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  • Writer's pictureNigel Adams

A Transformation Lament

Continuous innovation and improvement - the gift that keeps on giving. If you give it a chance!

There is no doubt that disruption and digital transformation form a critical part of any CEO’s agenda - anywhere from 42-86% depending on the study. The pace and breadth of technological, political and regulatory changes are threatening whole industries. But that doesn’t mean everyone in the organisation has to lead a transformation.

The proportion of resources focussed on true transformation should be relatively small, freeing up the majority of staff to focus on running and improving day-to-day operations. After all, if you don’t get the day-to-day right, you’ll have no customers left to revel in the promised transformational benefits.

Unfortunately, career progression and its associated financial rewards seem to have skewed towards those engaged in transformation. This has created a sense that, to succeed, you must be seen to be transforming - irrespective of whether you have the resources, skills and/or tools to do so successfully. If you assume reward drives behaviour then what you get is change for change’s sake, leading to:

  • scarce resource spread too thinly,

  • duplication of effort,

  • confused and stressed teams trying to absorb change from many different directions, and

  • dubious statistics portraying benefit and value where none really exists.

We have all witnessed a team that was running perfectly well, taking a turn for the worse after 'suffering' a change of leadership. The new leader is determined to transform - starting with a re-structure! 18 months later the leader moves on, having declared victory and banked the bonus, branding themselves as a transformational leader. Yet the underlying performance of the team has gone backwards. NB this type of leader tends to love an environment where performance metrics are absent, opaque or vague and subjective!

The 'lament' referred to in the title is that the importance of running and improving the day-to-day appears to have fallen down the executive agenda. Business-as-usual activities such as generating sales, fulfilling orders and handling service requests keep the cash rolling in. If the rewards are skewed towards transformation, the consequent migration of talent is potentially very damaging. This is both disappointing and surprising for two reasons:

  1. It doesn’t matter how full and promising the transformational pipeline is, if an organisation does not look after its customers today, by the time the transformation is complete, they will feel so neglected they will be long since gone; and

  2. A myriad small changes, taken on their own, may not be newsworthy or attention grabbing. However the cumulative effect of teams running their day-to-day efficiently and effectively can easily match those promised, but rarely delivered, benefits. Even more rare is for those benefits to be delivered on time and budget!

Building a culture of operational excellence can be challenging. However, over time, the rewards can be as impressive, if not more so, than the most successful transformational changes and at a far lower cost, with significantly less risk.

In reality, an organisation needs both: transformational change and well-managed, continuous innovation/improvement - "build the plane and fly the plane simultaneously" if you will. In many ways, this post is a plea to redress the balance, to recognise and reward those teams that are delivering excellence for their customers every day and not just those setting up the step-change into the future.

In the meantime, a big shout out to all those leaders tasked with seemingly impossible targets, fewer resources, no money and no consultants, just a determination to make tomorrow better than today. Building a champion team will make hitting the targets far easier. Knowing that you are bridging the performance gap, while the organisation waits for the transformational cavalry to come charging over the hill, will at least satisfy your soul, if not your hip pocket.

Necessity really is the mother of invention.

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