Successful corporate transformations share a few fundamental attributes. First, they are vision led. Transformational change, as contrasted with incremental change, requires a projection into a dimly lit future. It involves the creation of goals that “stretch” the organization beyond its current comprehension and capabilities. Therefore, the transformation process requires the creation of a clear but compelling vision of a desirable future state, one that can only be fully defined if the organization makes a sustained movement to it. Individuals who are accustomed to incremental change as a way of life find this feature of corporate transformation difficult to understand. By necessity, then, visionary leadership is the essence of successful corporate transformation.
The second essential ingredient of successful corporate transformations is that they are based on a total-system perspective. They seek to boldly move the organization from an initial state to a vision state, not piecemeal but by simultaneously articulating all the major elements of the whole organization.
This need for holism leads to the third essential attribute of successful corporate transformations: they are embedded in a comprehensive implementation process. The total-system approach to change and the large magnitude of change implied by visionary aspiration require a sustained process of organizational learning and an orderly orchestration of all of the pieces in order to reach the vision state.
The four major tasks that a leader—indeed, that leaders at all levels in the organization—must perform to achieve successful transformation are as follows:
• Generate energy to launch and sustain the process of corporate transformation
• Develop a vision of the future
• Align the organization to the vision
• Create a transformation process architecture to navigate the passage from current to vision state
Any attempt at corporate transformation that falls short on one or more of these leadership tasks will fail.
Generating Energy for Transformation
Launching and sustaining a successful transformation requires enormous energy. Four major catalysts are available for generating such energy. Leaders must:
• Confront all levels of the organization with reality
• Create or reallocate resources
• Raise the standards of performance
• Encourage leaders at all levels to model required new behaviors
The appropriate mix varies with the nature of the initial change condition, and it will have long-term consequences as the corporate transformation process unfolds. Therefore, in making use of these catalysts, transformation leaders must articulate these factors with care and foresight.
Developing a Vision of the Future
Successful corporate transformations do not spring forth from energy alone. The energy must be focused on a clear, concise, and compelling vision of a highly desirable future state. Indeed, in addition to serving as a target for focusing and orchestrating multiple transformation initiatives, a compelling vision can help people release their hold on the status quo so as to experiment with new approaches and behaviors. Confronting reality, reallocating resources, and raising the bar “push” people into the change mode. A compelling vision, in contrast, has the equal but opposite effect of “pulling” people into the change mode by creating a picture of the future that is attractive and compelling.
Align the Internal Organizational Context
The internal context consist of structure, infrastructure, culture, competencies and people, and process. Aligning the vision with this context powerfully shapes the patterns of behaviors, attitudes and decision making; it also signals the magnitude and direction of the corporate transformation. The more tightly these organizational elements are configured, the more powerful the combined influence on the people who have to fundamentally alter the way they think about and perform their work. Thus, the total system analysis performed to drive the core transformation initiatives also doubles as the template for the redesign of the enterprise to make it fit for the journey to the vision state.
Creating a Transformation Process Architecture
The total system approach to corporate transformation critically depends on a robust process of organizational learning and orchestration. Without this, simultaneous implementation of change initiatives can expose the company to unnecessary risk and create debilitating uncertainty and frustration. The benefits of a total system launch are enormous. Perhaps the most important benefit is the fact that it gives a leader the ability to intervene boldly across all of the elements of the organization simultaneously, as opposed to piecemeal or sequentially. It thus enables the leader to greatly reduce the cycle time of quantum change.
To orchestrate a total system transformation, the leader must put in place a process architecture consisting of several mutually reinforcing mechanisms. Education, involvement, and communication mechanisms must be created or redirected to enable employees at all levels to acquire the understanding, ability, and motivation to modify their perceptions and behaviors as needed. Coordination and feedback mechanisms must be installed to orchestrate the rollout and continuous refinement of all the corporate transformation initiatives. There must also be ways to obtain needed expertise not residing in the organization, including on going process and just-in-time content consulting support.
Finally, the responsibility for transformational leadership must cascade through all levels of the organization to multiply its influence. These core components of the process architecture must be put in place at the earliest opportunity to initiate an intensive process of organizational learning and to ensure alignment of all major change and development initiatives.