Does your organization have a vision of what you want to be? How do you get from where you are now to where you want to be? Business transformation is the process of going from where you are now to a new state. It may be as simple as becoming more effective at what you are doing now. Or it may involve doing something completely new.
There can be many different levels to business transformation. And as such, there is a wide range of terminology: change management, change leadership, organizational development, business process improvement ….. So what do you need to know to be successful?
Start with the nature of change
Change is a fact of life, and by extension, a fact of business. Regardless of whether or not we want change, it is happening around us. Often our initial response is to ignore it or resist. This usually has undesirable consequences at some point. We may delay the inevitable, but eventually, change will happen TO us. This puts us into a reactive mode, where we are struggling to survive at all costs. In this state, our options are often limited.
On the other hand, we can be proactive and apply change to take us in the direction we choose. By knowing our end goal, and being aware of our environment, we can plan and manage change to our advantage. We can also be aware of the impacts to others, and manage change in ethical and respectful ways. We can look for opportunities for Win-Win. This is a concept I have referred to as positive change. It is also the basis for successful business transformation.
Why can business transformation be so difficult?
Have you ever tried to change something in your own life? Perhaps quitting smoking, starting an exercise program or just being more organized? You know it can be difficult to change your own behaviour. We have a level of comfort in our day to day routine. It takes a significant amount of motivation and will power to create new habits.
In business transformation, we are moving many individuals to change their behaviour and routines. And often, these changes are not ones which they see as positive for themselves. This can cause of range of emotions – both conscious and unconscious. So it quickly gets very “messy”. It takes effective change leadership skills to move people through change. And the level of difficult increases exponentially with the scope, complexity and stakes of change – as well as the size and stability of the organization.
What change leadership skills are required for business transformation?
Understanding the need for change:
How do you recognize when your organization needs to change? It can be triggered by strategic planning, where your organization decides to use a different approach to move towards your vision. Or it may be triggered by a change in your environment. So change leaders need the ability to assess change drivers.
Creating and communicating a new vision:
People need to know where you are going. Leading positive change requires that you can help each individual understand the goal. Communication can be challenging enough during “regular” times, but especially critical during the confusion and emotions that can be generated during business transformation. So it is essential that change leaders learn more advanced communication skills.
Guiding others through uncertainty, dealing with emotion:
These soft skills are often difficult to learn. The way I approach it is to help participants to become aware of their own beliefs and attitudes towards change. And to reflect on how change has impacted them. This can help to build empathy for others. I also share my own experiences as a manager in a constantly changing environment.
Often, we get through the business transformation process and think we are done. But then people start slipping back into their previous habits. They may go back to old processes that are comfortable. So we need to reinforce the change or “re-freeze” to create the new normal.
Framework, Tools and techniques for moving forward:
There are many approaches out there, so effective Change Leaders need to select and apply the right tools. In my change leadership course, we learn John Kotter’s 8 step model and Kurt Lewin’s 3 phase model as frameworks for business transformation. I also provide some simple, practical tools for planning, managing and communicating during change. But you need to adapt based on the scope and complexity of your own business transformation initiative.
What is the best approach for business transformation training?
As I mentioned in my previous article on an applied approach to learn strategic planning, there are different approaches to learning leadership skills. Additionally, change management and/or leadership training may focus on one or more aspects of business transformation. For example: do I focus on just change management? Resistance to change? Or Communication skills?….
While your own role in business transformation may lean to one aspect, I believe it is important for positive change leaders to understand the full picture. In my course, I talk about the difference between change management and change leadership. The first may be generalized as more “hard skills”, and the second as more “soft skills”. However, they are both necessary and complimentary.
Additionally, I believe that change leadership training needs an applied component. That is, participants need to get a sense of how it feels in the real world. You need to be comfortable working with the tools. And you need some experience in assessing different situations. Therefore, I include exercises, reflections and case studies to simulate the real world of business transformation.
What other strategic management skills do you need to develop in your organization? We would love to hear from you and discuss your needs.