Companies today struggle to compete in an economy that is being constantly disrupted. The leaders are either inspired to change to beat out their competitors and enter new markets, or forced to change as they struggle to compete with newcomers and new channels that appear daily in even the most entrenched spaces.
Companies are adapting through digital transformation initiatives that take many forms:
- Agile transformation
- Innovation transformation
- Financial transformation
- Technological transformation
Various techniques and tactics are experimented with, but in the end, the vast majority fail, stutter start, or get bogged down in the planning phase. Success depends on the implementation strategy, details of the implementation, and the people involved.
Action is the Heart of Change
A study by McKinsey showed that the more actions (using a set list of 24 actions such as discussing progress daily, defining roles, quantifying goals, and more) that were taken towards transformation, the higher the success rate. The success rate amongst all transformations in the study was a mere 26%.
However, for those that completed all 24 actions, the success rate more than doubled.
The bottom line is many people learn by doing. Action inherently creates change and having acted makes change feel less uncertain. This action will inevitably spring results, which can be used to propel the transformation forward.
Action Research Intelligently Powers Change
Action Research, at its simplest, is a unified strategy of planning, action, reflection, and adoption. For anyone familiar with Agile development methodologies, this should be no surprise. Taking an Action Research approach to transformation allows for data accumulation specific to the change process, and using that data to support future change. Simple but powerful.
Modus’ Kinetic Transformation: the Five P’s
Modus utilizes Action Research to support mindful action while driving the transformation process. By focusing on an implementation process of selecting the right group first, scaling it out using a combination of top-down and bottom-up approaches, project by project, a tipping point is reached. We follow the 5Ps: Plan, Pilot, Promote, Prioritize, and Propagate.
For example, a large pharmaceutical client was undergoing an agile transformation within their digital division. Modus came in, worked with the client teams and stakeholders to ensure plans were synced, and ran a successful pilot project. This served as a reference process that was promoted, prioritized, and utilized across adjacent projects. In the end,we were invited to present and share (promote!) our process and learnings at their annual conference so they could propagate throughout their organization.
Each of these steps represents a key element in the transformation process that is evidence based.
All successful projects start with strategy. The keys are to set goals, ensure financial and structural support, and make important decisions at the leadership level. It will also be the time to identify pilot projects dependent on the nature of the work and by the individuals involved. As such, there are two layers to this planning:
- Planning the entire transformational implementation strategy, which involves funding and leadership buy-in, as well as a roadmap for execution and assigning accountability to different aspects of the plan.
- Planning for each iterative pilot by taking into account learnings from the previous pilots (if applicable). Plan how the “new way” is going to be integrated into the team, and how team members will be educated and supported.
Moving to action quickly is critical to success. One of the chief reasons for failure is the anxiety caused by uncertainty, which manifests as resistance to change. This resistance can actually create champions against change which is counterproductive and avoidable.
Starting with a pilot and choosing a project that will likely succeed is a key part of the process. For an agile transformation, choose a project that has members who have used agile before or are excited about agile, as well as a team that has a decent backlog and is currently doing fairly well. For innovation, you could do a single push by having an open contest for ideas throughout the organization, followed by a vote. The winning idea gets an MVP built based on a timeframe and scale. A good pilot is digestible, understandable and manageable.
This is an iterative process – if it fails, it is not a failure of the entire transformation, just of that pilot. Educating your organization and team members that failure and trial and error is ok will be a key element, as pilots are done to quickly learn if an idea is sustainable, desirable, and doable. The important thing will be to use Active Research methodologies to learn and adapt for the next pilot. These pilots can continue until you’ve had a success worth bragging about.
When you have a success story, promote it throughout the organization, and if appropriate to the general public, partners, or customers. While negative uncertainty causes stress, positive uncertainty causes excitement and even enhances learning.
In fact, people will choose positive uncertainty over a predictable (positive) outcome even if the uncertainty won’t be better than the predictable outcome.
By building excitement, you are repositioning the perception of the transformation. This is a critical aspect of successful transformation. To illustrate this, we have done this process in the context of innovation transformation. Very often, we are brought in to ideate and conceptualize a new software initiative. In one particular organization, the excitement generated from our initial innovative MVP (the pilot) lead others to discuss their projects (during the prioritize phase) using the codename of our MVP as a descriptor to their project. In essence, the promotion of the initial innovation pilot became an inspiration for others to dive into the change.
In this phase, we roll out to other projects – intelligently through ruthless prioritization. How quickly you do this will be up to you, considering the complexity of the change at hand, and your organization. It will be critical to identify more projects that can succeed and allow the members of the successful pilot to coach the members on the new project(s). The key is not to go too fast – you can ramp up the number of projects as you have more successful mentors and more learnings from your Action Research. Continue to learn and introspect on all projects regularly. And when you have wins, promote them heartily.
It is still OK if one or more of these doesn’t work – just keep iterating and identifying problem areas. his phase is where you will likely discover structural issues in your organization that slow and prevent adoption. Be honest with yourselves; this is where some of the “top-down” efforts may need to be utilized to change or adapt these elements.
Eventually, you will hit a tipping point with these projects where many people are working in the ideal future state and increasingly fewer have yet to transform. Once you hit this point, implementation should still be thoughtful but will proceed rapidly as uncertainty has been greatly reduced. In some cases it may be advantageous to transform the remaining teams to the new way all at once, in others you may need to proceed more cautiously due to organization hurdles or the nature of change and the remaining teams.
As they say, change is hard. Taking an Action Research based approach that focuses on doing the actual work required in your ideal future state is an evidence-based methodology that can win. By facilitating wins and having supportive leadership, pilots can succeed and remove the negative uncertainty, allowing you to expand into more projects, and eventually propelling your organization to beneficial transformation.