Get more business transformation by doing less

As leaders of organisations we are familiar with getting more done by pushing our people harder.  We push for improved performance. We push for getting more ideas implemented. We push for more problems to be solved. This might work well in the operational environment, but when it comes to business transformation, we are probably pushing for more but getting less because we are spreading our resources too thinly.

Let me illustrate this. I worked for an aerospace manufacturing company that wanted to implement lean manufacturing principles. We selected one of six product families to work on and we launched a project team to develop some proposals. After six months, they returned with a proposed solution which was accepted by the senior leadership team, and they were given approval to move on into implementation. The senior leadership team wanted to achieve yet more so they launched a further five project teams to address the five remaining product groups. After four months those teams also returned with their proposals. These proposals were approved too after review.

That’s when we learned that the implementation was not going to be straightforward. 

Firstly, we had imagined that the bottleneck would sit at the beginning of the project when we launched all the projects teams. Now it became obvious, as we started to implement that the bottleneck sat with the decisions that had to be made and especially how to use the limited capex available.  

Secondly, we also learned about capacity needed for change. We’d taken 40 key people out of their roles to work full-time on the five project teams. The operational results of the business began to suffer without these key people in place. We were spreading our resources too thinly. 

Thirdly, there was a growing list of decisions to be made by the leadership team. For example, there were new job roles to be agreed; there were decisions on how people were to be recruited for the new roles (ie internal recruitment or appointment).  Overall, there were many decisions to be made and this could only be done by slowing everything down and disappointing the people who had developed the proposals.  

What started as a push to speed up progress resulted in a programme becalmed by too many competing decisions.   

Based on this example my advice to senior leadership teams embarking on business transformation is:

  1. To develop a programme plan for business transformation that they are able to deliver at a consistent and steady pace rather than setting out too quickly and finding the problems later on in the programme cause them down to slow down and disappoint people.
  2. As a team they remain engaged during the proposal development stage so they can see what key business decisions are going to come their way and they can be ready to make those agreements quickly and effectively. 
  3. They maintain an eye on operational performance which is often the most important part of the organisation to ensure that this is not adversely impacted.  If an impact is inevitable, steps have to be taken to buffer the operational impact or to amend the business expectations.  

In conclusion my advice to senior leadership teams is to create a pace for the business transformation programme that can be sustained for the entire programme, resisting the temptation to push for an unsustainable pace.    

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