The overall goal of organizational transformation, according to a recent Forbes article, is to “reinvent the organization and discover a new or revised business model based on a vision for the future.” Both for-profit and nonprofit organizations today face unprecedented challenges as a result of shifting demographics, talent shortages, globalization, technological advances and ferocious competition. These forces combine to create disruption that imminently threatens economic survival.
Many organizations, lacking the visionary and courageous leadership required to reinvent themselves—and paralyzed by the challenges they face—exist in a hellish limbo until they are sold or acquired by more agile competitors. A few, led by exceptional CEOs and executive teams and supported by high-performing senior leadership teams (the term we use to describe the level of leaders below the executive team), take on the immensely difficult challenge of organizational transformation.
As I described in my previous blog, executing organizational transformation requires managing a “meta-transformation” agenda that transcends both day-to-day operations and strategy. This transformation agenda focuses on the very soul of the organization and involves:
- Transforming the leaders of the organization
- The creation of and passionate commitment to a new and compelling vision for the future of the organization
- Transforming the culture to align with the new vision, while emphasizing urgency and encouraging agility
- The creation of a new and sustainable business model
- The courage to experiment and learn from success and failure
- Surviving the journey from the present state to the desired future state
Unfortunately, there is no certain road map for successful organizational transformation. We often use the metaphor of a “pioneer journey,” borrowed from “The Challenge of Change in Organizations: Helping Employees Thrive in the New Frontier” by Nancy Barger and Linda Kirby, to describe the incredible intellectual and emotional challenge of leading successful organizational transformation. The pioneer journey describes families that left behind the economic depression of the Midwest in the 19th century to start new lives in Oregon. The vision of a new life in the green and fertile West inspired and sustained them on a journey they may not have taken had they known the losses and sacrifices they would ultimately face. The authors note that for these people, “no sacrifice was too great, no temporary hardships too demeaning, to deter them.”
That same willingness to risk all for a new beginning is required of organizations that succeed at transforming themselves. Target Corporation is a recent example of a company that has taken up the challenge. Closing its Canadian operations, replacing virtually the entire leadership team, massive restructuring, and an aggressive focus on innovation have reenergized the company and turned around its poor performance from earlier in the decade.
The Bailey Group is currently partnering with the leadership of over a dozen organizations in health care, technology, financial services and other industries that, like Target, are on their unique journeys of transformation. While the challenges are immense, these firms are also reaping rewards—including better financial health and reinvigorating cultures and workforces prepared and confident about succeeding in the future.
Like the pioneers, organizations today face the choice of adapting to a new set of realities or losing a fight for survival. What choice are you making?