Transformation Readiness

It’s not uncommon to see firms ambitiously embarking on a transformation journey, when they’re really not ready to do so. Sometimes this can be put down to pressure from an executive team or a situation where there is enthusiasm, budget and ambition, but a lack of appreciation for how important transformation readiness is, what it entails and how to approach it holistically.

Often a digital business transformation strategy is defined, and an operational A-Team embarks on a transformation journey. But the image below helps illustrate why this is often not enough.

The DNA of operational excellence and transformation excellence are not the same, and no leader should succumb to the illusion that their brilliant operational workforce, can become overnight transformation experts, because it requires an entirely different set of capabilities. They most certainly wouldn’t expect transformation experts to become overnight operational experts.

The leaders who believe their workforce can quickly become transformation experts, typically see transformation projects and programmes begin to go very wrong. It happens time and time again in companies all over the world, because leaders under-estimate transformation and over-estimate current capabilities and culture.

While managers and leaders might attempt transformation with great ambition, passion, enthusiasm and budgets, after a number of months go by, the consequences of inadequate transformation readiness begin to show.

Transformation Analogy

An expedition team would be seen as foolish if they set out for the Arctic without being completely ready for what lay ahead. The risks are well known, the lessons have been learned and shared, and so there’s no reason for a team to set off unprepared. Meanwhile, operational business leaders continue to embark on transformation unprepared because they’ve been led to believe they’re ready for it, when in fact they are setting themselves up for chaos, confusion and disappointment.

Similarly a short-distance runner can look great on the start-line of a marathon. They have a string of short-distance successes behind them, for which they’ve become well-known. But any attempt they make to run that marathon and expect a winning result without properly preparing, will result in the inevitable disappointment.

We’ve known for years why large scale change initiatives suffer severely and don’t live up to expectations, so how should a company be prepared for digital business transformation? – at least if it’s to avoid the pitfalls that so many repeatedly fall into by paying scant regard to the lessons learned and advice and guidance that is now in abundance.

Five Transformation Readiness Considerations

Vision and Strategy

Does the transformation vision and strategy clearly communicate the need for transformation, and how they are aligned with organisational objectives and strategies? Has the CEO ensured the entire leadership team understands the transformation vision and strategy and is aligned to support it? Has the vision and strategy been further communicated across the entire organisation?

Business Model Innovation

Is the leadership mindset ready to consider adopting new business models and eco-systems, which have the potential to defend against disruption and/or disrupt? Have you engaged innovation capabilities to ensure your new ways of doing business are “transformational” and not simply uninspiring copy-cat tactics and “change” initiatives which simply create a better version of the past?


Have you ensured that all stakeholders have been identified, engaged and are committed to providing adequate support, and that they clearly understand how the transformation aligns with other in-flight initiatives? Has a lean and agile decision making governance structure supported by the executive team been properly documented, communicated and implemented?

Programme Management

Have you engaged effective programme management capabilities and approaches to ensure the programme delivers the planned outcomes with no compromise on quality and without the need to deviate from the time and budget described in the business case? Have you agreed how the benefits and value that you promised in the business case will be tracked, managed, proven and reported to executives?

Organisational Change Management

Have you taken the time to understand why your firm’s ability to manage change effectively is a critical aspect that will determine the success or failure of the transformation? Have you fully understood the impact of the initiative on the business and people, and engaged the right capabilities to define a change management strategy and plan, and then execute upon them.

Transformation Flexibility

For firms that embark on transformation when they’re not ready to do so, the writing is often on the wall from the start. Anyone who has been leading transformation and change for five years or more won’t need a crystal ball to know that when the basics aren’t in place, there’s an unpleasant journey ahead. And with a lack of transformation readiness comes a lack of transformation success and business results.

Many firms that are beginning to respond to the impact or threat of digital disruption are at stages o and 1 on the illustration shown below. They feel empowered by the fact they are responding to the notion of disruption but not always are they prepared to achieve what they need to. The longer they continue to get transformation wrong, from a strategy or execution perspective, the more heads will role, the more stakeholder support will falter, the more money and moral will pour down the drain, the more profits will dwindle and the more time and money will run out. In the worst case, it might be a slippery slope to your very own Kodak moment.

Transformation Readiness Assessment

A holistic transformation readiness assessment approach helps firms assess their readiness objectively. It helps identify gaps and effective ways to fill them, in order to become “ready for the transformation journey” and not set off prematurely.

Whether you use or any other holistic approach to digital business, adopt one and treat your transformation like an Arctic expedition. Start well-prepared and ready – for the challenging journey ahead.

Learn from this £100 Million digital transformation disaster


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