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Book synthesis

How to make sure your business transformation crashes and burns

As you may know, there’s a number doing the rounds: 70 percent of business transformation projects, it’s claimed, end more or less in total failure. But the reasons – which have been dissected often enough – are very simple, and have nothing to do with problems of collective motivation. Instead, transformations run aground when at least one of the five key items below gains the upper hand.

A lack of motivation, resistance to change, the passivity of the troops … the excuses for explaining away a failed business transformation suffer from a woeful lack of imagination. Yet these garden-variety pretexts do indicate something important: They reflect managers’ inability to shoulder responsibility and evaluate the role that we should play in setting an example, defining priorities and leading the process itself.  

These excuses also betray a persistent false belief, namely that successful change largely depends on the goodwill of stakeholders. That’s plain wrong: Success hinges first and foremost on how aware you are of five key – yet damaging – attitudes, each of which, alone or in concert, can be a recipe for failure. 

Based on

Immunity to Change, how to Overcome it and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization, 
by Robert Kegan et Lisa Laskow Lahey, (Harvard Business Review Press, 2009); 


Taking Point: A Navy SEAL’s 10 Fail Safe Principles for Leading Through Change, by Brent Gleeson, (Atria Books, 2018). 


#Arrogant : You’re happy to share a vision and leave its execution to others 

What a wonderful vision of the future: Your company will be more agile, efficient and sustainable following a strategic transformation plan. Everything will be meticulously prepared in advance, from training and manager motivation to the coordination and monitoring system.  

Nothing will be overlooked, ensuring that everyone shares a collective goal. There’s just one problem: Nothing goes as planned. A 2015 survey1 of 400 corporate leaders found that strategy execution was their number-one challenge on a list of 80 different issues. This reflects a common pitfall: viewing the design and delivery of a program from completely different angles, as though they were two separate processes, and fencing off the decision-makers from the people who will execute the plan. Yet, devising a strategy behind closed doors doesn’t give sufficient credit to those who will be carrying out your plan.  

There’s an even greater risk that your strategy will fall apart if you think your status as a decision-maker excuses you from embodying the changes you demand of others. You’ll then be among those who always arrive late to management committees – even though hitting deadlines is one of the priorities; who jealously guard what they’re working on – even though your plan demands breaking down silos; and who send emails on Sunday mornings – even though you advocate a work/life balance. Neglecting to set an example is one of the main pitfalls of a failed transformation. 

The fix: 

  • Ground your entire strategic approach in internal diagnostics: Are your teams (culture, organization, resources) – including the management bodies – in a position to deliver the change? 
  • Examine your personal contribution to the transformation dynamic: What can you do every day, every week and every month to support the collective project? 
  • Take an unbiased look at your attitude and behavior: Are they aligned with the values that underpin the strategy?  
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1 “Why Strategy Execution Unravels” (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2015). 

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Françoise Tollet
Published by Françoise Tollet
She spent 12 years in industry, working for Bolloré Technologies, among others. She co-founded Business Digest in 1992 and has been running the company since 1998. And she took the Internet plunge in 1996, even before coming on board as part of the BD team.