The word ‘transformational’ is being used a lot lately in the business world. I spoke at the recent CFO Symposium which was themed ‘The Transformational CFO’. It’s made me think about what it really means in the context of a business. What does it look like?

A friend of mine finished his first Ironman Triathlon in Cairns on the weekend. Over 12 hours, and it rained for all 12 hours! In fact, I knew a few people racing that day and I admire each one because it’s a feat no matter who you are! But this one friend in particular stands out for me.

I’ve quietly watched him transform himself. He didn’t just swim, ride and run better and longer than he used to. He didn’t used to do any of it. He wasn’t already a runner, already fit and living a fitness lifestyle, who thought he’d give a triathlon a crack. His whole thinking, lifestyle, diet and attitude shifted. Totally different. A transformation. And with his ultimate goal in mind, achievable only from his transformation, he travelled to Cairns last weekend. Over 20kg lighter, too!

Don’t get me wrong. No matter if you are an existing athlete in another sport, done ten Ironman’s before or an Elite triathlon, it’s only possible through an extraordinary amount of training and sacrifice. There is a difference, though, between change and transformation. And this is my point today. That’s what it looks like.

Transformational change to me means something fundamental. Something so fundamental it will involve change or a different outcome across the board. For my friend, a change in thinking and practice. This is no different for business.

I ask myself this question of the customers I work with. Do they desire transformation? Will the initiatives they undertake and invest in deliver change and improvement significant enough to their broader organisation to warrant the word ‘transformation’? Or will the change and improvement be more isolated and tactical?

If an organisation has a transformation agenda, one road block I see is when great work is done in small chunks. It changes some people’s world, but not everyone’s. This is not entirely bad right?

Absolutely not. But I’m talking about transformation here.

I think one roadblock to transformation is the business functions around strategy, report, plan, and analyse.

If we break it down to simple terms: we have a strategy, we plan on how the strategy will be deployed, we report on an actual outcome, we analyse the outcome, and hopefully we further analyse to provide some indications of future outcomes. We go back to strategy, plan….and so the cycle continues. That seems pretty natural. Decisions get made. Actions are taken.

In the real world of organisations though, this gets pulled apart. Each part can be done by different people in an organisation, in different technologies, at different times, for different reasons. The link back to the organisations strategy is lost. People use the same data in very different ways to make very different decisions.

I have excellent customers who have achieved excellent results from specific initiatives around analytics, reporting and planning. Thinking back on these, the excellent results were specific to a selective audience. But did they transform the business? Yes, they transformed the finance team, or the marketing team. This is a great outcome with parts of the business making better decisions about their world and responsibilities. On reflection though, this was still in isolation.

A more integrated way of thinking, to link strategy, report, and plan and analyse back together would deliver a framework to support the fundamental change and improvement approach. Once the thinking is right, then I believe you do need technology to support the change.

I’m not suggesting transformation happens in one initiative. It doesn’t. It’s a journey. But it’s a journey with a strategy. My friend didn’t just improve his swimming and increase his training by a trillion hours. He changed his thinking, approach to life, priorities and started riding, running and swimming. I was so proud of him on the day, but also each time he reached a smaller goal along the way. Such rich rewards, And equally, when my customers have an agenda to transform their thinking and practices, I’m pleased for them. Rich, but different, rewards all around!

 

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