what’s working, what’s underperforming and zero in on specific areas where early gains may have stalled or even be reversing. This will enable you to capitalize on what’s working and take corrective action if needed.

Business transformation initiatives often struggle to maintain effectiveness because of two major reasons:

  • They’re either seen as a standalone project that everyone moves on from once completed, or
  • Their complexity makes reviewing performance slow and unwieldy

So, we often see organizations completing a transformation project only to realize years later that it’s no longer delivering. The outcome? Another new project and all the disruption this can cause.

It’s far better to have easy access to ongoing monitoring and assessment. This will typically allow the business to make relatively minor course corrections and enhancements over time. The transformation can then be viewed by company leadership and front-line employees alike as a continual evolution, not a disorienting series of revolutions.

Ultimately this will make for more effective, more sustainable change.

Use what you measure to increase and sustain engagement

While effective measurement is a critical component for assessing where you are at any given point on your transformation journey, that’s not the whole picture.

Making change stick isn’t simply a matter of enforcing accountability for hitting KPIs. Just as important is to embed new ways of working into the culture of the business itself. And central to this is being able to tell a compelling story about progress and results.

With the right data to hand, leaders and managers can clearly show how the organization is changing in real terms. They can show the effects of the change on employees, customers and overall business performance. It allows them to both celebrate success and let their teams know what needs to happen next. As any business leader knows, change is hard. Importantly, change is an ongoing process not a one-and-done event. It’s only by constantly evolving, measuring and adjusting your approach that enduring results will be achieved. As Winston Churchill said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

Read the next article in the series about business transformation, about how to avoid the revolving door of organizational change.


Read more about business transformation

In a world where the only constant is change, organizations thrive by continually adapting to capitalize on new opportunities and fend off challenges.

In this new reality, there’s no place for large-scale business transformations. Instead, an evolutionary approach to change is needed that’s more discrete and more frequent.

Building the adaptive enterprise: how to run an effective business transformation program

To help you make your business transformation a success, we’ve published a new guide. Download your copy to learn:

• Why making change happen (and making it stick) is so difficult

• How to achieve the clarity you need to move forward with confidence

• How to quickly explore different design options and identify the best one for your organization

• How to translate your strategy into what people actually do on a daily basis

• How to stay on track and ensure everyone else comes with you on the journey