Conventional wisdom has it that the first step to overcome a problem is to acknowledge it. Well, we have all realized – some of us sooner than others – that there are many companies in our country that need to renew themselves in order to stay competitive. Indeed, it is starting to be clear now that undergoing a technological upgrade is not enough; a change in mentality and in they way of working is also necessary. Hence, the boom of the cultural transformation toward agile values and principles.

Like any trend or fad, cultural transformation has its supporters and detractors.

On the one hand, there are those who think that it is all just a bunch of hot air and that a need that has been created to milk large companies. On the other, there are those who seem to have an infallible kit for agilizing and transforming companies and use the same formula everywhere they go. Furthermore, if you don’t do all the things the say, the way they say it, you’re not on the right path.

As with most things, virtue lies in the middle. Things are rarely black or white.

Some thoughts on transformation plans

The problem is what, not how. When faced with different challenges, the solutions to deal with them must be different. However, something as evident as this is not always applied. In my opinion, there are some key aspects that will make a company’s transformation towards a digital culture either a scam or a success, and all are part of an MO.

Easier said than done

Transformations are essential to study and know new methods and to understand their goals, foundations, and rules. It stands to reason, of course, that they be part of any transformation plan, to show those involved the benefits of and the requirements for being more agile and having a more digital culture.

Training is a good way to discover which tools can help us change and what an organisation is really like and how it works, from theory to actual cases of other companies that were previously in the same situation.

It is absolutely delusional to think that by teaching a few classes we are going to break with years of vices, transparency and trust issues, and chain processes where each person acts in their own interest without thinking about the value of the end result.

In order to apply the theory in complex environments (is there an organization which is not complex?), the best thing is to have the support of an experienced partner that applies its own advice and theories to itself.

The same pattern for all

All companies are very different from each other; each one has its own business model, its own structure and its own values. This should already give us a clue that the transformation each company needs must be matched to its real situation.

Oh! Well, instead we try to make all companies look the same; first we change their organizational structure and then we start introducing agile practices…

No, this is not a question of opening the same clothing and fast-food franchises in all Spanish cities to modernize them. The thing that is going to make them stand out is their culture and the people who live in them. The same applies to organizations. Having squads and tribes is not going to work for them as it did for Spotify.

If the proposed transformation does not begin by analyzing where a company is at, where it wants to go, and what changes can take it there, there is a risk of implementing a solution that has been designed for others.

The chosen one

As a result of the above, that every company is different, it would be a mistake to think that an outsider can completely transform a company without the involvement of any insiders to an equal or greater extent.

Yes, the ideal thing for both the ‘transformer’ and the ‘transformed’ would be for the former to be totally self-sufficient and for the success or failure of the project to depend solely on them. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

It is necessary for people who have power, leadership and availability inside the company to work side by side with those how come from the outside to discover the things that need changing and to make all necessary changes.

And things need to be changed, but not because it says so anywhere or because it is now fashionable to do so, but because it is a way of achieving a clear, measurable objective. And who knows better than anybody else what the goals that matter to the company are than someone on the inside?

An example

What credibility would a company that says that it is going to transform another one have if its proposal for transformation were just a long list of perfectly itemized, scheduled actions and it did not carry out the inspection and adaptation activities that are so fundamental in the digital world?

We must do what we preach; we must launch actions that have measurable results and not relax for a second – just in case the results are not as expected and we need to modify the strategy.

We have to work iteratively, as agile practices teach us, in order to adapt to any changes and to that reality which we are rarely able to predict accurately anyway.

The transformation method must be the example of the new practices the company wants to adopt. Yes, this way it is harder to convince the Purchasing Director, but if you can do it, the result will be much more rewarding and fruitful for both parties.

Each one, each one

Let us assume that we are already working hard on our transformation and that all the necessary people are involved and committed. What could possibly go wrong now?

The purpose of this post is not to define what things should be included in a transformation plan – but we must acknowledge that a key piece of the puzzle is all those people whose daily lives are going to be affected by the changes. Yes, people, each and every one of them different from each other. This is the biggest challenge.

One day when my nephew was three, he started to deal us cards with drawings on them whilst telling each one of us: “Each one, each one.” It might seem trivial but it is crucial for all people to have a role, to feel part of the process, to be instilled with a will to change and to see the sense in changing.

A good communication plan is essential for this to happen. Resistance to change arises mostly when people feel threatened by the change and their concerns are not taken into consideration.

The never-ending story

And how long will it take us to transform? The term transformation might not be the most apt after all. Transformation is a process that entails continual improvement and adaptation based on changes and learning.

But, of course, any changes that are made along the way must yield results and help the organisation become more productive, the people more motivated and willing to collaborate, and the value generated increase.

What is truly important is to ensure that the organization makes all changes wholesale in order for it not to have to rely on the partner that is helping it throughout the process forever.

All new practices must be internalized and not thought of as having been imposed from the outside. This is why it is essential to appoint ambassadors for the organization’s change.

Biking without training wheels

For me, a transformation plan is successful if the organization itself feels that the inspiration it has received and the initiatives that have been implemented have objectively helped it to grow and improve and, in turn, that it now has the knowledge, the strength and the motivation to continue along this path on its own, knowing that it will never give up.

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