When is a transformation a transformation? For executive leaders looking to drive meaningful change, it’s crucial to recognise the difference between projects that will deliver a fundamental shift in how their business operates vs a technology uplift that will enhance the capability to deliver but not necessarily shift it from the core.

Transformation is perhaps the most overused—and possibly misused—buzzword in the project world today.

In our experience, technology projects can often be positioned as transformational, however, there’s a significant difference between implementation and true, tech-enabled transformation. For executive leaders looking to drive meaningful change, it is crucial to recognise the difference between genuine transformation and transformation in name only (or TINOs).

When we hear the word ‘transformative’ we ask: is the project an evolution of technology—providing a newer way to do the same thing—truly transformative or is it a tech revolution that spikes the adrenaline of the project junkie that has no-holds-barred, everything-is-up-for-grabs transformation that not only changes how we do things but what we do and why we do it.

Genuine transformation involves a fundamental shift in an organisation’s mindset, strategy, and operations. It requires reimagining the purpose, truly embracing innovation, and fostering a culture of continuous improvement. Conversely,  transformation-in-name-only (TINO) projects often focus on step change enhancements or logical additions to subtractions from the current state.

For executive leaders, it’s crucial to know the difference to be successful with either type of project.

Embracing Innovation is far harder than it sounds

We have observed organisations purchase fantastic new technologies and then shoehorn those to fit the existing process and ways of working.  This is driven by the understanding that those processes and needs as an organisation must be met so products and services are delivered accordingly, and customers are happy.  This is a very transactional approach to change, not a transformative approach.

People are creatures of habit. So much so that when faced with new technology we often approach it with the use case we already know. In fact, most business cases are built this way: “By buying X, we will make Y more efficient”.  In simple terms, this seems obvious and not a trap to easily fall into, but the reality plays out in a far more nuanced way.

Consider a more curious approach.  The fantastic new technology has a new way of addressing an existing process, but it’s completely different and the existing process needs won’t be met, but here is the secret, it’s not the process that’s important, it’s the outcome.   A curious approach might challenge the business to do things differently, however, it might also open a conversation about how it might also improve customer engagement, and isn’t that one of the core outcomes for most companies? It requires a leader within the organisation to be willing to sit in an uncomfortable position and ask, ‘Why not explore this? Why wouldn’t it work? If that’s the concern, how else could we tackle the challenge?’

While there’s an unknown and leaders could focus on the risk of failure, they may also recognise that the new platform can be embraced to drive better rewards over the long term.  And that conversation is less about technology change and more in the transformation mindset.

Achieving lasting and impactful change challenges executives to discern between the approaches in pursuit of authentic transformation to deliver long-term success.

Transactional perspective and the role of the transformational perspective

Technology is often a catalyst for transformations.  A new capability or function can be a seed from which a whole new way of operating and thinking can grow.

Leave a technology in place for too long and it’s a guarantee that the transactional leader will have eked out every last drop of efficiencies and quality until it’s reached a point where making new gains requires the most difficult and complex of improvements because all the low-hanging fruit has been plucked.

New technology can bring a new step change and produce a whole new tree of low-hanging fruit to pick after the first implementation.  However, technology in and of itself isn’t enough to deliver transformation.

The secret sauce is to combine both the transactional and transformational perspectives together to not only leverage the new technology but reimagine how the organisation can fit the tech for maximum return.  If that means changing the business process, policy, structures, roles, and KPIs, then it should all be ‘on the table’.

No one buys a new car and has the electric windows and keyless entry removed. So why would companies replace an outdated ERP to a new system that might have a very different way of managing the financials just to use it the old way?

Internal subject matter experts (SMEs) are often well-equipped to handle transactional aspects of change, they understand the ways of working intimately, they know what is required, how much and when to make things really work. However, transforming a business requires a different kind of leadership that can balance the important transactional needs and the potential of technology to really understand what the outcome could be.

Transactional leaders may understand the system, its inputs, and resource requirements, but they struggle to see beyond the existing machine.  On the other hand, transformative leaders possess the ability to see the machine for what it is not, or what it could be.

Effective transformation requires a delicate balance between both skill sets, as relying solely on one or the other can hinder progress.

Organisations that deliver a successful transformation typically land some really important wins by setting guiding principles for transformation, creating and fostering a culture of asking ‘why not’ and strive to make that a principal behaviour to drive more transformative thinking.

Harnessing that culture is vital to success because it empowers and enables people to try new approaches and do so with the acceptance that innovation often require them to break some eggs and experience some failures. But failure isn’t a dirty word here; success in innovation is built on learning and adapting after failure.

Unleashing the potential for innovation

Tech-enabled transformation holds immense potential for organisations seeking to thrive in today’s dynamic business landscape.

By embracing transformative leadership, harnessing the power of technology, and fostering collaboration between tech SMEs and transformation SMEs, organisations can navigate the complexities of change and unlock the benefits of innovation.

Anchored in a culture for ‘having a go’ and guided by clear principles that accept risk, organisations can effectively execute their transformation program, and truly be innovators that target long-term competitive advantage.

As project specialists, we enable organisations through project delivery, project assurance, and project capability.  Contact us here to find out more about how we work with your teams or call 180 841 048.

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Quay Consulting
Quay Consulting is a professional services business specialising in the project landscape, transforming strategy into fit-for-purpose delivery. Meet our team ...