Expert Insights

6 things to do before starting your business transformation

Paul Sambhi

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail, or so the saying goes, and failing to prepare for a transformation programme – particularly a business critical one, can be extremely damaging. So, what should you be thinking about before diving in to ensure your programme’s a success? Experienced transformation expert Paul Sambhi outlines his key considerations. 

1. Start with a Vision 

“When it comes to transformations, businesses typically think about two things,” says Paul. “First, getting the transformation ready for the deployment of a system. Second, getting the business ready for the transformation (“change management phase”), in terms of preparing people through training and development and outlining the day-to-day operations once the process is delivered.”

“But there’s actually a third aspect, the “Strategic phase” that’s often forgotten: and that’s taking a step back
to ensure that the proposed transformation is exactly aligned to and supports the, five to 10-year vision for
the business. It’s this strategic vision that should inform the scope of the transformation and will help you
create buy-in. Otherwise you end up with a push culture where everyone feels transformation is being
imposed on them. This can lead to delays in delivery, bad feeling among employees because they do not
understand the need for the program and do not feel part of the solution, which results in the benefits case
not being realised or worse still the transformation has to be abandoned causing long term reputational

2. Explain the impact on roles and day-to-day operations 

“By its nature a transformation will result in multiple changes to the way a business operates, and that’s going to have an impact on employees. “If people don’t understand what’s happening or why, you’ll get push back during the design and test phase of implementation with them trying to replicate legacy ways of working or creating work arounds which bypass the new ways of working – both can be very damaging”

“So you have to articulate to the whole organisation what the changes mean, not just at an enterprise level, but also on a practical level for each role. If everyone can buy into the vision and understand what it means to them, they’re much more likely to get on board and “pull in” the transformation rather than resisting it.”

3. Make transformation part of everyone’s KPIs 

When I work on transformation projects, I not only run workshops to explain what’s happening and why, but I also recommend that successful implementation be linked to employees’ performance metrics and even bonuses. It’s a way of further encouraging buy-in and ownership of the programme at every level, as well as ensuring everything is aligned to the original vision.” This is also a good way to increase the confidence across the workforce that the transformation has been well thought out and is important to the business.

4. Bring all your other projects in line 

“A transformation programme won’t be the only thing going on in your company. You will, undoubtedly, be already running numerous projects at various stages across all your functions. Paul argues that it’s important to review these to see how they align with your programme and vision. “As part of a transformation for a major communications company, having defined the 5 year strategic vision, I reviewed their whole project portfolio and rigorously assessed whether we should keep, change or cut them – or even create new ones. There were 90 projects, which was too many for any organisation to manage and too much concurrent change for the employees, so this was rationalised to just the top 20 projects. These were the projects that would drive the most short and long term value in line with the business transformation and strategy.”

5. Set up strong governance and stage gates 

“Transformation programmes can take many months to deliver and a lot of things can change along the way. Paul says it’s vital to set up strong governance at board level right from the outset to make sure the programme remains on track from a cost, time and quality perspective and if required has the predetermined mechanism to adapt to strategic changes within the organisation or from external factors. “Also, having stage gates with tangible, measurable milestones will help assess how you’re progressing with implementation and change management activities and ensure that you’re not veering off course,” he adds. “At some point you’ll run into challenges and new opportunities, but by having pre-defined governance and stage-gates you can make sure you don’t go too far down the wrong track and any issues can be addressed early. If you don’t, you’ll end up delivering something that no longer adds value because the programme has strayed from the long term business strategy.”

6. Consider an experienced interim change manager 

“Bringing in an independent external expert to oversee your transformation programme can have many advantages. They offer C-suite-level experience and political neutrality, as well as being solely focused on delivering a bespoke programme. A carefully selected team comprising of internal staff, who know the business and interim managers who deliver change for a living, led by a single highly experienced operative like an interim transformation director is also less expensive than mandating a large management consultancy firm and will go beyond the simple system solution approach of a software house.

● The programme should underpin the your organisations long term vision and strategy
● Create buy in and ownership through KPI’s and bonuses
● Have the right governance in place
● Create staged gateways with go/no-go decision points

Paul Sambhi

Paul Sambhi is a global transformation program director with over 20 years’ experience as a board-level executive and advisor. Paul creates and manages strategic operational and system transformation programmes for organisations across a wide range of sectors. His areas of expertise include board strategy and leadership, performance improvement, programme delivery, and operating model and organisational design.  

Williams Bain

Williams Bain is a specialist supplier of executive interim managers, independent consultants and executive-level permanent hires. Our discreet professional service supports the leaders of large PLCs, privately owned businesses, large family-owned businesses, equity partnerships, private equity-backed businesses, entrepreneurs, investors and lenders.