The Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus observed that the natural world was in a constant state of movement. People age, develop habits and move to environments.

The only constant is change.

Our lives, environments, systems are subject to constant change. Many organisations are therefore aiming to change as well to stay relevant in the ever-changing market.

Leadership teams are running new programs and establishing new teams focusing on business transformation. However, they miss a key aspect of business transformation, which is its people.

In my journey through various narratives about business transformation, I've noticed a prevalent focus on the technical facets of change.

However, my personal insight leads me to a different conclusion: 'People' are the cornerstone of any transformational endeavour.

In this article, I will explore the role of people in business transformation, alongside other factors that contribute to its success.

Transformational Leadership at the core

Each transformation requires a different combination of leadership styles. The form that is best for cultivating transformations, in my opinion, is "Transformational Leadership".

Transformational leadership is defined as a leadership approach that causes change in individuals and social systems. In its ideal form, it creates valuable and positive change in the followers with the end goal of developing followers into leaders.

Leaders are not confined to a single leadership style. Often, combining different approaches can enhance organisational outcomes. Transformational and transactional leadership are two styles that have been thoroughly researched, and a given leader may exhibit varying degrees of both styles.

Transformational leaders inspire employees in ways that go beyond exchanges and rewards. This approach can increase a team’s intrinsic motivation by expressing the value and purpose behind the organisation’s goals.

A transformational leadership style inspires employees to strive beyond required expectations to work toward a shared vision, whereas transactional leadership focuses more on extrinsic motivation for the performance of specific job tasks. Learning to balance these styles can help leaders reach their full potential. Source

Focus on the People

The success or failure of any transformation fundamentally hinges on its people.

Regardless of the excellence of the vision, the brilliance of the strategy, and the precision of the execution, neglecting the human element inevitably leads to failure.

Rather than dictating the steps of transformation, it is more effective to involve individuals, co-create with them, and guide them to appreciate the essence and value of the new vision we all strive for.

Crucial to this process is coaching and training, which are indispensable in supporting the personal development of individuals within the organisation.

Empowering teams and recognizing their potential is the first step towards nurturing a newly transformed and more effective team.

Nail the technical side of transformation

The first step in any successful venture is crafting an inspiring vision, one that resonates and motivates.

This involves bringing together various stakeholders, units, and teams, ensuring the vision is embraced broadly and deeply.

To bring this vision to life, a well-defined strategy is essential, along with a clear roadmap. Equally important are the right people, tools, and processes that propel this vision forward.

It's crucial to remember that the core of this endeavour lies in the people who interact with these tools, strategies, and processes.

Clarity in understanding the ultimate goal, along with defined roles and responsibilities, is pivotal. This clarity guides the team and makes it easier to adapt and improve as necessary along the journey.

What actions can you take to lead a successful transformation:

Below, you see some of my personal observations that will increase the chance of success in any business transformation.

1. Leadership driving transformation

Leadership is a critical component in the realm of transformation. Successful transformations demand leadership presence at every tier.

Distinct from typical programs and projects, business transformations specifically require a unique breed of leaders — transformational leaders.

Such leaders extend their focus beyond mere visions, strategies, and processes. They are dedicated to empowering others, nurturing them to rise as leaders in their own right, working collaboratively towards the shared vision.

It is imperative for leadership to not only chart the course, but also to actively demonstrate and guide. The manner in which leaders conduct themselves has a profound and far-reaching impact on the organisation as a whole.

2. Train and coach at all levels

Your existing people need training and coaching to enable and embody the transformation.

Embossing new structure of work won't work. To reach the new vision, people need to learn new skills, learn new information and, most importantly, change their behaviour.

Training can be a useful tool to bring new knowledge, skills and abilities to your teams.

Coaching, on the other hand, goes deeper into examining core beliefs, patterns, and way of being. A combination of training and coaching will transform your people and thus enable transformation.

3. Hire skilled and talented people

To transform a business or a unit, you need to transform its people.

Transformation is one of the hardest goals to achieve. Hiring talented individuals and people with the right skills is then key to enabling and drive the transformation.

Depending on the transformation, most probably, you won't have the appropriate skills in house. It's important to hire strategically.

4. Encourage collaboration between teams

Most transformations are impacting multiple units, departments, and teams. Each one of them has different idea's, priorities and agenda's.

The vision must be the glue between the teams and the reason for enabling collaborative initiatives to enable and drive transformation.

5. Co-create an inspiring vision

A vision that is co-created will inspire more people in the organisation rather when it's coming top down. Business has definitely a great role in defining this new vision, however this must be done with the larger group that has an impact on the transformation.

A vision might evolve and change, it's critical to keep the vision updated and share it more often with each team that is working towards the vision.

6. Align the vision between the different units & teams

Today's organisations can have complex structures. You might be working in a matrix organisation with different business units, departments, and teams.

Creating alignment between these different units is key to having a movement and staying in movement.

7. Establish clear roles, responsibilities and accountabilities

Having clear roles and responsibilities will make it easier to go to the right person at the right time.

These roles are here as a guideline, and different teams and members can have idea's and suggestions. It's not meant for blame, but rather have clear accountabilities in the right places.

8. Align the long-term goals with the business goals

You might argue that every transformation has a business goal. True, however, in some cases those goals could be vague or have changed. This vagueness might create friction and discussions.

Aligning the transformation goals with the business goals are key to keep focus and not change it when things go tough.

9. Allocate budget to build the needed capabilities

Transformation will take time, is highly costly to start.

Depending on the transformation, break even might be in months or years. Having enough budget is key to create capabilities to drive the transformation and scale it up.

10. Change existing processes and models when necessary

Companies reach their current level by establishing programs, processes, roles, & responsibilities.

However, in some cases, these established systems might be counterproductive and impact the organisation negatively.

We as people get used to certain patterns and start seeing them as accepted truths. To reach a new goal that you have never reached before, you need to become someone that you were not.

We need to reconsider these established processes and improve or totally change them to reach our new goals.

11. Create owners wherever you go

Having clear roles, accountabilities, and responsibilities are not enough. You need to truly create owners who believe in the vision and transformation.

To create owners, you have to enrol and empower people to take ownership because they truly believe in what we are doing and are well-equipped to do so.

Final thoughts

The hardest part of any transformation is the people. Having a clear vision, buy-ins and alignment won't be enough to have a successful transformation.

Change can be hard on a personal level, thus even harder on the business level.

To enable business transformations, focusing on the people is key. This focus translates into empowerment, enrolment, and belief that the people are capable of doing great.

Training to fill gaps in knowledge and skills is key. However, transformation won't happen by only filling the gaps in knowledge or skills. We need to touch a deeper part of our core and examine our beliefs, thoughts, and patterns.

That is where coaching comes in and helps individuals to transform so we can make business transformation possible.

Most people will take ownership when they believe in the cause of the transformation. Instead of telling them what to do, help them see and believe in what co-creating together.