How to Know When Your Transformation is On—or Off—Track
BY Melissa Dimitri and Marc Watrous
October 20, 2022
October 20, 2022

Most organizational transformation efforts fail. Seventy percent of them, to be exact. Ouch. 

Over the course of your career, you’ve likely encountered this statistic. We’ve trotted it out once or twice ourselves. We do this not to discourage, but to help dislodge old mindsets, well-worn behaviors, and ways of working that are keeping leaders and their organizations behind the transformation curve. 

Whether you’re at the wheel or navigating as co-pilot, you won’t always have a clear line of sight into what lies ahead. Projected plans can veer off course in what seems like the blink of an eye, leading to lagging KPIs, lackluster adoption rates, and ultimately, an initiative that impedes progress rather than inspires it. 

When it comes to meaningful transformation, there is no “set it and forget it” feature. As a leader, you must constantly assess, recalibrate, and adjust accordingly to ensure your organization’s efforts pay off. Ninety-two percent of change practitioners name top management involvement as the most important factor for successful change, and it takes a particularly astute and attentive leader to circumvent challenges before they become total roadblocks. 

Here are a few questions that can help you and other leaders in your organization move from transformation stress to success.

Who are we really serving?

Many unsuccessful projects start with well-intentioned, detailed plans. If a thorough roadmap is necessary to reach “mission accomplished,” why the low success rate? In many cases, it comes down to a lack of focus—specifically on who is being served and to what end. 

True organizational transformation is most effective when its central goal is to look outward and seek to solve your customers’ toughest problems. The customer-first ethos may be most palpable in a B2C context, but it’s just as applicable (if not more so) in the B2B world. So, as you move down the path of transformation, ask yourself: Are we focused on the right goals? And furthermore, do those goals improve the lives and/or the experiences of our customers, or just our bottom line? Is change a top priority, or does the day-to-day grind trump transformation? 

Which brings us to our next question: 

Are we preparing for the next meeting or the next milestone?

Measuring, reporting, and communicating progress is undoubtedly necessary. But many teams find themselves torn between two masters: the internal customer (their boss) and the external customer. As a result, many organizations end up on a hamster wheel of monthly reports, repetitive briefings, and a steady stream of dog and pony shows to various executive groups.

That’s not to say board meetings and the like aren’t important, but you should aim to spend your time working toward reaching the next milestone versus updating slides in a deck. Meetings should serve the purpose of making decisions, removing roadblocks, mitigating risks, and proposing next steps. They should be a forum where items are actioned, not just discussed. Ask yourself, do we need to meet or simply communicate status?

Have we identified the right change catalysts, and do they have the tools (and time) they need to get the job done?

Leading through transformation is not a solo journey. C-suite executives must lead the charge and treat transformation as a top priority, but they’re not the only ones on the hook for seeing a change effort through. Change catalysts must be engaged, and they must have a bold, ambitious mindset that constantly challenges the status quo. You want true change drivers, not passengers.

This requires a.) identifying who can complete the work, b.) ensuring they have the bandwidth, and c.) empowering them to push forward. Tacking on extra tasks to an already full to-do list is going to result in slowed progress and inevitable burnout. Transformation is a hands-on effort and should be treated as such. Whether you’re asking a fellow C-level leader or frontline employee to take the wheel, you must be certain they have the tools, and importantly, the time to make it happen. Driving transformation requires you to pull employees out of their day jobs so they can focus on the task at hand. If you’re not willing to take this step, change will never take hold.

Are we soliciting (and acting on) collective feedback? 

As a leader, you must identify what you need to change about yourself first before asking others in your organization to take on the responsibility of changing their mindsets and behaviors. This means you must seek guidance and input from trusted advisors, colleagues, mentors, and coaches on how you can do better. Customers, too, provide some of the most valuable feedback, as well as employees who interact directly with customers. 

Ideally, you should be receiving feedback in surround sound throughout the entire journey. It’s impossible to make informed decisions in a vacuum, and you’ll need input—both positive and potentially not-so-positive—from multiple sources to ensure you’re on the right track.

Once you have identified the goals for your future organization, the hard work starts. It’s time to focus on how you will act and behave differently as a leader to motivate your teams and work together to make your vision a reality.