Plan Your Business Transformation as You Would Plan Your Vacation

7 min

When embarking on a transformation journey, companies should follow the same seven steps one intuitively performs when planning a holiday getaway. However, in corporate life, more parties are involved—and therefore more complexities—which often makes it difficult to maintain a comprehensive perspective. But is doesn’t have to be that complicated. To ensure your corporate transformation doesn’t turn into a horror trip, reflect on the approach that you naturally apply to trip-planning and follow the same simple structure to define a sustainable transformation roadmap.

Let's assume you plan to spend your next summer holidays with good friends of yours (1—vision). To evaluate the options you would, most likely, immediately start discussing when to travel and—considering budgetary restrictions—whether you’re out for a low-budget, camping tour, or a luxury vacation in a five star resort (2—position).

Consider your transformation a real journey to plan

Having agreed on the fundamentals, you would review and determine the country and region to visit, and the type of accommodation to stay at (3—direction). You’d also decide whether you travel by plane, train or car (4—methods). In detailing and fixing your travel plans you would turn to online-portals (5—tools) to book your vacation home and reserve tickets for the ferry (which, unfortunately, you have to take, even though your partner is prone to suffering from sea sickness).

Shortly before you begin your journey, you’d call the owner of your vacation home and let them know when you plan to arrive. You’d gather your suitcases from the basement and pack your stuff (6—ignition). Upon leaving, you hand over the keys for your home to your neighbors (to care for Toto and your succulents) and then load up your car and head south (7-transition).

Maybe you experience some traffic on the way, but in the end, you arrive at your destination and enjoy a great time together with your friends.

Avoid common pitfalls

What proves to be an intuitive approach in private life seems to be a much harder procedure to follow in a corporate business environment. Crucial steps are often not performed effectively, especially when it comes to a large endeavor such as a transformation initiative: vision and goals are not clearly defined, the strategy and approach are misaligned across different business areas, and necessary changes are neither comprehensively planned or effectively prepared for and implemented.

As a result, many transformation initiatives exhibit structural impairments:

  • Companies confuse destination with direction and declare an “agile organization” as their transformation goal, thus putting focus on a wobbly, misleading target.
  • Executives consider “digital transformation” a primarily technical endeavor instead of perceiving it as a comprehensive, integrated business improvement.
  • Organizations continue to progress in silos and introduce new methods and tools without context and integration, effectively mistaking “local” organizational optimizations for “global” improvements.

Be your own travel agent—and take your own advice

In 2019, a large German car manufacturer described their digital transformation roadmap in an official news release as follows:

“[We] will be investing up to €4 billion in digitalization projects […]. At least 2,000 new jobs related to digitalization are to be created. […] Agile working methods, improved processes and digitalization are to reduce the burden on employees and speed up processes. […] Consequently, up to 4,000 jobs in non-production units […] will not be restaffed over the coming four years. […] Furthermore, the budget for training is to be increased by a further €60 million […] to take account of the human resources transformation […]. A uniform employment guarantee […] through 2029 has also been agreed.”

One wonders whether the authors of this statement ever put themselves in their stakeholders’ shoes when drafting this “message.” To me (and coming back to our previous example of vacation-planning) this sounds like you had asked your friends in the following way, if they want to go on holiday together:

“We’re going to spend about 5.000 EUR on our vacation but if we go together, we can save 1.000 EUR. We’d like to stay flexible regarding when and where to go, depending on the weather. Also, we’ve asked the Millers to join, and if they agree, then we’ve got only two seats left, so one of you would have to stay at home. But we’ll provide a tour guide and pay for the sightseeing. Are you interested?”

Sounds weird, doesn’t it? And it is, yet in reality similar issues are arising time and again. In effect, trouble is programmed; as much as joint travels regularly turn into breaking points for personal relationships, transformation initiatives can improve or destroy a business’s future fate.

Use a “travel checklist” to develop a comprehensive roadmap

If you are eager to avoid issues like these—and you should be—take the time to define a clear and feasible path when sketching out your journey. It helps to consider the following seven building blocks when creating your specific transformation roadmap:

1—Vision. Imagine your destination. Make sure it is ambitious, brave, compelling. Develop a clear definition of your future that inspires and motivates stakeholders to follow your path. To ensure broad buy-in, the vision must elucidate the inescapable need to change and promote the benefits of executing the targeted transformation.

2—Position. Tell it like it is (today). Identify and declare your limitations and weak spots. Uncover risks. Sugarcoating certain aspects of your status quo for political reasons only hinders the efforts to get all stakeholders aboard. Transparency is key.

Many roads lead to Rome—think twice which one to follow

3—Direction. Plan your steps. With every additional consideration, your roadmap becomes more concrete. Start filling the gap between today’s position and tomorrow’s vision. Be sure to specify a suitable path forward, define clear intermediate targets, and set traceable milestones. Take dynamic variables (“traffic and detours”) into account. Focus on achievements, not activities, and provide guidance with regards to priorities and principles.

4—Methods. Define your approach. Decide on how to progress effectively, and identify the practices best suited to facilitate your way forward. In evaluating multiple methods, ensure you comprehend and consider the relevant principles, prerequisites, and limitations of each approach. Develop a holistic perspective on how using a certain vehicle in one area will affect your travel preparation in other areas, requiring alignment and integration.

Avoid cancellation fees with an integrated approach

5—Tools. Fasten your seat belts. Prepare to change direction fast. Develop a comprehensive plan to integrate change across all areas of action. Implement routines and rituals that help safeguard your initiative when times get tough. Educate, enable, and encourage your organization to adapt to the new way of working (and thinking).

6-Ignition. Time to start the engines. Develop a checklist to ensure everything is in place to get rolling. As soon as you kick the gas pedal and turn the steering wheel around, centrifugal forces will occur, threatening to tear your initiative apart. To avoid spinning wheels, stay alert and maintain a strong stance. Provide energy to fuel and boost the early phases. And adjust direction as necessary.

7—Transition. Gain momentum. To avoid being sidetracked or derailed, plan for structures to continuously monitor and control progress. Check your instruments to identify issues early. Course correct as necessary. And don’t forget to regularly inspect and adapt your roadmap. Your company is only as resilient/adaptable as it is flexible.

Veni, Vidi, Vici—structure and discipline (usually) win over chaos

By following these seven steps when defining and executing your specific transformation roadmap, you will be able to significantly de-risk your transformation initiative. Considering each area specifically and elaborating a comprehensive picture of the relevant components will increase the likelihood of traveling fast and without hitting too many roadblocks.

In the end, your goal is to arrive safely, in time, and to get the most out of journey.

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