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By André Gisiger

COACHING FOR BUSINESS TRANSFORMATION

The Art of Successful Transformations

September 2019

Organizational Change Part I

The Art of Successful Transformations

One of the most common topics of interests - and concern - I’ve been hearing about this year is business transformation. Almost all leaders I meet have completed, are in the process or are planning some kind of organizational change. As one APAC head recently asked rhetorically: “Who isn’t reorganizing?” Reasons include the “new reality” of the Chinese economy, how to adjust to the new workforce, how to become agile in a VUCA environment or simply the pressure to improve margins/reduce costs. Having not only observed, but experienced several reorganizations myself - some successful, most of them not - I want to share some thoughts on the topic.

It is estimated that 70% of M&As are not achieving projected synergies or are outright failures. There are plenty of examples where senior management is introducing organizational reforms for mid-level management to simply “weather the storm” until a new plan is ready. Although the scenarios are very different, some of the root causes of failed restructurings are the same: lack of communication and support of key team members across the organization.

Opaqueness and Uncertainty

Business transformation is the process of improving efficiency, effectiveness and stakeholder satisfaction by fundamentally changing processes, systems, technologies and people. And it won’t happen unless that fourth element is fully engaged. However, moving into new territory, changing how the organization conducts its business, how people interact, can be very stressful for all parties involved. The challenge is exacerbated by uncertainty caused by staff feeling uninformed and left out. Leaders often focus on strategic and financial plans and underestimate the importance of understanding the complexity of their organization’s culture and people. The communication with the staff is often very process driven instead of focusing on the benefits for the people involved. Furthermore, frequently there is information overflow, shared too late in the process, when the rumor mill has been turning and churning, resulting in an almost paralyzed organization. Once the dust settles, people are even further demotivated by not perceiving themselves to be ready and supported for their role in the new organization.

The What, Why and How

So what needs to be done? The successful transformations I observed have a few things in common: they focus on a very clear and simple message to stakeholders; they are communicated well; and they consider the impact and needs of the individuals involved. This process includes:

Communicate Strategy

Plan communication timeline
and agenda
  1. Tell big picture, be transparent, get buy-in
  2. Show the light at the end of the tunnel, offer support
  3. Break down complex information and time communication of messages

Strengthen Team

Bring key people at different
levels on board
  1. Identify key stakeholders and turn gatekeepers into sponsors and supports
  2. Communicate early with key stakeholders before addressing the entire organization
  3. Address main concerns of key stakeholders by fine-tune message.

Provide Support

Understand which support needs
to be provided
  1. Delegate implementation of change to key stakeholders after their buy-in
  2. Offer right support to make them successfull
  3. Identify which support needs to be provided by internal vs. external resources

Uniqueness in China

While many of the organizational change challenges are global, China exhibits a few unique aspects. Due to the meteoritic rise of the economy and the sheer size of the domestic market, many professionals have been riding the wave from one promotion to another, never having to leave the country or experience a downturn. The lack of experience in dealing with market contractions and adjustments leave these professionals exposed in times of organizational change. In short, chances are that many mid-level managers are ill-equipped to handle big changes. It is therefore senior management’s responsibility to provide appropriate support.

Final Words

Many roads can lead to success in times of change. However, planning and involving key people early on, aligning on vision and bringing the staff on board for the new journey ahead will be crucial for success, no matter how a management team accomplishes that. Even with the best planning, communicating the vision, building the team and providing the right support is often more art than science. My next article will focus on successful communication strategies.

Do you agree or disagree with the author? Please let us know your opinion or share your experiences.