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Are You Committing the 7 Deadly Sins of Business Transformation?

By Mohan Nair

Many Americans go to work filled with low-level dread and resignation. Since the recession hit, or perhaps before, theyve been overloaded, overstressed and overwhelmed. The typical workday is a marathon of rushing from one task to another, with few breaks between these bursts of effort, and even fewer words of thanks from equally frantic managers and co-workers. By the time they drag themselves to the finish line at 5 p.m. or even later, theyre completely drained and wondering how theyll do it again tomorrow.

Too many employees these days are running on empty, and no matter how great their work ethic or their fear of unemployment is, at some point the pace becomes unsustainable.

The problem is not that employees dont want to work hard, it’s that they have nothing to believe in. When people are motivated by a cause, their dedication to the cause will fuel them. The problem is too many companies arent driven by a cause at all and their employees just live for the end of the day and week.

If a company isnt giving employees a cause if the organization exists solely to create revenue, in other words they wont be partners; they’ll be foot soldiers. When you fail to meet your employees needs, theyll fail to meet yours.

Giving employees a power source defined as servant leadership, cause-focused strategies and authenticity is a crucial part of the message laid out in “Strategic Business Transformation: The 7 Deadly Sins to Overcome.” That cause, which bears little resemblance to the corporate-speak, mumbo-jumbo in the typical mission statement, should spark enthusiasm in consumers and dedication in employees. It should be an inspiring ideology that is intrinsically linked to the companys value proposition and competency.

Think Apple. Think Disney. Think Google.

Its this cause this ideology that powers strategic business transformation. Because our world is changing so rapidly, businesses have to transform themselves over and over again in order to keep up or lead markets.

It used to be that markets reformed every several years with new ideas on what customers were interested in but now markets and customers are transforming because they encounter more unknowns, those changes that they never anticipated and started to notice only after they happened. Companies that want to survive and grow must have the insight to know what their customers value and are willing to pay for continuously.

Winning companies transform in order to transform the customers they serve. They dont manipulate markets nor do they just add another feature or capability to their arsenal. In fact, they dont think of their capabilities as arsenals because they dont see battles; they see opportunities to transform, not destroy.

If youre ready to transform into an innovative, cause-driven, employee- and customer inspiring organization, there are seven sins waiting to stop you:

Sin No. 1: Ignoring the new principles of business transformation. Many companies that fail focus on the outward manipulation of markets and customers driven from the ego” of the organization. Unfortunately for them, todays markets are sensitive to purposeless wealth creation. No amount of end-of-the-year donations to needy organizations can make up for a lack of purpose and value. Mission and money must go hand-in-hand.

If you think of making money without thinking of the greater contributions to society, you will neither attract the right people nor make money in the long run. This is because people themselves are changing. Finding meaning at work powers the 21st century employee population. This population knows insincerity from truth, so leaders cannot fake it. They have to be able to feel the plights of customers and people in our society. The fuel that drives our new economy fills the containers that bring purpose to profits.

Sin No. 2: Driving without a cause. Most companies have mission statements as well as vision statements, value statements and other official website/employee handbook fodder. Yet many employees dont believe in them and never use them. What they need is a cause, and thats altogether different. Once organizations know why they exist, to whom they want transformation to happen and why, they gain the audacity and authenticity to drive strategic business transformation.

Dont confuse cause with mission. A cause is a lasting theme, an architecture that supports the transformation of the greater environment. It has personal, rather than organizational, implications. Missions are given to groups marching in lockstep; causes are taken up by creative individuals. A mission is a bounded, purposeful action. Missions impose the will of managers on employees, whereas causes are grounded in the latent unexpressed will of the overall organization.

Discovering a cause greater than any one employee, and greater than the whole, propels organizations beyond the speed of lofty, purposeless or narcissistic goals.

Whole Foods is an example of a cause-driven company. Co-founder and co-CEO John Mackey is quoted in Harvard Business Review: I think Whole Foods highest purpose is a heroic one: to try to change and improve our world. That is what animates me personally. That is what animates the company.”

Sin No. 3: Missing market momentum. Traditionally, products seek customers, customers form markets, and markets move with momentum. In transformation principle, momentum is identified before anything else, customers and prospects respond to momentum, then products respond to serve these prospects to move with purposeful intent. Momentum is a unique way to view the market. Companies that dont understand it will miss the drivers that indicate where momentum is going.

Momentum drivers often lead old” customers to consider their options in a whole new way. Being able to predict these changes of mind and heart, even before the customers themselves do, allows companies to get in first with products destined to be hot sellers.

