Leading Enterprise Wide Transformation and the Change Leader’s Job

By Douglas Ready

Implementing Enterprise-Wide Transformation has proven to be troubling – well-regarded consultancies’ research can back this up. In this article, Doug Ready discusses the five embedded tensions that cause transformation difficulties and what can great change leaders do to improve these odds.


The Transformation Leader’s Job

Research from well-regarded consultancies such as McKinsey, in addition to my own research and work with companies from around the world indicates that two thirds of large-scale transformation efforts fail to achieve their intended objectives. So, what can we do as change leaders to improve these odds? The challenge can be broken down into what transformation leaders do, but we also need to examine the skills and insights they will need to bring to the table to address the depth of complexity of leading deep change across global companies. One way to look at the challenge is to break it down into two parts: the “doing” and “being” aspects of the transformation leader’s job. But first let’s examine why this is such a persistent challenge for so many leaders who are trying to drive enterprise
transformations successfully.

Why has Implementing Enterprise-Wide Transformation proven to be troubling? When challenges persist it is often because there are embedded tensions or paradoxes that surface that seem unresolvable. There are at least five embedded tensions that make the successful implementation of enterprise transformations persistently difficult. They are:




Let’s examine each of these tensions…

1. At the core of many transformation efforts is the desire to breathe new life into the organisation – to revitalise ways of thinking, behaving and working. A leader’s typical and, in fact, reasonable response is to introduce a change initiative into the organisation. One of the problems that employees face is that a change initiative often morphs into multiple change initiatives, and seldom are these initiatives coordinated or provided the context required to make sense out of them. With so many “change programs” coming at people from so many directions, employees can easily become “change weary”, and yearn for some level of normalcy. Thus, we find ourselves in the conflicted situation of needing revitalisation but
desiring normalisation.

2. It is increasingly commonplace that doing business today means doing business globally, but the complexities brought on by globalisation often are in conflict with the need for organisations to make it simple for customers to do business with them. As we search for growth in areas where the contextual distance is widening, and the rules of engagement are less familiar, leaders struggle with creating organisational responses that address the need to master globalisation while offering customers and employees optimal simplification.

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About the Author

ready-webDouglas A. Ready is Senior Lecturer in Organizational Effectiveness at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and Founder and CEO of ICEDR (The International Consortium for Executive Development Research). Professor Ready is considered one of the world’s leading authorities on strategic talent management and executive development. He is a repeat member of Thinkers 50.



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