Spotlight on execution: What it really takes to get transformation done

Tracy Benson

Spotlight on execution: What it really takes to get transformation done

Peter Senge nailed it in his seminal book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (1990), when he pointed out that the gravity of the status quo is overwhelmingly more powerful than the drive to change.

We have seen leaders and teams get excited about and articulate a future state, and some even develop complex plans. However, many of these plans fall by the wayside or are only half-heartedly deployed to disappointing outcomes. What’s missing?

Whether the transformation is a result of a merger / acquisition, enterprise-wide shift to standard work and tools, or a change in strategy, two factors will determine its success or failure: A parallel focus on structural change (process, tools, organization) and people change.

For inspiration on how to approach structural change, spend a day on the floor of a well-oiled operations facility

There you’ll see process rigor that is both highly documented and constantly monitored. Primarily because accountability and handoffs are clear, employees and supervisors are highly aware of the impact of their work both upstream and downstream, as well as the ultimate customer experience.

Here are five tips to channel and apply this kind of discipline to transformational change – in any environment or function:

  1. Start big, with a compelling, highly research-based and market-driven strategy. This is the end game, the destination.
  2. Quickly break the strategy down into strategic priorities. Think of these as general modes of transportation that will take you to the destination (e.g., plane, train, automobile).
  3. The next breakdown is into distinct workstreams. These broadly describe how the organization will achieve strategy, and include revenue and margin targets, if appropriate. These are the routes you will travel to reach the goal.
  4. Each workstream is then further broken down into key actions. This is like the detailed to-do list you prepare before heading out on a long and complicated trip. Each key action includes costs and benefits, timing, and accountability.
  5. The secret to keeping the trip moving is rigorous management of the workstreams through regular report-outs by key action owners. Take another page out of the operations world by using a scorecard approach featuring the green (on target), yellow (potential concerns), and red (delayed and / or off-track) system for reporting on progress. Be sure to include opportunities to address and resolve issues and barriers.

Next up – how to put it all together to ensure a successful transformation.