Running a Business
6 Key Levers of a Successful Organizational Transformation
Disruption used to be an exceptional event that hit an unlucky few companies — think of the likes of Kodak, Polaroid, and Blackberry. But in today’s complex and uncertain world, as we face challenges ranging from climate change to digitization, geopolitics to DEI, organizations must treat transformation as a core capability to master, as opposed to a one-off event.
At the same time, leaders must recognize that transformation is fraught with risk. In 1995, John Kotter found that 70% of organizational transformations fail, and nearly three decades later, not much has changed. Our own research, in which we spoke to more than 900 C-suite managers and more than 1,100 employees who had gone through a corporate transformation, showed similar results: 67% of leaders told us they had experienced at least one underperforming transformation in the last five years.
Considering that organizations will spend billions on transformation initiatives over the next year, a 70% failure rate equates to a significant erosion of value. So, what can leaders do to tilt the odds of success in their favor? To find out, we interviewed 30 leaders of transformations and surveyed more than 2,000 senior leaders and employees in 23 countries and 16 sectors. Half of our respondents had been involved in a successful transformation, while the other half had experienced an unsuccessful transformation.
So what tactics did the leaders of successful transformations use to manage the emotional journey? To find out, we built a model to predict the likelihood that an organization will achieve its transformation KPIs based on the extent to which it exhibited 50 behaviors across 11 areas of the transformation. This model revealed that behaviors in six of these areas consistently improved the odds of transformation success. Organizations that are above average in these areas have a 73% chance of meeting or exceeding their transformation KPIs, compared to only a 28% chance for organizations that are below average. Our research suggests that any organization that can effectively implement these six levers will maximize their chances of success.
Our research also found that a key difference in successful transformations was that leaders embraced their employees’ emotional journey. Fifty-two percent of respondents involved in successful transformations said their organization provided the emotional support they needed during the transformation process “to a significant extent” (as opposed to 27% of respondents who were involved in unsuccessful transformations).
Transformations are extremely difficult on a personal level for everyone involved. In the successes we studied, leaders not only made sure their teams had the processes, resources, and technology they needed — they also built the right emotional conditions. These leaders offered a compelling rationale driving the transformation, and they ensured employees had the emotional support they needed to execute. This meant that when the going inevitably got tough, employees felt appropriately challenged and ultimately energized by the stress.
By contrast, leaders of the unsuccessful transformations didn’t make the same emotional investment. When their teams hit the inevitable challenges, negative emotions spiked, and the team entered a downward spiral. Leaders lost faith and looked to distance themselves from the project, which led employees to do the same.
The Six Key Levers of Transformations
So what tactics did the leaders of successful transformations use to manage the emotional journey? The six levers that maximize the chances of success, according to our research are:
1. Leadership’s own willingness to change
Many people believe that a leader’s job is to look outward and give others guidance, but our research suggests that to help their workforce navigate a transformation, leaders need to look inward first and examine their own relationship with change. “If you are not ready to change yourself, forget about changing your team and your organization,” as Dr. Patrick Liew, executive chairman at GEX Ventures, told us.
In our interviews, leaders spoke of working on their own development, including engaging more with their emotions and becoming accustomed to the discomfort that accompanies personal growth. Leaders needed to “look into a mirror,” as one told us, and realize that they were part of the problem before the shift to a positive trajectory could take place. They needed to remove their own fear before they could help their employees get through this change.
“As someone who was tasked to lead this [transformation], if I’m being honest with you, it was pretty unsettling at the start, because I think by nature most of us like to know the path we’re going on,” as one COO from the automative industry told us. And a senior vice president in the global business services industry described needing to become more vulnerable and honest on their path to self-discovery: “I think I became even more aware of myself, who I am.”
2. A shared vision of success
Creating a unified vision of future success is another all-important foundation point of a transformation. In our research, 50% of respondents involved in successful transformations said the vision energized and inspired them to go the extra mile to a significant extent (as compared 29% of respondents in low-performing transformations).
Employees must understand the urgent need to disrupt the status quo. A compelling “why” can help them navigate the inevitable challenges that will arise during a transformation program. Many of the workers who took our survey said that they “wanted” and “needed” the vision to be communicated clearly. When leaders share a clear vision, the workforce is more likely to get on board. But if people don’t understand the vision or need for transformation, success is hard to achieve.
