One of the more subtle, challenging early aspects of any transformation effort is determining how bold to be with your transformation objectives. At first blush, this might not seem like such a profound decision. After all, you’ll still likely need funding, people, and some organizational focus regardless of whether you’re changing the very nature of your organization or just optimizing a process or two, right?
While this is true, the people, support, and sensitivity to the human aspects of the transformation will look very different for a truly transformative initiative versus some changes around the edges.
Most leaders intuitively realize that the bolder the transformative vision, the more risks that get introduced outside their comfort zone of digital and process change. Launching a digitally-enabled new business model might have relatively straightforward technologies that support and activate it but require difficult conversations with everyone from impacted business units, to finance to determine how to track and manage a new revenue stream.
There’s also potential pushback for bold transformations. You won’t raise any eyebrows applying machine learning to accounts payable, but you’ll have more interesting conversations if you suggest the same technology might allow your organization to proactively revise its strategic plans every month.
The Trouble with Easy Objectives
These challenges cause many leaders to bias toward “playing it safe” when setting their transformation agenda. It’s generally easier to get budget approval, identify resources, and launch a “safe” program than build support for one that’s bold.
However, scaling back your objectives often creates a non-linear reduction in the impact and value your program will produce. All efforts at organizational change have “startup costs” ranging from hiring outside expertise to investing your time and political capital to launch a project. So, spending those fixed startup costs on a “safe” program always results in a lower return than incorporating bold programs into your agenda.
Similarly, consider what programs have inspired you at your company. Were they something like a “transformational effort to lower repair and maintenance costs by a few percentage points”, or were they bold projects that might change the very nature of your business and were inherently exciting since they seemed extraordinary and perhaps too difficult to achieve?
Bold transformational goals have 2 primary benefits over less challenging objectives. First, they tend to galvanize parties to action around a common purpose. Just as events like the global pandemic or the war in Ukraine created exceptional performance versus the norm, so to do transformational efforts often cause your teams to rise to the occasion. Pushing towards a bold and somewhat unsettling goal and falling a bit short likely accomplishes more than settling for a “safe” objective and meeting it.
Secondly, bold goals often extend beyond technology, allowing tech leaders to engage in defining and executing organizational strategy. New digitally-enabled business models, re-engineered routes to market, and new products are all transformational objectives that get tech leaders out of the back office and into the forefront of company leadership.
A Bold Example: Transforming an Entire Country
While tech leaders might worry about transformation programs that stretch outside the organizational boundaries of IT, consider for a moment an effort to transform an entire country. Saudi Arabia launched its Vision 2030 in 2016, setting a 15-year timeline to change everything from how the country interacted with the global community to shifting the economy away from fossil fuel-based energy to enabling investments in everything from infrastructure to education.
While the country isn’t without its faults and detractors, Vision 2030 is an excellent example of bold objectives that question decades of tradition and foundational economic and business models. It also accounts for the massive cultural and structural changes required to bring the transformation to life.
Vision 2030 is an excellent structural model when considering your bold transformational efforts. It neatly defines primary objectives around economics, people, and the requirements to achieve the vision and provides clear and unambiguous timelines for each primary objective. Every project embedded in Vision 2030 connects its outcomes and objectives to the larger program and is measured against a shared set of goals.
Also noteworthy about Vision 2030 is that it accounts for the massive cultural changes required to execute the vision successfully. From changes in legal structures to gaps in education, the Vision avoids a critical mistake of bold transformational programs and addresses these areas head-on.
Bold Transformation is a Team Effort
Complex programs require strong teams, but if you’re striving for a truly bold transformational effort, take the extra time to assemble the right core team and a robust advisory group. You’ll need technical skills and organizational and cultural chops to pull off a bold transformation, and this core team is where most tech leaders focus the majority of their attention.
As appropriate as this is this, however, don’t forget that you’ll also need a strong team of advisors and champions from within and outside the organization. If your transformation effort impacts the products the company sells, you’ll likely need an advocate from the affected business lines. Similarly, if a significant cultural change is required, engage the top talent executives in your organization as quickly as possible.
Avoid the temptation to build your advisory team solely with advocates for the transformation. A skeptical voice that’s highly respected within the organization can be a huge asset. Not only can their questions and skepticism hold the project to account, but if you can gain their support, their voice can become invaluable in convincing other skeptics that your transformation will benefit the broader organization.
You’ll position your transformational effort well with a bold objective, a strong core team, and a carefully selected group of advisors and stakeholders. While these elements don’t guarantee success, having at least one bold transformational program in your portfolio can elevate your position in the organization, accomplish meaningful and important objectives, and perhaps even change the direction and focus of your company or industry.