Thirteen steps toward pragmatic transformation

10 January 2022

We need transformation,’ CFO Services Expert practice leader Natasha De Clerq says. ‘As current operating models are no longer fit for future challenges, we have to reinvent ourselves. Living on the intersection of technology, complexity, and humanity, we must get ready for the 21st century.’ Drawing from personal experience, she shares thirteen key factors for successful transformation. The emphasis is on pragmatism.

Setting the aspirational bar

Transformation is all about introducing fundamental (enterprise-wide) change into an organization's operations or operating model to create a significant improvement in performance, delivering better service to the business.

Academic research, however, has proven that 70 percent of transformations fail. Multiple causes have been identified. CEOs not setting the aspirational bar high enough, for instance. Low transformational ambitions can cripple employee engagement because people will not experience the need for change strongly enough.

Go for a radical change by a non-radical approach

Natasha De Clercq, TriFinance CFO Services

The risk of not taking action

Organizations need to be outspoken about the importance of a transformation. When offered a clear and compelling anchor point, people will contribute easily. Not being clear about purpose and goals is a pathway to failure right away. That’s why the C-suite should clearly emphasize the risk of not taking action.

Methodological shortcomings can also drive transformations off the rail. Think of organizations not establishing performance evaluation, not setting up a transformation office, or not installing processes, procedures, or tools to manage change in IT and operational environments.

Thirteen steps towards transformational succes

To make transformation succeed, we must foster change-readiness and continuous, participatory change by rewiring people’s mindsets as well as the organization’s operating system. Drawing from personal experience, I would like to share a few success factors that you might consider.

  1. Be pragmatic. Transformation should be accompanied by a profound sense of realism and a desire for tangible outcomes. It can best be approached in terms of practical uses and successes.
  2. Take your time. The cake is big, but you can have your cake and eat it by slicing it into pieces (data/technology/process/people). Take your time by working progressively towards your goals.
  3. Aim for stability in leadership. Changing leaders along the way is a cause for failure.
  4. Install dedicated resources. A full-time Program Manager to drive the change in all its aspects including strong change management is an absolute necessity. Successful change doesn't happen without great people.
  5. Cast a strong project team that inspires. Think in terms of roles beyond traditional functions.
  6. Promote collaboration and End-to-End thinking, away from silos.
  7. Go into transformation mode explicitly to end up with a continuous & integrated improvement focus. If you truly want to transform
  8. Move away from short-term objectives to holistically produce a step change in activities & outcomes.
  9. Install strong governance. It is an enabler of transformation. Encourage people, focusing on their potential and not on things going wrong.
  10. Change the way you transform. Our current, dominant approach of transformation often leads to minimal change and minimal gain. The pain we have to go through is too intense and in the end, not much happened. People and systems do not function in radical change. Faith ebbs away soon, reducing the chance of success. Impactful change will not happen with radical change, large programs, and projects, but through small steps through which you can continuously learn and adjust what is not working. Go for a radical change by a non-radical approach.
  11. Attract external perspectives and ideas. Every organization has its blind spots that can be brought to light by credible third parties. Their input will happily be taken into consideration and acknowledged. Transformation programs should also be able to install creative ecosystems and co-creation with internal and external parties.
  12. Develop a clear view of your future operating model (people, process, data, technology) upfront to demonstrate how all the pieces are going to work together effectively.
  13. Adopt a holistic digital transformation approach of all types of technology in and outside the organization. Technology and digital systems are vital enablers of transformation.

More than ever, transformation is about creativity and discipline. In today’s open business environment, the focus should be on improving the current situation in terms of cost and productivity, but also on innovation. As this challenges the existing organizational structures & models, it demands a new way of working and a positive attitude towards this development. Out of necessity, that way of working will be pragmatic. As we said earlier: Go for a radical change by a non-radical approach.