“It’s not about me telling people ‘This is what’s going to happen,’” as a managing director in the medical device industry told us. “It’s about me creating this shared sense of ownership…and then [coaching] my team on what they need to achieve. We very consciously want our teams to really buy into this is how we, as a collective, want to work.”
3. A culture of trust and psychological safety
Trust and care from leaders can make a difficult transformation more emotionally manageable. At the most basic human level, we all know what it feels like to be seen, listened to, and heard by another person. It can validate our effort, motivate us to work harder, and help assuage emotions like doubt, fear, anger, and sadness. Workers in our study shared that they wanted leaders who were patient and who also had, in the words of one employee, a “calm and teachable spirit.”
In a workplace with a high degree of psychological safety, employees feel confident that they can share their honest opinions and concerns without fear of retribution. When trust and psychological safety are missing, it’s difficult to persuade your workforce to make necessary changes. For example, one senior leader told us that employees at their company were extremely fearful of the transformation and didn’t feel that they could speak up about the problems they saw. Not surprisingly, the transformation did not go well.
4. A process that balances execution and exploration
Transformations obviously need disciplined project management to drive the program forward. But our research showed that leaders of successful transformations created processes that balanced the need to execute with giving employees the freedom to explore, express creativity, and let new ideas emerge. This empowers the workforce to identify solutions or opportunities that better meet the long-term goals of the transformation.
“Innovation requires the right people and processes,” said one respondent to our anonymous survey. “Both are critical to encourage collaboration and experimentation.”
We also found that creating space for small failures can ultimately lead to big success, whereas fear of any failure can lead to missed opportunities. Forty-eight percent of our respondents involved in successful transformations said the process was designed so that failed experimentation would not negatively impact their career or compensation to a significant extent. By contrast, only 29% of respondents in unsuccessful transformations said the same.
5. A recognition that technology carries its own emotional journey
The leaders in our study ranked technology as the biggest challenge they faced in their transformation efforts. There are a lot of emotions to manage when new systems or technology are introduced, from stress over how it works to fear about whether it will cause job loss or slow down the system.
In the underperforming transformations we studied, we saw the narrative shift away from the vision to focus on the technology itself. Whereas in the successful transformations, leaders ensured that technology was seen as the means to achieve the strategic vision. Furthermore, they prioritized quick implementations of new technology — focusing on a minimum viable product rather than perfect implementation. Lastly, they invested resources into skill development to ensure the workforce was ready to create value using the new technology.
“There were kickoff sessions with our senior managers to bring them in at the beginning of the process,” a vice president of a company in the media/advertising industry explained. “These sessions aimed to show them that what was being built was something that they had helped design, rather than something that was presented to them as a fait accompli…This minimized the numbers of active detractors.”
6. A shared sense of ownership over the outcome
In the successful transformations we studied, leaders and employees worked together to co-create an environment where everyone felt a shared sense of ownership over the transformation vision and outcome.
A prime example of this is many companies’ rapid shift to virtual and remote working during the pandemic. Because of the speed and urgency of the change, leaders needed to collaborate closely with the workforce to create new ways of working and be much more responsive to their views on what was or wasn’t going well. This mass co-creation helped build a sense of pride and shared ownership across both leadership and the workforce.
“In a transformation, things pop up all the time,” as Christiane Wijsen, head of corporate strategy at Boehringer Ingelheim, told us. “When you have a movement around you, supporters will buffer it and tweak it each time. When you don’t have this movement, then you’re alone.”
. . .
To conclude, it’s worth reiterating that all transformations are tough. Even during successful programs, there will come a time where people start to feel stressed. The skill at this difficult stage is being able to energize your workforce and turn that heightened pressure into something productive, as opposed to letting the transformation spiral downward into pessimism and underperformance.
What we saw throughout our research is that leaders who are truly working with their employees are much more successful. They acknowledge and manage emotions, rather than pushing them aside or ignoring them. The best leaders create vision across the organization and a safe environment to work together and listen to each other.
“You’ve got to be very, very respectful of people at a working level,” as Thomas Sebastian, CEO of London Market Joint Venture at DXC Technology, told us. “You’ve got to understand the emotional side and consider a completely different perspective, such as how is this transformation going to make their life easier.”
