Beat the Transformation Odds

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If you’re currently considering or have already taken on an organizational transformation, this research from McKinsey provides useful insights to triple your odds of success.

Substantial organizational change comes with a chasm of risk; however, McKinsey’s report suggests a repeatable formula to help you cross safely. Following their recommendations can increase your success rate up to 79%, based on the results achieved by the executives who participated in this survey.

Four Game-Changing Focus Areas for Transformations

Here are the four key areas that McKinsey identifies as being critical to transformation success:

  1. Communicating Effectively: Consistent communication from senior managers — especially about progress — is the number one contributor to successful transformations. This type of communication is even more effective at the enterprise level.
  2. Empowering Employees: You’ll need a strong team of the right employees who support your transformation goals as much as you do. Senior management shouldn’t carry it all on their shoulders. Clearly defining roles, responsibilities and outcomes upfront increases accountability for initiative leaders — making success nearly four times as likely.
  3. Leading by Example: Being actively involved and engaged with your employees means walking in step with their contributions. When senior managers and initiative leaders spend more than 50% of their time on the transformation, success is twice as likely.
  4. Continuous Improvement: Nearly 40% of executives said they wished they had spent more time preparing for continuous improvement. Specific actions, such as connecting strategy with daily work and enabling teams to deliver customer value more effectively, link to an organization’s long-term health.

Why Inject Lean Into the Transformation Mix

While reading McKinsey’s report, I couldn’t help but think how the Lean transformation model mirrors their research. Lean embodies the same four principles, focusing on continuous improvement as a way to sustain changes so that they become the new norm.

At the heart of Lean is a people-based system. The success of any transformation depends on the engagement of every employee in the process. Successful transformations require frequent, ongoing communication at and between all levels of the company, with the goal of creating a single, focused team. Just like a sports team has multiple players, each having their own role and responsibility for the team’s success, companies are no different. Business teams are made up of members and coaches, each requiring constant communication to and from each member.

For any team to get started, they need to understand the team goals and the game plan. This includes the strategy of how the team will win. Once on the field, the players are constantly identifying and adjusting the specific tactics each team member must execute. The same is true for business teams. The business game plan and the strategy for success need to be communicated by the executive leadership team — the “coaches.”

In Lean, team members are empowered to take on the “how” of executing the work. To do this effectively, however, it’s important for leadership to explain the “what” and the “why.” Understanding why it matters to the company gives teams the context they need to make better decisions and achieve business goals.

Showing someone how to do something is always better than merely telling them. This is also the role of leaders involved in any change initiative. All too often, verbal instructions open themselves up to multiple interpretations; however, when you show someone through your actions, a much clearer, memorable interpretation follows. As leaders and coaches, we must reinforce changes by showing our teams what we expect — commonly known as “walking the talk.” Leading by example isn’t always easy, but it’s much more effective.

In the McKinsey research, many executives reported that even if their companies transformed many times the change didn’t take hold. No one wants to do the hard work it takes to change only to fall back into old behaviors and patterns. But if new behaviors and fresh thinking aren’t constantly reinforced — and woven into the cultural fabric — then we’ll likely return to what’s comfortable.

I strongly believe that the effective use of technology is an often overlooked component of transformation success that can help it “stick.” While technology alone can’t transform your organization, it can positively reinforce the changes you’ve introduced. The right software should provide a visual environment that “shows” and engages people in the new way of working. It should encourage a mindset of continuous improvement that enables your organization to keep learning and evolving.

The Bottom Line

McKinsey’s research provides a solid formula for tripling the odds of success for your organizational transformation. It also helps leaders understand the power of leading by example and reminds us that it’s critical to reinforce these new behaviors. Combining this with lean thinking and the right technology provides a three-pronged approach to help you have not only a successful transformation, but also a sustainable one.

You can get started with or learn more about Lean transformations from the resources below.

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Denise Grey

Denise Grey has practiced Lean management principles since 2007. As CMO at LeanKit, she leads a team of experienced Kanban practitioners in the build-measure-learn cycle of Lean marketing. She is a pioneer in applying Lean and Agile to marketing and passionately believes in their transformative power.

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