What To Do – And To Avoid – At The Start Of A Transformation
Why it is essential to get the first 100 days right
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The first 100 days of a transformation are critical for success – but what do corporations need to get right during this period? If a transformation is not launched in an effective way, people can easily revert to type and continue with old goals and ways of working. The company could even find itself worse off than before. 

Numerous pitfalls can lead to such a result. First, senior leaders might not agree on why the transformation is needed, or they might not be committed to the goals that have been set. A second problem occurs when different stakeholders interpret concepts and initiatives – such as new operating models, streamlined processes, and digitization – in their own ways, leading to confused messaging. As a result, employees might not understand what is being aimed for and why.

These problems could then spark a third: resistance, which is common at middle-management level. If this is not handled correctly, a few reluctant people can slow down the whole transformation. Finally, if the wider organization is not brought on the journey, momentum can deflate after the first 100 days, bringing progress to a halt before the goals have been properly accomplished.

Transformation is particularly important now, as companies adapt to a post-COVID world of volatile economic conditions. The process is more marathon than sprint, and the first 100 days are a time to prepare for the journey ahead. From our support for numerous executives in transformation projects, we have identified three imperatives to make sure that change is optimal, well executed, and lasting.

A transformation is not a quick solution to cut costs and boost revenues. It is a long-term project to deliver sustained actions.

1. Aim For Long-Term Impact

A transformation is not a quick solution to cut costs and boost revenues. It is a long-term project to deliver sustained actions that change a company’s working model, and it needs careful planning to ensure that employees can contribute to this goal and make it stick. 

First comes a fact-based review to achieve a common understanding of the status quo: What performance levels has today’s setup achieved? What are its strengths and weaknesses? And what resources does it need? For example, sustained cost reduction implies the removal of certain work processes; otherwise, costs will creep back up again over time. Many leaders see little value in looking back, but a good baseline helps to establish the case for transformation and for the changes required. A defined starting point also allows progress to be measured, leaders to be held accountable, and – eventually – success to be demonstrated.

The next stage is a plan to engage the broader organization, articulate the coming change, and inspire, excite, and equip employees. Immersive events, townhalls, and employee engagement sessions can set up a two-way dialogue to nurture the mindsets and behaviors that will bring the transformation to life. Learning and development platforms, plus digital toolkits, help equip colleagues with the capabilities they need. Other tools and apps can take pulse checks that indicate how well individuals and teams understand the change and their progress in transforming the company.

2. Be Clear On Aims, Flexible In Implementation 

To make clear how to implement a transformation, it seems like a good idea to write down detailed plans, including concrete steps and their sequencing: They can then be easily distributed as slides or in some other form. However, leaders might then be tempted to try to perfect the plans and employees simply to follow the written instructions. 

We think it’s important to build flexibility into a project, so that operating practices can evolve as conditions change. The company first develops a high-level plan, using diagnostic tools to define what needs to be done and how it can be done effectively. Activities that are not contributing to strategic outcomes are dropped, or at least challenged. Within this framework, the company corrects course as needed, giving employees a sense of ownership. 

An iterative approach is often a quick way to reach the target state. This can start by going live with certain aspects of the transformation early. These can be developed in pilots, wargames, and workshops and then put into practice before they have been perfected. Employees experiment with new ways of working, while the company collects feedback and makes adjustments as appropriate. This process gathers input from a broad range of sources, such as the salesforce, the finance department, and outside experts, and it should lead to better decisions and more agile implementation. One recent project started with around 20 such activities, which were tried out and then reduced to six. To organize, structure, and sequence these efforts, a transformation management office (TMO) can be set up and given a strong mandate from the start.  

3. Build A Network Of Transformation Ambassadors

A successful transformation with lasting impact needs a fundamental shift in culture – that is, in the way people work in the organization, such as a greater focus on results or more-effective collaboration. It is important to spend time creating the conditions to achieve this, to ensure that employees embrace the change and are equipped to bring it about. Rather than defining what the future will look like and then trying to force it through, leadership should engage employees and give them a voice. That will make them more likely to believe in the transformation and to give it momentum, making it concrete and lasting.

The first 100 days are an opportunity to form an inner circle of transformation ambassadors, consisting of top managers plus other identified change agents who are enthusiastic and volunteer to champion the transformation to their colleagues. They align on objectives, a target picture, and the way forward, and they articulate the case for change throughout the organization: why it is needed and the benefits it will bring. They can do this in formal settings or else in informal ways, such as gemba walks, where they observe work processes and engage with employees.

The process of engaging employees need not be difficult or time consuming. In one project, we ran seven virtual discussion forums engaging over 10% of the workforce. These helped to understand the current corporate culture and identify areas for improvement, as well as strengths to build on. The forums also gathered data on how well the current purpose of the organization resonated, and these were used to shape the future purpose and culture. Leaders sometimes over-communicate, but they cannot over-engage.

Final Thoughts: The First 100 Days Are An Investment  

Many companies are considering transformations now, as they grapple with a choppy economic environment, including inflation and supply chain disruption. The first 100 days alone will not be enough to implement lasting change in an organization – they are only the beginning. Obstacles will still need to be overcome, and new opportunities will arise. Companies will also need ways to ensure that change sticks, wins support throughout the organization, and takes on a life of its own over the longer term. But this is a crucial period of preparation for the marathon ahead, and effort invested early on will be more than paid back later.