Success begets success. Once a workforce has undergone a successful transformation, they will be ready to go again. And given the pace of change in the world, organizations have got to be ready to go again.
Want to Succeed as an Entrepreneur? 14 Traits to Cultivate Now
If you had to choose one trait that you believed was the most necessary in order to succeed as an entrepreneur, what would it be and why? How can aspiring entrepreneurs cultivate it?
These answers are provided by Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most successful young entrepreneurs. YEC members represent nearly every industry, generate billions of dollars in revenue each year, and have created tens of thousands of jobs. Learn more at yec.co.
1. The Ability to Problem-Solve
The one trait I would say is the most important to entrepreneurs is the ability to creatively problem-solve. Sometimes, solutions to business problems aren’t obvious and you have to find an out-of-the-box solution. That can be a real challenge because most people are taught to color within the lines.
– Baruch Labunski, Rank Secure
You need courage, resolve and strength of character to withstand the ebbs, flows and failures that lead to successful business. The best way to get this is through experience. I’ve seen a lot of young entrepreneurs with more grit than their older counterparts, especially when they had customer service jobs and worked their way up the ladder to experience different seats in the company.
– Givelle Lamano, Oakland DUI Attorneys
One of the most essential traits an entrepreneur can possess is flexibility. You need to be able to change your approach in response to market conditions, customer feedback and what any partners or investors want at any given time. Being flexible also means looking at “failure” as a signal to make changes rather than as a permanent obstacle.
Aspiring entrepreneurs should be fearless. It’s fear that often prevents you from grabbing new opportunities, as new entrepreneurs are unable to decide what’s best for them or how a particular decision would affect them. Well, you won’t know unless you try. So, be quick with your decisions. Preparedness is great and all, but if you’re afraid to make a move, someone else will — and will likely succeed.
– Chris Klosowski, Easy Digital Downloads
To be successful as an entrepreneur, you need to focus on developing your social skills. When you have strong social skills, it becomes easier for you to build strong relationships with your customers, investors or anyone you think is important to your business. Good social skills make you a better communicator and help you make others feel secure so they connect with you on a deeper level.
One trait you need to succeed as an entrepreneur is determination. You’ll encounter people who don’t like your idea. There will be times when clients or investors reject you. Your first project idea may never see the light of day. You need to have the drive to move past these unfortunate situations if you want to find success.
Decisiveness is the main trait any successful entrepreneur needs to cultivate. From making decisions about the budget or day-to-day communication, maintaining the ability to decide and decide quickly remains imperative. I use mental models like Occam’s razor to run my life. For example, when presented with two options, I choose the simplest and I get a lot of significant work done.
– Libby Rothschild, Dietitian Boss
8. A Realistic Mindset
Be realistic! An entrepreneur’s career is full of ups and downs, which are part of the learning process — and that’s a fact. Keeping your feet on the ground will save you much frustration when things don’t go the way you want. Instead, learn your lessons and keep moving. This will also help you to consider and prepare for multiple scenarios while adjusting along the way.
In order to be an entrepreneur, you must have some moxie. Being outspoken, direct, resilient and having the ability to persevere is something that most entrepreneurs have in common. You have moxie if you can get up after failing. Aspiring entrepreneurs can cultivate it by focusing on confidence. Stand up for what you believe in and don’t let others’ opinions or perceptions get in your way.
– Jennifer A Barnes, Optima Office, Inc.
10. The Ability to Follow Long-Term Plans
The ability to follow and execute on a long-term plan — meaning multiple years — without being sidetracked by mirages along the way or discouraged by inevitable ups and downs is so important. This requires you to learn multiple skills, including attention to detail, deep work and strategic vision (as opposed to tunnel vision, which trips up many entrepreneurs).
– Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance
11. A Willingness to Keep Learning
If you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, you should have an open mind toward learning. It’s important for you to realize that learning is an ongoing process. It can help you develop new skills that in turn can help you stay ahead of your competitors at all times.
– Thomas Griffin, OptinMonster
12. A Self-Reflective Mind
One trait that can help aspiring entrepreneurs succeed is self-reflection. Embracing your mistakes and learning from them is the only way an entrepreneur can grow and be better than ever before. However, one can’t cultivate this skill by enrolling in a particular program. You have to have an open mind, give yourself the freedom to make mistakes and foster the courage to learn from them.
