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Business transformation – think like a farmer, not a scientist

December 7th, 2015

by Alastair Ross, Director

Business Transformation sign with lots of comments

Business Transformation.  What is it?

Does it even exist in the real world outside the rarefied environment of the CEO’s vision, the consultant’s presentation or the academic treatise?

If it does exist, how can it be achieved?

These are important questions at a time when the need for major change in businesses is ever more pressing, faced with an environment that is full of new challenges and opportunities.

In my career I have worked both inside large businesses and outside them as an external consultant. During this time I have experienced the wide continuum that is ‘business transformation’:  from the all-too-common hype to the reality of major change projects that drive step-change performance improvements through the application of new business practices.

What I have learned is that ‘business transformation’ is not achieved by one mythical ‘big bang’ programme, despite the (over) promises of advisors, consultants and CEOs. Business Transformation is not like a chemical reaction where you bring together key business elements and catalyse them with a strategy to create – in a flash of light and a cloud of smoke – a new business model. Instead it is something apparently more mundane. It’s like farming.

For transformation is achieved by the hacking-away of the stifling undergrowth of conventional thinking, the planting of seeds of new paradigms and practices, and the hard graft of execution in the office, on the factory floor and out in the field. Transformation is realized across many harvests of change – not simply one ‘bumper harvest’. Sometimes the yield from a harvest is poor, the crops of change wither and die and new approaches are needed. Transformation requires the hardy farmers of change as well as its clear-eyed visionaries and sober-headed analysts.

Business transformation requires a bold and unique vision of how the organisation can generate value in a significantly new way – effectively a new business model – and this vision needs to be bought into by leaders and champions in the business. Communicating this new vision across the organisation – repeatedly – serves to catalyze improvement activities and provide a focus for innovation programmes. Then comes the hard grind of execution.

The reality is that most business transformation programmes fail to realize the initial vision. Most commonly the business fails to sustain the transformation programme long enough to yield the planned results. Management is typically impatient for results and performance metrics in most businesses do not encourage the long-term outlook required for successful transformation.

Finally it is worth remembering that businesses that are successful in the long term continually transform themselves – developing new business models – just as a farmer will continually develop their land, introduce new methods and plant new crops. Business Transformation requires long term thinking, it is an ongoing journey of innovation,  not a single destination.

One Response to “Business transformation – think like a farmer, not a scientist”

  1. Paul Curran says:

    Hi Alastair,

    Happy New Year to you.

    I wholeheartedly agree that Business Transformation needs to be considered as more of a farming activity than an overnight flash from a consultant. Human nature is to change only slowly – if at all and it’s best to work with nature than against it. I’m looking forward to a bumper crop in 2016!

    Paul

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