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The power of transformation management

How effective transformation governance can drive progress in an increasingly changing world 

The pace of change is quickening, organisations that don’t embrace new paradigms, new business models, new ways of working and new customer expectations may get left behind.

It’s become popular to refer to the strategy of this change as “transformation" and the basic steps are simple:

  1. Know where you are
  2. Know where you want to be
  3. Map out how to get from one to the other
  4. Do it

One of the issues we observe is that having recognised the need for action, organisations sow the seeds of urgency and let 1,000 simultaneous, independent flowers bloom.

Agility is good –  it’s certainly needed in most organisations - but chaos is bad. Unchecked, organisations are quickly faced with an exponential number of fragmented sub-scale initiatives and a finite pool of resources. At this point, many companies try to retain control and manage the change top down. 

Historically, management on this scale was handled by Programme Management Offices (PMOs). These were born out of project management disciplines and are rigorous, well disciplined ‘command and control’ structures.

The problem with transformation for the modern age is that it’s less about getting from A to B and more about continuously evolving, adapting and shaping to keep up with, or stay ahead of, the constantly changing environment.

It’s also hard to separate transformation into disciplines because it’s often integrated and multi-disciplinary by design. 

If that wasn’t enough of a challenge, transformation usually takes place in parallel with business as usual. It’s seldom a single programme nor an isolated one but is made up of dozens of initiatives woven into the daily operations and culture of a business.  

The question is then how best to effectively manage an organic strategy.

Biology has created an effective management system for complex organic structures. Our nervous systems can govern our bodies, with action distributed across largely independent muscles and organs. The sensory system provides a network, taking in information and feeding back impulse. Some signals are just for monitoring, and some are triaged before triggering a response.

Managing transformation across a large corporation should be handled in the same way. Command and control won’t deliver sustainable results – the organisation must be empowered to operate itself but connected via a network that can gather information and provide targeted impulse. We can think of this function as a modern Transformation Management Office (TMO).

Understanding the TMO

The role of the TMO is to provide connections across a business, understanding and guiding the many initiatives that layer up to drive transformation.

It’s a network of agents within the business gathering information, offering support and channelling central resources in the aid of change. 

The agents can be internal or external but are closely connected to the ‘muscle groups’ - the budget holders - and individual ‘muscles’ - the categories, countries, brands, and discipline teams - that are running change initiatives.

The information they gather allows them to feed back to regional and central communities, who can profile and classify the work according to corporate and transformation strategic goal.

This allows for a detailed understanding of the transformation landscape – what initiatives are taking place across the business and where strengths and gaps exist.

With an understanding of which initiatives are underway, the profile of these and their progress, the organisation can make informed decisions as to where best to intervene. 

The pot of resource businesses have to peruse transformation is finite – be it budget, specialist FTE or just management attention.

As outlined above, knowing where to deploy those resources is critical. There are, of course, many prioritisation techniques but the key is to let data, structure and strategic intent drive the decision, not HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion). With a clear understanding of the goal, a map of the current landscape and a plan, this becomes possible.

Just as with an organic system, much of the business needs to be empowered to operate autonomously. The role of the nervous system (TMO) is to monitor in detail, build the big picture, triage the opportunities and then to provide inputs that guide, nurture and correct course where necessary.

Many initiatives underway can be effectively ignored – either because their remit is unclear, or the political landscape doesn’t support intervention. Some should relate to initiatives elsewhere on the transformation landscape to share knowledge or expertise.

There will be some that would benefit from input – either to strengthen their performance or to prepare them for greater scale. A few will inevitably need to be stopped because they run counter to the approach or goals.

By considering the transformation landscape within the organisation and comparing it to the strategic goals, notable gaps can be quickly identified, and new initiatives seeded with business units. 

Diagram of inputs and outputs

To affect this impulse, the TMO needs to be able to offer something in return.  This value exchange can be made through additional resources, funding, knowledge support or by raising the profile of the initiative within the organisation – creating fame for its sponsors.

Central transformation sponsors should prepare in advance the tools at their disposal. However it’s delivered, the TMO’s role switches to influencing specific programmes and feeding back progress to the central office.

By implementing a network of transformation agents to connect with initiatives underway and by building up a categorised picture of the transformation landscape, businesses can make clear decisions about where and how to invest, support and accelerate their change programmes.

They will also have in place the communities and pathways to affect the necessary change while protecting the empowered structures of their organisation.

This organic approach to transformation management – more akin to a central nervous system gathering information and providing impulse – will allow companies to develop and nurture a transformation culture that makes guided progress in an increasingly changing world.

Alan Davies


published on

13 September 2021



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