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How to transform a company

“We need to change it, once and for all! Do you agree?” — asks a man in his forties dressed in a sleek made-to-measure suit and an unbuttoned shirt. There is a handsome crowd in the meeting room. Some people are staring at their smartphones or typing on their laptops. The few that seem to be present nod their heads. “We need to do it, but we need to ask Kate for her opinion first” — adds a lady in a pink dress. And so the meeting ends as if nothing happened.

I have witnessed meetings like this multiple times. People so distracted as if someone had punished them to be there. The few that are actually serious about making the most out of the time there are desperate to convince themselves that their decision is right. They are trying so hard that in fact they are avoiding the decision and postponing it endlessly. Months pass and instead of moving forward multiple teams are meeting now and then. Casually avoiding changes. Prolonging the current state of affairs, despite the need for transformation.

Make transformation happen

As extreme as it may seem — whenever there is a transformation to be made in a company the resistance is challenging and procrastination sneaks in. How to make the change happen? Along with my team, we have participated in a number of transformation processes in the last few years. A few weak points in the process seem to come up over and over again. These six areas are worth looking at, when the planned change vanishes into thin air.

  • Finding the why

Do you know why the change is supposed to be made? If you don’t believe in the reasoning behind the idea, nobody will. Is it just an egg dropped in your nest by your HQ? Is it shareholders wishful thinking that is not clear? Make sure you dig deep to get to the “why”. Most often it would be either a radical change in the market that asks for product innovation or a cost saving optimization in the model of operations. If you can explain it to your neighbor in a few sentences without feeling your guts cramping — you will be convinced enough.

  • Ownership

Let’s face it. Change is risk. It takes courage to grab the responsibility and keep it. Often the ball is passed from one person to another. The best move is to take responsibility. You do not need to be the most senior member of the team to do that. It can be rough when you need to decide to let some people go or confront colleagues who you have worked with for ages. But there is no accomplishment without taking full responsibility and moving forward.

  • Sense of urgency

Do you feel like in “Groundhog Day” as if you were participating in the same meeting for the third time? It seems that nobody feels that the opportunity of change is higher than the risk of keeping the status quo. It asks for a sense of urgency. It is your responsibility to show the data that will call for immediate action. Research shows that people are two times more afraid of loss than tempted by a potential gain. So start a fire. It can be by announcing a steep decline in market share, people quitting or whatever the first signs of the crisis are. This is the small nudge people need to wake up from lethargy. Times of change can be the moment for angry and disappointed talents to surface in the organization. Let these hidden stars rise and become the transformers.

  • Empathetic communication

Hardly anyone will consider the company’s future more important than their own personal well being. Consider the risks people are facing and how scared they are of the unknown future. Put up an empathic and authentic internal communication plan. Invest time in talking with people. Anticipate their fears, list them and address them up front. Many great ideas were dismantled by people at an operational level who were too afraid to act.

  • Radical proofs

If you announce new rules, eg. standards of communication with customers or customer service response times, make sure they are reinforced equally throughout the company. Even if your sales superstar or a top level manager are at stake. When they refuse to play by the book — everyone’s eyes will be watching your reaction. If you let them continue on their own terms — you have just proved yourself unaccountable. Show your people that the change is real and unstoppable.

  • Celebrating victories

Bring up each and every little victory along the process. Praise publicly those who help the transformation. Each proof is the fuel for further emotional and time investment. Take time to celebrate each small step. Walking the long road can be discouraging. A big change can take years and the model that you designed at the beginning of the process may evolve over time. If you do not let people see the progress, they may eventually give up.

It is your responsibility

If you ever find yourself in a meeting that has no ownership — own it. Don’t wait too long. A successful transformation is not only a likely stepping stone in your career. It will probably become an accomplishment you will proudly share with your family or enjoy yourself. Still afraid of failure? If a soldier returns from a battle he is a better professional than before the war and an inspiration regardless of the outcome of the battle. To try is to win. Go transform!


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