With every start of the year, many businesses, would be looking to implement their transformation plans (Did you know that “digital transformation” became one of the top management buzzwords at the turn of the decade?).

Many are probably also well aware by now that the majority of transformation plans under-deliver or fail. Anyone who has gone through a conventional top-down transformation programme – involving cost-cutting, digitalisation and/or organisational restructure – often comes out of it with very little to show. Organisations simply can't follow the "fire, ready, aim" approach to transformation.

What was lacking in most of these failures? Adequate change management.

To shed light on this topic, we sat down with five leaders of Renoir Consulting – our very own Renoir Changemakers – on the common pitfalls they’ve seen, in more than 90 years of collective experience in change management and transformation.

They shared with us the common questions that need to be asked, to increase the odds of success for any transformation programme. But first, let’s dispel a common myth.

“People are resistant to change” (?)

To begin with, business leaders need to first make this one mental shift – though people may be creatures of habit, but they are definitely NOT resistant to well-managed change. Here, CEO of Renoir Consulting, Tom Verkooijen elaborates: “The resistance to change comes from the pain of change and a fear of the unknown. If a sufficiently secured base is provided for people to hold onto throughout the process, they will be more accepting of the initiatives in a shorter period of time.”

3 questions a transformation programme should be able to answer

To provide that secure base for people, every transformation initiative will require a tailored approach to change management. Having worked with clients who have embarked on a variety of transformation journeys, from function-specific to organisation-wide, we’ve found that successful transformations considered the following three factors when planning their approach to change management:

1) Who are ALL the customers of change?

Who is the change going to impact and what does it mean to them? As people are the main agents of change, instead of forcing transformation down their throats, organisations need to focus on onboarding all stakeholders.
In most traditional organisations, transformation plans are developed by a small group of senior leaders. Whilst direction-setting from top management is crucial, sustainable change can only happen when it is instituted from both the top-down and bottom-up.

“Stakeholder engagement is so often insufficient despite the blindingly obvious need to onboard EVERYONE affected by the change. Take them on the proven change management cycle, from understanding the reasons for change all the way to how it could be done,” Iain Mulvey, our CEO in South Africa explains.

That is what makes change sustainable - it must reach all employees at the individual level. Also, don’t stop at just the business’ internal stakeholders – this is equally applicable to external service providers to whom processes are often outsourced.

The best way is always to make it a team effort from the get-go and define both problems as well as solutions together. Farouk Jivani, Head of Business and Digital Transformation, believes that this crucial first step is what sets the successful ones apart: “Involving the wider organisation and invested individuals in defining what needs to be done is a key component to creating alignment and developing ownership around transformation.”

2) Can people see the course of change ahead?

It’s likely business leaders already have defined a clear and desirable vision for its transformation journey. It now needs to be taken a step further, and made actionable, by looking at both the big and small picture simultaneously.
Sustainable transformation requires systemic change. That’s where seeing the big picture is key. This means zooming out and breaking down each transformation initiative into its component parts.

To do this, our Head of Analysis, Daniel Menezes suggests that process reengineering with clear Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and reporting mechanisms, together with defining the right coordination meetings is paramount. KPIs must be systematically applied to all steps of the value chain to allow for significant performance improvement. In other words, the process has to be systemic in consideration of the environment in which change is imposed. There’s an additional upside of getting this right: by empowering the very people doing the change, it also reduces the need for senior leadership intervention.

Beyond optimising how different parts of the business interact, business leaders need to also “think small” when it comes to making the change within each of those parts; Martyn Webber, our CEO in South East Asia, offered this piece of advice: “Plan it with military precision.”

Martyn emphasised on the importance of thorough change planning by advising that change cycles needs to be planned carefully down to the last communication session, the movement of the people, even to the introduction of change itself. “Leave nothing to chance”, Martyn concludes.

3) Who are the change champions at each level?

For some, the excitement around launching (yet another) promising transformation programme needs to be tempered by this sobering fact: “Change doesn’t happen in newsletters and emails about programmes but through the people in an organisation”, Farouk reminds.

Successful transformation programmes rely on a network of champions that play different roles in the change process - from executors on the ground floor to senior management removing roadblocks and painting the bigger picture. Business leaders also need to consider both people with formal and informal influence on the behaviours of their colleagues. Identifying and engaging a wider change network is what will allow the organisation to scale-up change efforts. Farouk calls this step, “Establishing your coalitions of change.”

The most important step, follow it through
Keeping to all of the above is still no guarantee of success. Living in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world means even the best laid plans can go awry if organisations don’t reinforce the process with appropriate change management tools.

“Transformation programmes only begin at GO-LIVE and the journey is often harder than expected. Implementation is where everyone struggles and supporting behavioral change, through a comprehensive change management plan, is the only way to ensure transformations are successful,” said Farouk. So whether it’s onboarding individuals to their new role in the organisation, or getting people to use and make decisions through a newly installed analytics platform, GO-LIVE is where behavioural change starts.

Iain also adds some parting advice, reminding business leaders that it is important to lighten the mood of the environment by maintaining a sense of humour to ease the transformation. “After all, whilst people are not resistant to change, they are certainly resistant to poorly executed change,” Iain reminds.

Having discussed the common pitfalls of transformation, Farouk summed it up by saying: “Change management is a key success factor to any transformation programme, and every programme requires a tailored approach to it.”
While these key factors discussed have been universally critical in all the successful transformations that Renoir has had the privilege of working on, the way they are applied will vary from one company to the next.

To discover how our proven approach to change management, crafted through experience and best practice, can help implement and scale up your transformation initiative, feel free to reach out to us. Change starts now