Sin No. 4: Ignoring the two orders of value. If you assume that rational and emotional value propositions are all you need to consider, think again. Theres also a higher order” value proposition: the symbolic. Customers symbolically attach to the product or the company that sells the product. They come to identify with the purpose of the product and what it stands for. Organizations that are able to transfer and connect market momentum into value for the customers that emerge from a transformation will gain market share and be very successful.

Take Trader Joes, for instance. The company has convinced its customers to bring bags that they bought from Trader Joes to collect their own groceries. It has successfully tapped into green” market momentum.

The customers of Trader Joes are participating at both levels in acting to save paper or plastic and to recycle bags every time they visit. This has huge economic value because the company saves on the cost of bags, but the consumers don’t see it that way. Consumers see themselves aligning with the grand vision of a better world without excess, and they believe that Trader Joes is authentically conforming to their world view.

Sin No. 5: Overlooking transformational servant leadership. The new organization is a workspace with no walls. Leadership styles of the past cannot conform to the unbounded workspace commanded by remote employees, portable tablets, portable computers and worldwide internetworks. Hierarchical management techniques and paradigms are breaking down. You may try to bend the iron bars of the hierarchical organization to make it look better, but if you arent practicing true servant leadership you wont be able to attract the talent it takes to compete in the transforming marketplace.

What is transformational servant leadership? While the concept is maddeningly difficult to pin down, it contains several basic truths:

  • Its based on service rather than hierarchical controls. Leaders believe in something greater than themselves.
  • There are no sharply defined leaders and followers. Leaders lead when its appropriate and follow when its appropriate.
  • Organizations are populated by project-centered, self-leaders who partner with one another when needed.
  • Leaders strive for dramatic inner change, re-engineering and self-identification with corporate goals. In other words, it is about personal change creating group change that triggers corporate change and not the other way around.

They are powered by a desire to serve others, and they forget themselves, and this is the source of their undying energy and success. They do not come to this easily but through self-doubt, suffering, ridicule and even pain. Yet they are among us, and we should realize that we cannot judge anyone in our organization to be inadequate, of not having ideas to transform the world around them. Our purpose is to nurture and to find the goose that lays the golden eggs rather than be in the business of ideas. Be in the business of nurturing people with ideas, and the ideas will flow.

Sin No. 6: Mistaking capability for strategic competency. Capabilities are what you can do for customers. Competence is the unique recipe of your capabilities and what you can do better than others consistently as far as your customers perceive. You can always gain a new capability: Learn how to do it yourself, hire someone who knows how to do it or partner with another organization to fill that void. Stopping there, instead of understanding your competencies and using them to formulate your strategy, is the sin. It keeps you from being able to create value that people want and are willing to pay for.

Being good at one key capability is not sufficient, unless it is nonreplicable. Winning, using competencies, involves:

  • Creating brand awareness among your customers and prospects who feel an alignment between the organization and their values.
  • Defining communicable cause/purpose that is about a transformed customer and experience with that customer.
  • Combining key ingredients that reflect a valued recipe that creates a strong, enduring, and authentic aftertaste” to the customer who keeps returning because of it.
  • Creating a structure that drives social networked feedback interactively with an approachable organizational structure.

Trader Joes has gained loyal customers because they are capable of selling you good produce and groceries, but they are competent in driving their belief systems about conservation, their shopping experience and their community spirit. Many other stores have the same ingredients (capabilities) as Trader Joes. What they dont have is the recipe (competency).

Sin No. 7: Expecting flawless execution without a performance platform. It is critical to find the talent ahead of time, find the capabilities of the future ahead of time and to ensure that your operating capability anticipates rather than responds to a transformed market. What if Amazon couldnt ship its products on time and accurately? Customers would go to the competition. And yet, its common for companies to do more and more to implement greater and greater change without a context for employees and customers to frame improvement initiatives.

There are two categories of performance management corporations must master: human (inspiring, organizing work, people performance and incentives) and corporate (analytics, systems and methods around the financial, operational, customer and strategic outcomes and outputs). To execute well in the second category a company must have capabilities in four areas: monitoring, measurement, management and direction setting. As if that werent complicated enough, companies must be able to strike a careful balance between surviving today and investing in tomorrow.

Its tough to determine how much to invest in the now and how much to invest in the futureespecially since the future is a transformed environment. Prioritizing is part science and part art. The ability to make these decisions is where leaders truly earn their keep.

While this is all very complicated, it is possible for corporate leaders to transform themselves, their organizations and their customers, to make money, to keep their collective soul and to give the people who do the work a real reason to come to work.

Mohan Nair is chief innovation officer of a health plan in the Northwest/Mountain region and a “cause evangelist.” He is a fervent believer of believing in something. He served as president for ProTools Inc., which was later sold to Network Associates, now McAfee, an Intel company. He founded Emerge Inc., a transformation advisory firm.


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