Having lived in the United States for more than 23 years and then moving back home to Saudi Arabia, I have witnessed many attempts at organisational transformations, including culture, digital, HR, you name it. And yet, despite the cultural difference between two continents, all transformations shared similar road maps and obstacles. In 2004 I witnessed computers being introduced for the first time, only to become a decorative piece on a desk. The email was being established in 2010, yet employees continued to perform their duties using hard copies. Expensive HR systems developed, but employees continued to call or walk into HR to discuss their situation. KPIs and balanced scorecards were introduced, only to be manipulated by managers and employees alike. Women were employed for the first time, only to be excluded from meaningful discussions.
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All these transformations and more triggered my intuition early on to analyse the situation and answer the ‘Why’. Why do most transformations fail, and only a few succeed? Why does a plan fall apart during execution, and any attempt to put it back together creates superficial results? After years of experience, I found that successful transformations were human-centric in nature.
What do I mean by human-centric? I mean that human behaviours were taken into account throughout what we call the six blocks of a comprehensive human-centric solution.
Understanding the behaviours of all stakeholders.
A mistake some leaders make is to build a transformation plan skewed toward understanding the needs of a few stakeholders while ignoring others. For example, some plans address the needs of the investors, boards or customers while dismissing the employees who will execute the transformation. Once all stakeholders’ behaviours are understood, then a more realistic plan can be designed in the following building blocks. It will also help identify the behaviours of those who will resist, those who will bully others for wanting to adapt to the changes, and those who are passive enough to follow the stronger camp. All these insights will aid in creating a mitigation plan that will not only save you time but will be cost-effective.
Using the behavioural insights gained can direct choices influencing behaviours toward a specific desired action supporting the transformation.
Communication and engagement.
Go beyond the moment a leader announces the transformation plans or meets with employees in a workshop. Communication is about continuous engagement; it’s about engaging each stakeholder using the language and messages they understand and that matter to them. This can only be possible if the first block is done correctly and the leader is in front and centre of all communications and engagements. This task should not be delegated.
Some leaders believe that a better user experience will occur if a digital transformation happens. They don’t realise that, if policies and procedures are not reformed and redesigned more efficiently to match the desired behaviours of stakeholders, all digitalisation does is automate bureaucracy. To create a successful user experience, ask the ‘Why’. Why is it being done this way? You will be surprised at the silence in the room as most people don’t know why; it’s just how it’s always been done. And remember, in mapping out a user experience it’s a different map for every relevant stakeholder and not a one-size-fits-all.
This is a crucial yet tricky block. Most leaders make the mistake of allowing the head of the department undergoing the transformation to also report on stakeholder satisfaction. Leaders need to distinguish between reporting on progress and reporting on satisfaction. The latter needs to be measured by an independent third party. The third-party should objectively measure the stakeholders’ satisfaction against the transformation’s original goals, uncovering any superficial results.
Any leader who claims they have the perfect transformation plan is obviously a new leader and hasn’t implemented one before. There are no perfect execution plans, but there are more realistic ones. The latter acknowledges that human behaviours are not always rational and can be influenced by outside factors that weren’t present during the planning phase. Therefore, modifying some of the components of any of the blocks above is a normal and healthy process. However, if you find yourself putting out fires 24/7, you know that you need to go back to the first block and better understand the behaviour of all your stakeholders.
Before you approve the budget for your next transformation plan, ask your team: Do we understand the behaviours of all our stakeholders?
Do we have a perfect execution plan or a realistic one? Who will measure the success of the transformation?
It’s best to delay the launch till you have the correct answers than to delay delivery because you never asked the right questions.