– Stephanie Wells, Formidable Forms
Resilience is one of the most important traits you can develop as an entrepreneur. The journey is going to have high highs and low lows, and it will be your ability to push through and persevere during this time that will be the difference between success and failure. To develop resilience, develop a positive mindset, build a strong support system, understand your purpose and look after yourself.
– Zane Stevens, Protea Financial
14. The Ability to Thrive on Ambiguity
The cornerstone of entrepreneurial success is in the ability to accept and thrive on ambiguity. I have found that navigating the unpredictable landscape of business ventures requires you to possess a flexible mindset that can accommodate constant change and capitalize on emerging opportunities. Always stay updated with the latest developments and treat every change as an opportunity to grow.
The Art of Risk-Taking: Lessons from Successful Entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurship is a high-risk endeavor. Starting a new business takes bravery, resilience, and a willingness to accept risks. Many successful entrepreneurs attribute their success to calculated risks and pushing themselves outside their comfort zones.
In this article, we will explore the art of risk-taking and the lessons we can learn from successful entrepreneurs.
1. Understand the Importance of Risk-Taking
Taking risks is an essential component of entrepreneurship. It is tough to develop and produce anything new without taking risks. Risk-taking is necessary for growth and progress, as successful entrepreneurs recognize. They also recognize that not every risk will pay off, but the potential rewards make the effort worthwhile.
2. Do Your Research
Before taking any risks, it is important to do your research. Successful entrepreneurs understand the importance of gathering as much information as possible before making a decision. This includes researching the market, competition, and potential customers. By doing your research, you can make informed decisions and minimize your risks.
3. Network Effectively
Networking is an essential part of entrepreneurship. Successful entrepreneurs understand the importance of building relationships with potential investors, customers, and other entrepreneurs. They attend events and conferences, participate in industry groups, and use social media to expand their network and create new opportunities.
4. Stay Committed
Entrepreneurship is a long and challenging journey. Successful entrepreneurs understand the importance of staying committed to their goals and vision, even when faced with obstacles and setbacks. They stay focused on their end goal and are willing to put in the time and effort necessary to achieve it.
5. Collaborate with Others
Entrepreneurship is often a team effort. Successful entrepreneurs understand the value of collaborating with others and building strong partnerships. They seek out individuals who bring complementary skills and expertise to the table and work together to achieve a shared vision.
6. Surround Yourself with Supportive People
Entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey. It is important to surround yourself with supportive people who believe in you and your vision. Successful entrepreneurs understand the value of having a support system and seek out mentors, advisors, and other entrepreneurs who can offer guidance and encouragement.
7. Set Realistic Goals
Taking risks is essential for entrepreneurship, but it is important to set realistic goals. Successful entrepreneurs understand the importance of setting achievable goals and breaking them down into smaller, more manageable steps. By setting realistic goals, entrepreneurs can reduce the risk of failure and stay motivated throughout the journey.
8. Stay Flexible
Entrepreneurship is a constantly evolving journey. Successful entrepreneurs understand the importance of staying flexible and adapting to changing circumstances. They are open to new ideas and are willing to pivot when necessary to stay ahead of the curve.
9. Learn from Feedback
Feedback is a valuable tool for entrepreneurs. Successful entrepreneurs seek out feedback from customers, mentors, and advisors and use it to refine their ideas and improve their products or services. They understand that feedback is not a personal attack, but rather an opportunity to grow and improve.
10. Take Care of Yourself
Entrepreneurship can be a stressful and demanding journey. It is important to take care of yourself both physically and mentally. Successful entrepreneurs prioritize their health and well-being and make time for self-care activities such as exercise, meditation, and spending time with loved ones. By taking care of themselves, entrepreneurs can stay energized and focused throughout their entrepreneurial journey.
11. Take Action
Successful entrepreneurs do not let fear hold them back. They take action and move forward, even when they are unsure of the outcome. They understand that taking action is the only way to achieve their goals and make their vision a reality.
