I came across this image the other day, and an immediate thought that came to mind was what a perfect way to illustrate how we often try to approach transformation initiatives (if anyone has been able to locate the artist let me know; I would love to give them credit!).

We all want to get to the top of the ladder—leveling up the way we think, use emerging technology, grow market share, augment competitive differentiation, strengthen our customer experience, and so on. We dream of how incredible it will feel to reach the top and be able to see with clarity evidence of the big and small ways we have successfully transformed. And we want to get to the top yesterday.

I can relate to this sense of urgency in a very big way, still, transformation becomes hugely out of reach when we try to scale the ladder to the right, not pausing to put in place the rungs to support us. Consider the following:

  • 70% of corporations fail when they launch transformations (McKinsey)
  • 80% of large enterprise executives are clear on their need for transformation, but only 33% are confident they can get the job done in the next five to 10 years (Harvard Business Review)
  • 43% of executives feel there are too many competing priorities that stand in the way of effective transformation initiatives (MIT Sloan Management Review)

We can flip these statistics, though. The climb does not have to be herculean; rather it can be methodical, intentional and actionable. It starts with greater attention being paid to identifying the rungs we need in place to successfully ascend.

One of the most important rungs in the transformation pursuit is to deeply understand your why. Why are you interested in transforming? Why is this important now? Why is this transformation urgent? Transformation is never supposed to be trendy or random. If you are following the work of others, or reacting to a new buzzword, you are not transforming from a place of authenticity; in fact, you will never truly believe in it and there will be room for resentment in the process being executed, a path doomed to fail. For transformation to work, it must be yours, it must become a deeply embedded commitment for you and your organization.

So how do you get closer to your why? How can you ensure transformation is a chiefly held belief and not the next checkbox moment? Consider these quick tips:

  1. Understand its Role: Oftentimes, senior leadership understands something is off cadence and that operational effectiveness is not optimal. Leaders view transformation as a possible solution. But for transformation to be wildly successful, it cannot be a possible solution. Rather, it must be the solution. Start asking questions like: Why is transformation the solution for us? How will it address the real root issue? Why does that issue need to be addressed? If you can’t answer these questions, then your transformation initiatives will lack the conviction and centeredness to yield the outcomes most desired.
  2. Think Impact: If your organization were to successfully embark on creating transformative action, what impact would it have today and long-term? How will it prepare your organization for what comes next? How could it enable your next big milestone? In many ways, these questions drive at purpose, but since purpose can feel overwhelming, focus instead on impact. By answering these questions, you will arrive at a healthy starting point in understanding your why.
  3. People, People, People: It’s impossible to talk about transformation without focusing on people. Your people, after all, hold the clues to your greatest why. As leaders, we have a responsibility to hire the right people—team members who are highly motivated, passionate, intelligent, solutions-driven and effective. We need an elite and diverse group of people who can unify around a greater vision. With the right team in place, we can pull back the layers on why and ensure our companies move forward unified. Cy Wakeman said it well when she said, “Change is hard only for the unready.” Transformation is not difficult for the right people, and so, the right people are especially important if you want to transform.

2021 will be a year of extraordinary business transformation. I believe it will accelerate a need for a continuous transformation mindset in order to remain competitive in the go forward. 2021 sparks creative thought around how we spin up enabling technologies, lean into worker-driver choice, reshape business models, and reimagine our customer journeys. These things will happen no matter what. We are already knee-deep in embracing this progressive way of work.

So let’s also make sure to lean in—sooner rather than later—to the why behind what we do. If we lean in too late, we will have jumped onto a train that someone else is driving and quickly be headed towards our own obsolescence. Alternatively, if we start asking why earlier, we develop capabilities to truly build world-class organizations positioned to thrive and lead.

I am curious… do you have a “why” for your transformation? I’d love to hear it! Drop me a note here and we can trade transformation whys.


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