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Jesse Jacoby

We live in a culture of yes. In the business world, we are taught to engage, be assertive and never turn down an opportunity. All of this behavior results in a whole lot of yeses (and time commitments). After all, saying yes is fun; it often feels a lot better than saying no. To further compound the issue, most of us aim to please — our bosses, our coworkers and our teams. There is no …

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Home » Change Leadership, Strategic Communications, Program Management

Ensuring Success for Large-Scale Business Transformations

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CxOs are often looking for the “secret sauce” that will ensure success of their large-scale business transformation. After all, they’ve budgeted millions of dollars for the initiative, identified a team to drive the effort, and targeted tens of millions, or even hundreds of millions, of dollars in cost savings.

While there are many variables that dictate how successful a business transformation effort will be, there is a core set of success factors which is highly correlated with successful business transformation outcomes. These factors can be divided into two categories – “hard” and “soft.” The hard factors are the formal structure and process components and the soft factors are the informal behavioral and intangible ones.

Hard Success Factors

Identify aggressive, company-wide targets

  • Start with an aggressive business case for change
  • Back the business case with top-down objectives and bottoms-up analysis
  • Scope the effort large enough to push beyond business-as-usual
  • Don’t settle for less once the targets are set
  • Common Pitfall: Waiting for bottom-up analysis before declaring a target or allowing the bottom-up analysis to lower the top-down target

Establish an integrated program

  • Staff program management office (PMO) with high-performers
  • Senior managers own the program and act as sponsors
  • Manage cross-functional initiatives in well-defined phases
  • Ensure organizational change management is addressed in each phase
  • Host forums for senior management to make key decisions
  • Common Pitfall: Allowing the launch of many small initiatives owned by businesses and functions, instead of centrally managing initiatives through the program team

Focus on building future capabilities

  • Require lower costs and new capabilities to ensure the new organization can operate effectively
  • Motivate employees by explaining how you are building toward a better future
  • Common Pitfall: Focusing only on cost reduction and dismissing or deferring capability-building

Ensure eliminated costs don’t creep back in

  • Bake the economic benefits into the budget
  • Set an incentive horizon of multiple years
  • Sustain a strong PMO for at least a year after implementation starts
  • Address nonstructural organizational issues (e.g. decision rights, metrics) to ensure sustainability
  • Common Pitfall: Lack of early follow-through signals that it is okay not to be accountable for delivering results

Soft Success Factors

Strong CxO leadership & commitment

  • Create a compelling vision of the future that appeals to “hearts and minds”
  • Articulate the case for change and frame the initiative from a strategic perspective
  • Maintain a sense of urgency and keep up the pressure
  • “Walk the talk” and model new behaviors that you would like others to exhibit
  • Common Pitfall: CxO is reluctant to get in front of the case for change

Ensure senior management alignment

  • Collectively own the program and related initiatives
  • Speak for the enterprise, not just their areas of responsibility
  • Align incentives with program objectives to achieve collective success
  • Deal swiftly with senior executives who don’t get on board
  • Common Pitfall: Senior team views transformation as a “corporate project” not directly related to the success of their business area

Look for “moments of truth” to demonstrate commitment

  • Look for opportunities to demonstrate the direction of the program
  • Use the opportunities to signal a “new day” and a departure from past practices
  • Use a sensitive issue that was never formally on the table to demonstrate a change in direction
  • Be aware of and prepared to take immediate advantage of the “moment”
  • Common Pitfall: Senior management misses the opportunity to reset expectations when the moment of truth arrives

Be proactive in communications

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate – both internally and externally
  • Recognize that the most important audience is the “survivors” (those who will be around after the transformation ends)
  • Start with the connection to a strategic case for change
  • Rely heavily on management outreach
  • Ensure enterprise-wide messages, but tailor delivery to specific audience
  • Use communications to Wall Street and the Board as a “forcing function”
  • Common Pitfall: Waiting until all the answers are clear before communicating

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Jesse Jacoby
The Editor of Emergent Journal and founder of Emergent, Jesse is a recognized expert in business transformation. He and his team partner with Fortune 500 and mid-market companies to deliver successful people and change strategies. Jesse is the creator of the Accelerating Change & Transformation (ACT) model and developer of Change Accelerator and Savvy Transition. Contact Jesse at 303-883-5941 or

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