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The quick and dirty transformation test for executives

07 Jun 16

Article by, Mary Mesaglio, Gartner research analyst

If I had to guess, I’d say that roughly two thirds of clients I speak to are undergoing some kind of transformation. That’s a conservative estimate. It seems like these days, transformation is the new normal. Especially if the word digital precedes it.

It’s no wonder. Seismic shifts are afoot, digital being the big disrupter. A comprehensive response is necessary; Band Aid solutions and minor tweaks won’t deliver. It’s natural that companies, universities and public entities would want to transform themselves for the digital age.

That said, there seems to be a lot of transformation malaise. A lot of clients I talk to are frustrated by the lack of progress they’re making. Transformation is hard. It’s painful. It doesn’t go fast enough.

Transformations have always been hard and they’ve often been slow. Here are some of my own observations of why this is the case:

  • Transformation connotes something that is going to arrive but hasn’t yet. That is, it lacks urgency. Compared to the meeting I have to prepare for Tuesday and the analysis that’s due on Thursday, “transformation” sounds like something far off and un-urgent. It’s coming, just not yet. Meanwhile, I have a bunch of concrete work that is immediate and pressing, so I’ll just do that.
  • Transformations are often fuzzy-sounding. “We’re transforming into a digital-first organization.” Say, what? What does that actually mean, and specifically, what does it mean for me, my job, my role, my work?
  • If associates do think about the transformation, it’s often tinged with fear and negativity. Will I remain relevant? I know how to do my job now, will I then? If I keep my head down, will the transformation just go away, like so many other corporate initiatives that have come and gone?

Since so many of my clients tell me they’re transforming, and so many transformations fail to deliver the intended results, I’ve devised a little test for executive leadership teams. I call it the quick and dirty transformation test for executives.

Here it is:

  1. Can you tell me what the enterprise is transforming into?
  2. In under 2 minutes?
  3. Using no corporate speak?
  4. In a way that would be clear and motivating to an associate four or five levels down in the organisation?
  5. If I asked your peers, would they say roughly the same thing you have?

Unless and until the team at the top can articulate the transformation with this degree of clarity, it risks getting derailed. This is one of those things that falls into the category of simple and hard. It’s deceptively hard to do this well, but well worth spending the time, since this is the genesis for all other change.

Too many clients articulate the transformation as the end goal, when in reality it’s a means to an end. I want to know what we will be once we’re done transforming and I want you to tell me in a way that relates to me and my work. Can you do that?

Article by, Mary Mesaglio, Gartner research analyst

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