Actionable ideas to help leaders and organisations identify and act on, the right change-opportunities at the right time.
The word transformation means different things to different people. It can mean 'making something new from something old' or 'taking on a new form'. When it comes to organisations, I've noticed there are times when transformation adopts a euphemistic quality. For instance, leaders might say ‘We're embarking on a business transformation’but what they really mean is ‘Dang! We didn’t see that change coming. We’d better move fast or we'll be in trouble’.
I call these Bunny-Hop Transformations. The name comes from my early days learning to drive a manual car. Rev the engine…crunch the gears…lurch forward…stop suddenly…repeat. It’s frustrating, slow, uses a lot of fuel and makes your passengers think twice before agreeing to ride with you next time.
When an organisation embarks on this kind of “transformation” it follows a fairly predictable course. Suddenly an initiative that was barely on the radar goes into over-drive and becomes a major strategic program. It mows down previously high-priority projects, distracts operations and sucks-up the precious energy of subject-matter-experts and time-poor leaders.
Beyond these short-term impacts, if an organisation consistently follows the Bunny-Hop Transformation approach, it erodes the ability to create (and optimise) customer-value. That's because:
it exhausts your best people
time pressures cause leaders to prematurely leap to a solution without the required level of understanding.
it places the customer-experience at higher risk as consequences are rarely given sufficient consideration
it costs more as poor/ ill-informed decisions cause significant re-work and retro-fitting of the solution
it weakens the core organisation as this approach often breaks operational processes and systems that were previously 'working just fine'
Of course, the real irony with Bunny-Hop Transformation is that it doesn’t actually ‘transform’ the business at all. When it's all over, there is rarely evidence of any holistic improvement in organisational capability and few signs that when the next big change comes along, the journey will be any better. Further, because repeated Bunny-Hop Transformation weakens the organisation's foundations, more investment and effort is required each time to create the same (if not diminishing) amount of value.
So what can you do to ensure your organisation sees then acts on relevant change opportunities at the right time? And, how can you avoid falling into the traps of Bunny-Hop Transformation?
The following four strategies will take you in the right direction
Be crystal clear how your organisation creates value for customers
Knowing this will give your leaders and people a reference point against which to assess change-opportunities. If a change impacts customers’ perceptions of value, then it’s probably a change worth noticing and potentially, acting upon.
Make it easy to speak up
Have open communication mechanisms that enable your people to identify and raise opportunities. This is more than just setting up an email box or a database. Leaders with the willingness, authority and ability to assess and act on opportunities must be listening at the other end.
Attend to the non-sexy changes as much as the sexy ones
A new digital widget is always going to have people more excited than the replacement of a 20-year-old data warehouse, a disaster recovery program or compliance project. Don't put off responding to apparently boring changes. Remember it’s the stuff that’s not sexy that usually comes with the highest risk (i.e. it can put you out of business).
Build an adaptive organisation, not a great transformer
Organisations can unwittingly aspire to becoming great at Bunny-Hop Transformation and make significant investments to move the organisation in this direction. And yet, for all the reasons described above, such investments fail to make the organisation more adaptive and better prepared for an environment of relentless change.The alternative is to adopt a different mindset, one that focuses on building an organisation that's able to change itself and consistently adapt to fluctuating customer needs. This kind of organisation is constantly looking for opportunities, knows a good one when it sees it and takes action (before it's 100% sure it needs to).
So let's bring the conversation back to your organisation.
How well does it see potential change opportunities and act on them at the right time?
How easily is it able to distill the important changes from the 'noisy yet unimportant' fluctuations in your environment?
How often does it adopt the Bunny-Hop approach to transformation? How might this influence its future success?
I'll look forward to hearing your thoughts.
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Related article: "Three ways to see industry disruption before it's too late".
About the author:
Kate Christiansen is an author, business leader and passionate change-advocate who's spent twenty years adapting organisations to major strategic change. Her writing aims to empower leaders by fostering insights, sharing ideas and providing practical strategies to succeed in an ever-changing world. Kate's latest book 'The Thrive Cycle: Unlock The Adaptive Organisation Within' will be released in 2016.