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On this subject, here is an article about digital transformation: Companies must be prepared to tear themselves away from routine thinking and behavior.
Imagine. You lead a large basic-resources business. For the past decade, the global commodities supercycle has fueled volume growth and higher prices, shaping your company’s processes and culture and defining its outlook. Most of the top team cannot remember a time when the business priorities were different. Then one day it dawns on you that the party is over.
Or imagine again. You run a retail bank with a solid strategy, a strong brand, a well-positioned branch network, and a loyal customer base. But a growing and fast-moving ecosystem of fintech players—microloan sites, peer-to-peer lenders, algorithm-based financial advisers—is starting to nibble at your franchise. The board feels anxious about what no longer seems to be a marginal threat. It worries that management has grown complacent.
In industry after industry, scenarios that once appeared improbable are becoming all too real, prompting boards and CEOs of flagging (or perhaps merely drifting) businesses to embrace the T-word: transformation.
Transformation is perhaps the most overused term in business. Often, companies apply it loosely—too loosely—to any form of change, however minor or routine. There are organizational transformations (otherwise known as org redesigns), when businesses redraw organizational roles and accountabilities. Strategic transformations imply a change in the business model. The term transformation is also increasingly used for a digital reinvention: companies fundamentally reworking the way they’re wired and, in particular, how they go to market.
What we’re focused on here—and what businesses like the previously mentioned bank and basic-resource companies need—is something different: a transformation with a capital T, which we define as an intense, organization-wide program to enhance performance (an earnings improvement of 25 percent or more, for example) and to boost organizational health. When such transformations succeed, they radically improve the important business drivers, such as topline growth, capital productivity, cost efficiency, operational effectiveness, customer satisfaction, and sales excellence. Because such transformations instill the importance of internal alignment around a common vision and strategy, increase the capacity for renewal, and develop superior execution skills, they enable companies to go on improving their results in sustainable ways year after year. These sorts of transformations may well involve exploiting new digital opportunities or accompany a strategic rethink. But in essence, they are largely about delivering the full potential of what’s already there.
The reported failure rate of large-scale change programs has hovered around 70 percent over many years. In 2010, conscious of the special challenges and disappointed expectations of many businesses embarking on transformations, McKinsey set up a group to focus exclusively on this sort of effort. In six years, our Recovery & Transformation Services (RTS) unit has worked with more than 100 companies, covering almost every geography and industry around the world. These cases—both the successes and the efforts that fell short—helped us distill a set of empirical insights about improving the odds of success. Combined with the right strategic choices, a transformation can turn a mediocre (or good) business into a world-class one.
Why transformations fail
Transformations as we define them take up a surprisingly large share of a leadership’s and an organization’s time and attention. They require enormous energy to realize the necessary degree of change. Herein lie the seeds of disappointment. Our most fundamental lesson from the past half-dozen years is that average companies rarely have the combination of skills, mind-sets, and ongoing commitment needed to pull off a large-scale transformation.
It’s true that across the economy as a whole, “creative destruction” has been a constant, since at least 1942, when Joseph Schumpeter coined the term. But for individual organizations and their leaders, disruption is episodic and sufficiently infrequent that most CEOs and top-management teams are more accomplished at running businesses in stable environments than in changing ones. Odds are that their training and practical experience predominantly take place in times when extensive, deep-rooted, and rapid changes aren’t necessary. For many organizations, this relatively placid experience leads to a “steady state” of stable structures, regular budgeting, incremental targets, quarterly reviews, and modest reward systems. All that makes leaders poorly prepared for the much faster-paced, more bruising work of a transformation. Intensive exposure to such efforts has taught us that many executives struggle to change gears and can be reluctant to lead rather than delegate when they face external disruption, successive quarters of flagging performance, or just an opportunity to up a company’s game.
Executives embarking on a transformation can resemble career commercial air pilots thrust into the cockpit of a fighter jet. They are still flying a plane, but they have been trained to prioritize safety, stability, and efficiency and therefore lack the tools and pattern-recognition experience to respond appropriately to the demands of combat. Yet because they are still behind the controls, they do not recognize the different threats and requirements the new situation presents. One manufacturing executive whose company learned that lesson the hard way told us, “I just put my head down and worked harder. But while this had got us out of tight spots in the past, extra effort, on its own, was not enough this time.”
Tilting the odds toward success
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