The world is speeding up and becoming more complex: in recent years, leaders have been obliged to deal with pandemics, wars, recessions, supply chain concerns, greater labor rivalry, and other challenges.
At the same time, power within organizations is more diffused (i.e., less top-down), so leaders can’t just issue an order and expect it to spread throughout the organization. That is why an organization’s ability to navigate continuous transformation—and enlist the participation of all employees in doing so—is not only a need for survival, but also a long-term competitive advantage.
The process of aligning an organization’s organizational culture (how people collaborate) with its strategy is known as organizational transformation (the trade-offs the company is willing to make to achieve its full potential).
While this may appear simple enough, the process is significantly more complicated because it involves people. Overcoming employees’ initial resistance to new and innovative ideas; creating a setting where those employees can actually try those new methods, fail, and learn; and effectively reinforcing and spreading those new practices to the rest of the company are all part of organizational transformation.
Therefore, while organizational transformation might benefit many businesses, statistics show that it often fails, and indeed goes very wrong. This can be avoided however, with the guidance of organizational transformation consulting, which is just what the team at Pearl Lemon Consultants can provide.
The statement that “70% of change initiatives fail” is frequently bandied about, but the truth is that initiatives frequently achieve partial success—yet research reveals that even “partial success” is often interpreted as “complete failure” by employees.
Worse, when people change, they forget how they used to do things, making it difficult to persuade them that change is feasible.
It’s not surprising, then, that employees are dubious about organizational transformations—and most initiatives’ scattered communication campaigns don’t help. Everyone has had previous experiences in which management proclaims a new vision or cultural shift with great hoopla, but when these changes begin to falter, failures are buried and efforts are abandoned, leaving individuals frustrated and burned out.
Remember Kanter’s Law: “Everything seems like a failure in the middle.” The reality is that transformation is difficult and time-consuming, and new ways may not be successful right away.
Finally, even when it is the correct thing to do and for the best, change implies some form of loss, such as a loss of time (training to master new abilities) or control (when change happens to you, rather than being shaped by you). Loss aversion is one of our most powerful cognitive biases, and it leads to increased resistance to change if not addressed.
Organizational transformation may appear to be a scary idea in the face of these problems, but it may also be unavoidable. If market conditions change significantly enough to require a change in strategy, you’ll need to make comparable modifications to your organization’s culture.
That’s because culture determines how strategy is implemented: it determines how divisions are constituted and how decisions are made within those departments; it determines how information is communicated and ideas are discussed; and it determines the processes used to deliver your products or services.
Without changing the way you operate, your company will struggle to meet the changing market needs, and your most valued people will depart for other opportunities.
The question becomes, “How do I successfully lead a cultural transformation?” Unfortunately, some of the most popular approaches for achieving organizational transformation were developed for a world that no longer exists—one in which change was less frequent, more predictable, and easier to manage.
Furthermore, these models assumed that there was only one “correct” approach to change, whereas the reality is that businesses must decide the best model for the specific change they must make. Not only that, but some organizational transformations necessitate the use of several models for distinct aspects of the change, as well as a method for integrating such changes without overwhelming the corporate culture.
This all means not only do you face big challenges that you could almost certainly benefit from outside help to overcome but that you also need to be very careful when choosing your organizational transformation consulting partner.
If you work with consultants who are too rigid in their thinking, who insist on sticking to ‘textbook’ tactics and/or are not willing to put the time and effort into listening to what your unique business needs, organizational transformation is still probably going to fail.
In our experience transforming firms spanning various industries, sizes, and cultures, we’ve discovered two forms of organizational transformation: “fail-safe” and “safe-to-fail.”
Understanding when and how to use each type, as well as how to combine their outputs, leads to long-term transformation and, more significantly, personnel who understand how to adapt and expand in response to future market demands and ultimately to a business that not only survives market changes and challenges but thrives in them!
Changes that are ‘fail-safe’ have long been the go-to in organizational transformation. When leaders hear the term “change management,” they generally envision the organizational-wide, high-impact changes such as reorganization or new leadership that this method revolves around.
We were wary of this strategy when we first started offering organizational transformation consulting because it’s too often linked with “suits” who attack an organization with so-called best practices, lay off half the people, and leave the survivors to cope with the fallout.
Despite being the go-to option, it frequently fails to successfully transform companies over time, particularly when it concentrates on slogans and rallies about “vision” and “transformational change” rather than adopting new habits that make a genuine impact in teams’ day-to-day work.
That’s why we took the opposite approach, tackling problems like restructures with a more agile, iterative change process. We rapidly learned that traditional change management is a good strategy when applied to the correct challenges—just that it’s overapplied to the majority of problems that organizations encounter. This is why we will still use it when it’s helpful, but not as a rigid process that must be followed just because a business school textbook says it should.
Fortunately, most organizational transformations, whether they include adopting new business strategies, introducing new technologies, or instituting new processes such as onboarding or all-hands meetings, can be undone without significant expense or harm. In reality, quick experimentation benefits them by allowing them to react based on feedback and changing situations.
That brings us to the other misconception of organizational transformation consulting: the solutions on offer are things people already know—or, worse, know will not work. This demoralizes the ranks as they witness money spent on very costly, very ineffective consultants, frequently while they are compelled to argue for additional personnel for their overburdened teams.
In truth, the individuals who do the work on a daily basis, those closest to their customers, already have a good understanding of what the business needs to function optimally. Of course, they could be wrong—just as outside consultants could be—but it’s an informed perspective, and more often than not, there’s at least germ of a fantastic idea there, and very often much more. So, to begin an organizational transformation, we simply ask folks what they’ve always wanted to try.
This technique has been labeled by us as “safe-to-fail,” and we must admit that we believe it has contributed to our high rate of successful transitions. The time we take to ask questions – and listen to the answers – at every level of an organization, not just to the highest level execs, gives us the insight we need to determine strategies that will work for each unique client.
We are also happy to help businesses experiment, and remain on hand to help make corrections on the fly, to expand what’s working, and halt what’s not. The Pearl lemon Consultant organizational transformation consulting team is an invested partner through every stage of the change process, and will ‘stick around’ for as long as we are needed.
Resistance to changes really is the biggest challenge to organizational transformation, and it is something that the Pearl lemon Consultants team addresses head on from day one.
Regardless of which approach is best for any given organizational change, humans are only likely to make a change when they’re motivated, capable of, and need to change. That’s why no matter which type of transformation we’re implementing, we make sure to:
We glean insights and needs from front-line employees and key stakeholders, we workshop business strategy with executives and rank and file staff, and we empower organizational leaders to own and drive the change. We need everyone’s participation in order to implement successful change.
We make space for feelings of loss, and we train leadership skills like spotting and managing change resistance within teams.
Other consulting companies waste time with pithy change slogans and empty promises for an idealized future state (which often increase resistance), when what most leadership teams really want are changed behaviors.
We highlight the folks who have made change in order to prove it’s possible to implement change, and to create internal incentives to further motivate people.
Knowing that change is the “new normal,” teams we work are more equipped to continue successful change management after we leave. In everything we do, we hope not only to accomplish stated business goals, but also to train others to take our place on a day to day basis.
Ready to talk more about what organizational transformation consulting could do for your business? Contact us today and let’s get that conversation started!
Are you ready to learn more about the benefits of partnering with Pearl Lemon Consultants for talent management consulting?
Get in touch with us right away and let’s chat about it.