What Are The Five Human Factors That Make Or Break A Transformation?

In almost 30 years of being part of a variety of transformations globally, whether it be business model, digital, technology, and/or organizational, there is a consistent set of human factors that makes the journey successful or one where millions of dollars go down the drain because a project is placed on hold, changing hands, and hence becomes a long and arduous journey. What are these human factors?


1. Obtain a clear and concise answer to the question, “What is the human desire?” Also known as the WIIFH (“What’s in it for the human?”).

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In the proposal stage of projects, greater than 80% of the questions asked of the potential partner are about business, technology, and commercial. There is a small portion about the people side which is quite tactical in nature (i.e., training strategy and approach; communications and readiness).

From the business front, the description of the project barely touches the human dimension. A depth of understanding is missing on, “What is the desired state that is addressed by the change or the transformation?” Desire, want, and fear are deep human emotions that when concretized and qualified from the beginning allow for real and organic movement toward the transformation’s “North Star.”

It reminds me of an opportunity with a client taking on its journey from ECC to S/4 HANA. The usual consultant in me did our background research to understand the client and get an outside-looking-in view. In the pre-sales process, my team had made the effort to grasp the client “change profile” and what their desired culture state … not merely business goals. What a powerful story. We were able to connect with this client and allow its COO, CIO, and CFO to know we listened, we understand, and we will co-create.

2. Invest time upfront in defining, “What are our ways of working and our guiding values as a collaborative organism?”

Transformation, butterflies concept

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The initial phase of the journey is a defining point. It is where governance is established, the project team is onboarded, and timelines are vetted and established.

One aspect where the least time is spent is the project team culture—the ways of working and the common set of values that align everyone to the “North Star.” It is either established in a silo or entirely forgotten, especially as teams grow and activities get closer to going live. Culture sets the tone and the guiding principles behind decisions, conversations, and human/group interactions. We need to “go slow to go fast,” moving us toward a deep level of Intentionality throughout the transformation.

Establishing the “ways of working” for the project is worth the intentional time spent. In this large-scale global transformation, the client leaders demonstrated true belief in its values and how it translated back to the project team. The regional directors’ and SVPs’ engagement in carving out how values like curiosity and collaboration were made real from meeting and its outcomes, problem resolution, and leveraging the strengths of its middle managers and subject matter experts made an impact on how the project smoothly confronted challenges and barriers experienced during the course of the project. This was further reinforced during the stabilization phase, where resiliency and co-creation were visible. There was no I/we; it was truly an “us” and we are making this happen together mentality!

3. Intentional resourcing: “What strengths, skills, values, behaviors, leadership, and communication styles are important to move the ship?”

Riding bike, teamwork, leverage strengths concept

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There is a level of intentionality that needs to be in place within the project’s ecosystem. It is not as simple as getting people together who are “available,” mixed with a few strong middle managers, some consultants, and a dash of hope, mix them in a project kickoff, and voila: we have a high-performing team. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

Treat it like a draft pick, where there are specific roles to be played within the team and crucial outcomes each role needs to achieve for the bigger mission. One may say we don’t have time for this; we need to simply fill the need and move on. This is what differentiates the championship team from everyone else.

Find the X factor in each individual to create a high-performing team, especially around the intangibles (e.g., values, drivers, motivators, fears). Intentional resourcing at all levels from the steering committee, program lead, and functional resources through stabilization, as we all know “hope isn’t a strategy.”

This is one of the toughest components to enable, especially as most teams are already lean as it is and are restricted to add on resources especially when the aim of the transformation is “reduce cost, increase efficiency,” which also translates to a lean and mean organization. This is one that isn’t a surprise anymore, as we all have probably been in engagements where the project had to be put on pause, or worse, on hold. Either because the project team wasn’t able to move forward, too many changes happening post blueprinting, too many open decisions that needed global buy-in, or there was no clarity on who would be able to move it forward. This is when a 12-month program becomes a 5-year program, where talented people are lost in the process.

4. Stick and carrot strategy: “What are the motivators and consequences that need to be in place?”

Motivation concept, stick and carrot strategy

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It is innate in human beings to need boundaries, consequences, and motivations to allow for creativity to flourish, come up with better solutions, and speed in decision making. When this is proactively designed and reinforced throughout the course of the transformation, that is when magic happens.

It is quite a challenge if the organization’s culture revolves around the philosophy, “You are already paid to do your job,” hence, any additional motivators are not necessary. Definitely an uphill battle. In one client, what made this viable was experienced leaders who had gone through similar transformations in their past lives and have seen what a difference a clear reward and performance management system can make in a team’s long-term retention and motivation.

5. Last but not least, “What is needed to orchestrate the first four?”

Team meets for a brainstorming session

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In order to make this happen from beginning to end, there is a need to invest in a grand conductor—a robust transformation office. It is a small cohesive unit that is ably steering the ship towards its North Star, in tune with the culture and values of the broader organization and the project team, has insight into when and where coaching, structure, and disciplines need to be inserted, has a pulse on its stakeholders, and knows how to leverage the strengths of the broader group toward creating the best possible solution(s).

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