by Peter Bendor-Samuel

Why do so many business transformation initiatives fail?

Aug 22, 2016
Business IT AlignmentIT GovernanceTechnology Industry

In transformation, sometimes you have to go slow to go fast.

Some companies achieve breakthrough performance results from their transformation initiatives, but they are rare. In companies of all sizes and industries, transformation journeys have a very high degree of failure. They fail because of organizational pushback, like tissue rejection in an organ transplant. What enables the successful companies to get beyond the pushback? In working with and observing many companies trying to achieve a transformation, it’s clear to me that approach is the issue.

Typically, the initiative starts with a visionary executive who has a vision of driving big change in performance and a big transformation. Then the company hires an outside service provider or consultant and moves straight into putting its transformational agenda in place. But the project grinds to a halt when it encounters employee and manager behaviors based on the WIIFM (“What’s in it for me?”) principle.

WIIFM is the enemy of transformation. Let’s take an automation program for example. When you try to digitize a workflow, what makes sense for the company probably doesn’t make sense for the individuals that will have to identify the opportunities and work with the automation to get it stood up or manage it. And WIIFM means the individuals in the business process will be either automated out of existence or will have to work in the new digital world.

Yes, a transformation project may cut across the interests of employees or managers; but more often than not, the bigger problem is that it isn’t well explained up front.

Building belief is essential to a successful transformation. Consequently, it makes sense initially to go slow. By going slow, you ensure that everyone in the organization understands and buys into the need for change and understands how they will meet the change before you start making major investments in technology and ecosystem adjustment.

If you start down the path of trying to enable the change before enough stakeholders understand where the project is going, you’ve built enough belief as to why you need the change, and that the change is possible, then you’ll run a very high risk of pushback and debilitating, passive-aggressive behavior.

Spending time up front to build that belief is well worth it. If you spend enough time to build the support from not only the senior stakeholders but on down into other levels of the organization, it will dramatically improve the chances for success.

No matter what the company’s objectives are for transformation, if you start in on a detailed plan without support at all levels of the organization, the initiative may achieve early gains but will fall dramatically short of the desired end goal. Sometimes you have to go slow in order to go fast.