Designing your Transformation

Nobel laureate Herbert Simon wrote that design is about “changing existing circumstances into preferred ones.” The challenge for many businesses embarking upon a transformation journey, however, is that they don’t always have a clear vision of their preferred destination, only hints of where they are going and how it might look when they get there. This ambiguity makes the task of design extremely difficult, particularly when those responsible for leading the transformation must engage key stakeholders and persuade them to get behind a program of change.

This situation is not helped by the high rate of transformation failures, and the diversity and complexity that often characterise large-scale transformations. This means there are only limited patterns that can be identified and drawn upon to guide the design and implementation of new transformation initiatives. With these considerations in mind, we offer the following four tips for designing a major transformation based on patterns elicited from an analysis of successful transformation cases:

Tip #1. Develop a roadmap
While it may not be possible to map all of the tasks in detail, it is important to document the purpose of the transformation and to identify the key milestones. The roadmap needs to provide as much clarity as possible regarding the requirements associated with each milestone. Giving clear information on responsibilities, accountabilities and interdependencies among tasks is important to ensure that everyone is one the same page, and that progress can be tracked and reported.

Tip #2. Engage deeply, regularly
The most successful transformations involve deep engagement with internal and external stakeholders. This includes consultation during the goal-setting process, involvement in decisions around the organisational structure, the emerging roles and responsibilities of staff, and input into the selection and revision of core processes. Representation of staff at all levels of the organisation goes a long way to building confidence. This involvement also provides the basis for building a supportive culture and activating a human-centred approach to change.

Tip #3. Prototype new processes
One of the most confronting aspects of a major transformation initiative is the overall scale and volume of change. While the development of a roadmap is key to keeping the organisation on the same page, core processes need to be identified and evaluated for potential reengineering. Nothing derails confidence like the premature rollout of new products and processes that are not fit-for-purpose. Best practice includes the rapid development, incubation, and testing of processes prior to release, with careful consideration given to future affordances. In other words, while you may not be able to anticipate the future perfectly, your processes should be flexible enough to be adapted to a range of potential alternatives.

Tip #4. Commit to transparency
The conditions that lead an organisation to embark upon a major transformation are many and varied, but typically they start with a recognition that their current business model is either no longer viable or has some serious limitations that will impact performance into the future. Whatever the reason, once a firm recognises that change is needed, they need to work out the desired course of action and be as open and transparent as possible as they move through the transformation process. This is important as many organisations will need to make significant structural changes. Transparency will help to keep those that remain focused on supporting the changes needed to realise the transformation goals.

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Byron Keating is a Professor of Services Marketing at the QUT Business School. He is also Director of the Service Innovation Lab, a service-focused management and research consultancy based in Canberra and Brisbane. His research interests are concerned with the transformative role of technology in supporting the design and delivery of complex services. This interest began with his PhD research which examined the impact of the Internet on service delivery and consumption, and continues today in the areas of artificial intelligence, location-based services, and big data. This research has been acknowledged by numerous awards including two international dissertation awards, an Endeavour Fellowship to work with the National University of Singapore examining the impact of ethics within service supply chains, and most recently, an ARC Linkage Industry Fellowship to further his work on service experience within Australian cultural institutions.

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