More and more organisations are establishing in-house centres of excellence for business transformation. Their aim is to build a team of experts who can lead important transformation projects, maintaining momentum throughout, and also to improve the transformational skills of business unit managers.
In reality, transformation teams rarely achieve anything like this. Instead, they become dumping grounds for managers and projects that are seen as peripheral to the enterprise. In good times, their best members move to other posts and are not replaced. In bad times – arguably the times when transformation is most important – they become an easy target for cuts. Often, the team is disbanded, or else dies a lingering death.
Beating the odds is tough. To stand a chance, your transformation team needs to be able to give the right answers to four key questions.
Most teams start off with a fanfare, but the top team often loses interest quickly, and then the team can quickly slip back into a routine audit role. Genuine, sustained interest from a senior sponsor – ideally the COO or CEO – is vital to create a great transformation team and keep it thriving. This sponsor should continually push the team to challenge accepted wisdom and act as a catalyst for change.
Prioritising and delivering early wins silences the doubters, but to fulfill its strategic role, a transformation team needs to do much more than provide extra staff for piecemeal line improvements. Recently, PA set up a transformation team for a major US service business, and we were asked to provide training and coaching in the form of specific projects that would deliver bottom-line savings. While this requirement primarily meant improving individual operations, we were always careful to think about the end-to-end process as well.
Any good transformation team develops its own in-house transformation methodology and tools to share with the rest of the organisation, instead of just relying on standard frameworks and courses. What can make your team great, though, is to question everything and come up with solutions that are better for your organisation, even though they may be counter intuitive or go against received wisdom, and even against your own methodology. One situation where this questioning attitude is especially valuable is when you’re applying Lean manufacturing principles to service industries, where some of the principles may not be relevant.
In many organisations, joining the transformation team is seen as a career death sentence – a reputation which creates huge anxiety and resentment among team members. Instead, membership of the team should be seen as an opportunity for the brightest and best to shine by delivering important projects successfully. This privilege should be reserved for people who are eager to improve the business, and presented as an important development step for those who will later move on to senior positions.
Before creating an in-house transformation team, think hard about these four questions. Work out how to build a team that has top-level confidence, delivers both tactical and strategic wins, has a culture of thinking the unthinkable, and is hungry to do more. Do all this and your transformation team can be one of the few that achieve real and lasting change for the business.