Transformation: Why it’s needed and how to get started

Transformation. It’s a word we’ve all heard a lot lately, and a topic that we have significant experience with, as an HR consulting firm that helps complex organizations effect real change. The evolving nature of work requires a new approach to meet the rapidly changing expectations of workers and customers alike. For many organizations, this means completely rethinking their people strategy, infrastructure, operating model, processes and governance.

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The growth trend for transformation is accelerating. With C-suite turnover spiking and the Great [Resignation/Migration/Opportunity/Favorite Noun] dominating board conversations, both internal and external “corporate agitators” see opportunities for change everywhere they look. When combined with the expectation that 36.2 million Americans will be remote by 2025, organizations are feeling the pressure to be much more agile, people-centric and geographically fluid. And although technology providers continue to innovate their offerings to meet this moment, more options can also lead to more confusion.

The good news is that most organizations recognize the need for transformation. Very few believe they are doing everything perfectly and just need a tweak here and there; instead, nearly all organizations acknowledge they need to take a long, hard look at nearly every aspect of their people, processes and technology.

However, the reality is that companies don’t always approach transformation with the right mindset or internal readiness. HR, finance and IT are often working at maximum capacity, wearing a variety of hats, wrestling with insufficient systems and managing outdated processes and policies. Although these critical functions want to do better for their internal customers and peers, they just can’t seem to get the time, resources or attention to do so. This is exacerbated by the misguided belief that transformation is primarily about digitization and technology.

The first step

Transformation can be a big and scary word in our world, but does it have to be? What does transformation really mean?

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This “act, process or instance of transforming or being transformed” says nothing about revenue, number of employees, geographic footprint or scope. From an emerging start-up to the most complex global Fortune 100, all organizations must face and embrace transformation. And for many, clearly articulating the need for transformation can be as confusing as the transformation itself.

See also: How upskilling and learning can help neutralize the Great Resignation

Given most organizations have enough burning platforms to activate their internal fire marshals, the first step is to determine and document the catalyst for transformation, and why it’s needed now. Is it that you spend four hours supporting one transactional process that really should only take you 10 minutes? Does your onboarding, in fact, never actually onboard a new hire, or take so long that even candidates who have signed their offer letter are withdrawing? Do you have 36 separate technologies, some of which are sunsetting and most of which don’t integrate? Or did the newest C-suite executive finish her 90-day listening tour and just present her findings to the board?

The truth is this: The most important catalyst is the one that is driving your organization. As you prepare to embark on your transformation journey, start by identifying both your problem statement and your why. These will serve as the North Star for everything going forward, guiding us when we lose our way and remaining a fixed point in our organizational sky.

Great expectations

While we will be writing about this topic in this column, which is, by its nature, a one-way communication, we hope to begin a dialogue about transformation within our industry. Even with intentional planning and focus, success is not guaranteed. We have an opportunity to learn from one another and to share our experiences in preparing for, executing, communicating and maintaining a transformative mindset.

Our goal is to offer a new playbook for transformation. In the coming months, we will focus on key milestones—from the catalysts for change to a bulletproof business case and the importance of optimization, prioritization, implementation and continuous improvement.

We’ll also share the best ways to avoid the need for a widespread transformation at all, which is particularly useful for small and mid-sized organizations. That’s right—transformation avoidance. From a consulting firm.

Welcome to the Upside Down. Stranger things have happened.

Kimberly Carroll, Mary Faulkner and Mark Stelzner
Kimberly Carroll is managing principal and co-leader of IA, Mary Faulkner is a principal with IA, and Mark Stelzner is founder and managing principal of IA.