Once you have figured out where you want to go, the temptation is always to try to get there as rapidly as possible. Most people who have gone to the trouble to work through planning a to-be state don’t want to wait to get there and in their haste to reach their idealized state they fail. Sometimes they fail in such grandiose fashion that continuing to plod along under the status quo would have been by far the preferred option if they had only known that the to-be was unattainable. This happens to us in both our personal and professional lives. As individuals we attempt radical diets and exercise plans in a haste to lose 50 pounds and recapture the waistline we had in high school. As organizational leaders we attempt to optimize the entire organization in order to become market leaders or achieve our mission. I don’t believe that the culprit is the dream or idealized state as often as it is our lack of planning and patience in achieving that state. Human nature pushes us to achieve our goals as rapidly as possible and markets, bosses, and organizational metrics reward the quick. However the quick is too often the enemy of the good.
I believe that the first step in achieving your transformational objectives is to really take stock in where you are now and access your readiness for change. Personal and organizational transformation take energy and resources. Recognizin that these resources are finite and that you are probably already operating at near capacity is the first step.
On a personal level most people can sustain a surge effort to transform in the same fashion that you may be able to get budget for a transformation initiative for your organization, but in both cases the effort is not generally sustainable. If the transformation doesn’t result in an optimized behavior that requires a similar level of effort, or resource, or result in a capacity to sustain the elevated resource requirement, the effort is doomed to failure. It is for this reason that I believe that planning the transformation critical.
While this may seem obvious I think that most people see this as defining the collection of activities required to get to the end state, not really critically assessing what can be accomplished based on transformational readiness. Is a 150% or 200% surge really sustainable over a 6-12 week period, over 6 months? What are the real limits and will the benefits derived make the effort worth it?
Thinking about transformation in this context helps set the stage for the first transformational key which is that transformation needs to be approached incrementally.
Developing capability or achieving transformation goals is easier if the the end state can be achieved by following an incremental approach that allows those involved to achieve small victories, assess progress and alter the course as required to achieve the final objective. Another benefit of this incremental approach is that it also enables a shift in the end state or the timeline if the transformation effort is either negatively effecting ongoing performance or the lessons learned on the journey change the desired end state. Increments are also important because if designed correctly they should hedge against the tendency to try to swallow the entire transformation effort in a single gulp. Having short 4-6 week sprints that result in measurable progress often prevent efforts that get get derailed by the sheer size and complexity of the task being attempted. In short the incremental approach supports right sized thinking about transformation.
The next key is measuring. Too often measures and metrics that are used are too big for the transformation effort. This is constant with the big bang approach that is after taken to transformation in general. The idea that once you are complete you will have a 25% reduction in costs or a 10% increase in overall profitability should be organizational goals that transformation efforts are aligned to but their should be a level down in granualarity that enables the developed increments to be measured for progress. This ensures that in flight performance is occurring and if the measurements are properly developed they should enable agility in addition to providing an ability to know when success has been achieved.
Finally, the three keys are most effective if they are part of a consistent approach to improvement that is applied consistently across the organization. Transformation is a lot easier to handle if you are practiced at applying the techniques required to be successful. Nobody should be surprised if they fail to meet their transformational or improvement goals if it is something that the rarely do. The most successful people and organizations are continually working to improve their performance and to develop the skills required to carry off those transformational efforts. Making performance improvement something that is ongoing and practicing the skills required to transfer to achieve those goals makes the realization of the ideal to-be state much more likely. Like almost anything else “practice makes perfect.”