Three Signs Your Transformation Program is Going Off Track

by Abhik Sengupta

Many of us are working on transformation programs to prepare our organisations for a digitally led future. We are all very familiar with the complex and time consuming challenges that need to be overcome for meaningful change to happen across the business.  In fact, it is easy to get so preoccupied by the scale of the changes that we sometimes overlook the warning signs that our program may be focussed on the wrong priorities.

At Blackdot, we’ve undertaken numerous transformation projects and I’d like to explore three warning signs that indicate your transformation activities are going off track, using case studies as examples.

1. A Pilot Project with Modest Ambitions

Pilot programs are a great tool for testing, proving and evolving new ways of working and are an ideal way to kick-start or iteratively test and evolve facets of a broader transformation project.  However, to be  effective, their results must be sufficiently compelling to build conviction and gain buy-in across the organisation. 

Case Study: A large bank implemented an agile pilot in order to leverage its B2C marketing capability into a traditional B2B relationship selling model.  Unfortunately, they only implemented a small part of the solution into a very narrow subsection of customers, aiming for a revenue target that was a rounding error on the division’s P&L.  While the pilot was taken to completion, the results were not compelling enough to convince the sceptics, and left the true believers dissatisfied and the undecided underwhelmed. 

Solution: Large corporations are slow moving and risk averse, yet impatient for results. When a pilot program is being set up, there is often pressure to act fast while minimising the disruption to the core business.  So it is tempting to reduce the scope of change to a manageable size. If we give in to this temptation, a different risk emerges - that the results of the pilot don’t really prove the case for change. It is definitely worthwhile investing the time, money and political capital required to implement a material amount of scope into a business line or customer base that is important enough for internal stakeholders to notice when the pilot succeeds.  

2. The Tail Wagging the Dog


Customer-centric transformations are multifaceted, multiphase programs across people, process and technology.  However, corporations, like people, often revert to familiar habits. As a result, particular parts of the change program may resonate (positively or negatively) or become the focus point at the detriment of other parts. Finding yourself obsessed with only one component of the solution, such as technology implementation or structural change, will cause you to quickly lose sight of the bigger picture.  At best, the program will conclude without the full gamut of benefits. At worst, it will quickly derail. 

Case Study: A company in the TMT sector on an ambitious transformation journey got caught up in the cost benefits of a relatively small part of the reorganisation, rather than the top line opportunity from becoming customer-centric.  People within the company registered the transformation as “just another cost out” and therefore never bought in to the changes in skills, capability and mindset required for success. 

Solution: At Blackdot, we are strong believers in executing a transformation program by releasing coherent packages of people, process and technology changes that directly contribute business value.   The construction and sequencing of the roadmap is critical, as is having transparency around progress by measuring the right lead indicators, and getting continuous feedback from the customers and employees who are receiving the changes.  Last, but definitely not least, is creating the right change narrative and internal communication that focusses on the higher intent, as well as the full range of the outcomes desired of the transformation. Continuous communication is key; any silence can be misinterpreted or filled with existing organisational bias. 

3. The Us versus Them Mentality

As John Kotter pointed out two decades ago, with any change it is important to mobilise a guiding coalition.  But if you want the overall organisation to come on the journey and transform the whole business, you cannot afford to build a barrier between the inner circle ‘who gets it’ and the rest of the business who are getting on with the trials and tribulations of business-as-usual.

Example: A large financial institution started building a new digitally enabled business model. However, it decided not to tackle the myriad of fundamental problems besetting the core business.  This created a disparity between the ‘haves’ who got the lion’s share of the investment dollars and management attention working in a ‘test and learn’ sandbox and the ‘have nots’ who had to live with the messy reality of the mature business with minimal investment.  This in turn led to challenges with morale and momentum across both the core business and the transformation.

Solution: Starting with a clean sheet of paper and creating a parallel NewCo can be a good way to get quick results in a transformation or integration program.  However, the future state solution needs to take all the requirements of the core business into account, and the communications and change strategy needs to cover the entire organisation, not just the inner sanctum. Don’t shirk the tough conversations about problems being faced by the core business – face them head on.  While there is ease and comfort in preaching to the converted, bringing the loudest sceptics into the tent and addressing their concerns upfront can lead to a more robust solution and easier implementation down the track.

Reflecting on these three derailers, you’ll notice a common theme emerging.  Implementing and embedding marketing and sales transformation is hard. It requires ambition, commitment and disciplined execution across multiple fronts.  While every company and every transformation is different,  it is important to design a future state that is comprehensive in its scope, and a roadmap and change journey that starts with the right priorities and then holds the course on implementation, measured transparently by the right mix of lead and lag indicators.

For more ideas on accelerating sales and marketing transformation, please see the transcript of our latest executive breakfast.