12. Take Calculated Risks
While taking risks is important, successful entrepreneurs also know the importance of taking calculated risks. They carefully assess the potential risks and rewards before making a decision, and have a backup plan in case things don’t go as expected.
13. Trust Your Gut
While research is important, successful entrepreneurs also trust their gut instincts. They understand that sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and trust your intuition. Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, once said, “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”
14. Embrace Failure
Taking risks inevitably leads to failure at times. Successful entrepreneurs understand that failure is not the end, but rather an opportunity to learn and grow. They embrace failure and use it as a chance to improve and refine their ideas.
The art of risk-taking is a critical component of entrepreneurship. Successful entrepreneurs understand the importance of taking risks, doing their research, trusting their instincts, embracing failure, taking action, and surrounding themselves with supportive people.
Aspiring entrepreneurs can boost their chances of success and make their entrepreneurial aspirations a reality by adhering to these guidelines.
Running a Business
The Art of Juggling: 10 Ways to Balancing Roles as a Small Business Owner
As a small business owner, you wear many hats. You’re not just the boss, but also the marketer, accountant, and customer service representative. While it’s natural to want to handle every aspect of your business, juggling all these roles can be overwhelming. It’s crucial to find a balance that allows you to run your business effectively while still maintaining your sanity.
Here are some tips on how to master the art of juggling and balance your roles as a small business owner:
1. Prioritize Your Tasks
As a small business owner, you likely have a never-ending to-do list. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks and lose sight of your priorities. To avoid this, take the time to evaluate your goals and determine what tasks are most important to achieving them. Make a list of your top priorities and tackle them first.
2. Learn to Delegate
It’s common for small business owners to want to handle every task themselves. However, this can quickly lead to burnout. To avoid this, learn to delegate tasks to others. This can include hiring employees, outsourcing certain tasks, or automating processes. By delegating tasks, you can focus on the areas where you can add the most value to your business.
3. Set Boundaries
Running a small business can be all-consuming, but it’s important to set boundaries to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Determine your work hours and stick to them as much as possible. Make time for your personal life, whether it’s spending time with family or pursuing hobbies. By setting boundaries, you’ll be able to recharge and return to work with renewed energy.
4. Stay Organized
Keeping track of all the moving parts of your business can be a challenge. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, it’s crucial to stay organized. Invest in tools such as a project management system, calendar, and to-do list to keep track of your tasks and deadlines. By staying organized, you’ll be able to work more efficiently and feel less stressed.
5. Continuously Learn and Improve
Small business ownership is a continuous learning process. To stay competitive, it’s important to stay up to date with industry trends and continuously improve your skills. Attend conferences, read industry publications, and take online courses to stay on top of your game. By investing in your own growth, you’ll be better equipped to handle the demands of running a small business.
6. Practice Self-Care
Running a small business can be stressful and time-consuming, and it’s essential to prioritize your own well-being. Make time for activities that help you relax and recharge, such as exercise, meditation, or spending time outdoors. By taking care of yourself, you’ll be better equipped to handle the demands of running your business.
7. Network with Other Small Business Owners
Networking with other small business owners can provide you with valuable insights and support. Attend local networking events, join online groups or forums, and connect with other small business owners in your industry. Building relationships with others who understand the challenges of small business ownership can help you stay motivated and find new opportunities.
8. Monitor Your Progress
Regularly monitoring your progress can help you stay on track and identify areas for improvement. Set measurable goals and track your progress towards achieving them. Use data and analytics to gain insights into your business and make data-driven decisions. Celebrate your successes and use setbacks as opportunities to learn and improve.
9. Automate Repetitive Tasks
Small business owners often find themselves bogged down by repetitive tasks that take up valuable time. Consider automating some of these tasks to free up time for more important activities. For example, you can use software to automate your invoicing process, social media scheduling, or email marketing campaigns.
10. Focus on Customer Retention
While acquiring new customers is important, retaining existing ones is equally crucial for the success of your small business. Focus on building long-term relationships with your customers by providing excellent customer service, engaging with them on social media, and offering loyalty rewards or referral programs.
Running a small business can be overwhelming, but with the right strategies, it’s possible to balance your roles and find success. By prioritizing your tasks, learning to delegate, setting boundaries, staying organized, and continuously learning, you’ll be able to master the art of juggling and take your small business to the next level.
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