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Transformation during uncertain times

"When employees are in the center of a transformation effort, it increases the success rate by 70%." - Boston Consulting Group (Nov 2020)

Change is mandatory for any business to stay healthy and relevant; be it for growth or survival. Firms embark on transformation journeys driven by a variety of reasons. A recent survey by Boston Consulting Group reported that the top 3 reasons why companies transform are digitization, cost reduction and re-stucturing. Regardless of reason, scope, and size of transformation, these initiatives must be guided by enduring principles of change management to increase chances of success.

Some might argue if the quote by change expert John Kotter in 1995 that '70% of change initiatives fail' could still hold true. Though the past two decades would have seen increased awareness and experience in implementing transformation initiatives. Yet, it doesn’t alter the fact that driving change may still be painful for some, hard work for many, and not a guaranteed success for most.

Here are five principles for successful change drawn from Harvard; they serve as a useful reminder and checklist for us in times such as these:

1. Plan resource effectively;

Agree on clear roles, responsibilities and timeline to minimize confusion. Prioritize what matters most especially if the working committee has their regular job function and have to juggle various roles. Thus, realistic timeline and sufficient motivation or incentives will help boost that extra effort.

2. Be flexible to adapt along the way;

Bear in mind that the initial scope or roll-out approach may differ as the change process move along. You might discover unexpected challenges along the way or face with issues unforeseen. Therefore, be open to re-examine and adjust if needed.

3. Engage stakeholder continuously and authentically;

Be open and transparent with project champions, supporters, those affecting the change and those affected by the change. Check-in with them regularly to maintain engagement and alignment with the vision, goals and implementation plan. Be genuine and visible to inspire and keep positive momentum throughout the transformation process.

4. Remember what the ultimate goal is;

What do you envision the ultimate goal as? Focus on what are the sustained change behaviour you desire to see, instead of holding on to traditional measurement of timeline or cost. The key element here is the human factor, and not merely the rollout process per se, although the latter is easier to measure.

5. Build sustained innovation;

For transformation to stick, employees need to be ready, willing and able so that upon project completion, they do not revert to past behaviours. Leaders must lead by example by walking the talk. If any resistance is identified, leaders need to skilfully address it and celebrate successes along the way.

In this season marked with tremendous uncertainties, as we innovate on the go, none are spared from change, some more than others. Successful transformation anchors heavily on leadership, communication and engagement. It will need all hands on-deck, to steer it to success, i.e. employee at the core of the initiatives.

Leading change and transformation can be exhilarating and rewarding when excellently executed. Which of these five principles do you need to focus on for your transformation project?


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