With more of their citizens vaccinated, the United States and the United Kingdom are seeing increasing optimism over the economy, promising a time when things will get back to normal. However, in other parts of the world things remain uncertain, with many governments reimposing lockdowns. I began to wonder how organisations were handling their transformation programmes during these uncertain times.

In 2008, we were working for a large infrastructure business. They were enjoying an increase in business, but they were having difficulties coping with the high volume of activity that they had to cope with to meet the demand.

We were brought in to help them manage this. However, a few weeks after we started, the global financial crisis happened.

Overnight, their volumes dropped dramatically.

For a while, management were like startled cats, running around with no clue what to do and were contemplating on closing the transformation programme to save fees. When you get hit with such a dramatic shift, what else can you do but look at what needs to be done to come out of the mess?

We had to get creative to help them maintain their transformation momentum.

Our team figured that we could look at all the costs in the business. We found significant opportunities to reduce the cost base and keep the company on even keel. By showing this to the management, not only did we keep the transformation going but together with the management we streamlined the company to be fit for purpose. Today, it is still one of the most successful in its industry.

The danger of compromise

“Fatigue” almost always happens in any transformation programme, even during the best of the times with the best run projects. When projects hit a roadblock, gets too complex and overwhelming, leaders often make compromises, but this often ends up compromising the full value of the transformation.

When a crisis hits, this gets worse, as you can see from what happened with the infrastructure company. The temptation to address the urgent problem at hand and shelve or delay transformation programmes is great. Yet, this is probably the most important time to buckle down and maintain momentum towards building the organisation’s transformation capability and make crucial changes to improve the company’s efficiency and effectiveness. If you aren’t doing this, your competitors certainly are, and inaction will allow them to sprint ahead.

Why is it so difficult to maintain the momentum of change? It comes down to human behaviour. How many times have we made plans to change an aspect of our daily routine, only to have those plans not translate into new routines or behaviours?

Getting organisations through a transformation is no different. Maintaining momentum is never an easy task. Many business transformation programmes run for years and any number of events can derail the momentum!

While it seems inevitable to lose momentum during a transformation programme, there are ways we can mitigate its side effects. We do this by having a framework that keeps the engine of transformation going. Some of the enablers of this engine include:

Transformation Management Office or a Project Management Office
When dedicated resources are allocated to oversee initiatives and making sure they are delivering results as expected, they can drive the momentum of transformation.

Change champions
These are the people who are selected to facilitate and advocate for change in the organisation. These ambassadors of change support the implementation of the programme.

When things get hard, get creative
One step towards embedding change capability in an organisation is to teach people not to fear failure but to think of to failure as redirection. With the infrastructure company, we decided to look for opportunities in the crisis so that we can keep going forward.

At the end of a transformation programme, many executives heave a sigh of relief. “The hard work is done. Now we can continue our lives like we did before.” Not quite. In fact, this can be a dangerous time when the company ends up slipping back to old habits and waste all the work that was done to transform the organisation.

We often tell our clients that after the hard work of transformation ends, it’s the beginning of another change. This is not the kind of news executives want to hear, but they must now answer this question: How do we maintain the new way of work and continue to reap the fruits of change?

Krishna Paupamah has worked with companies globally to transform their business for over 35 years. He is the Founder and Group CEO of Renoir Consulting.

This column was first published in Business Today.