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Business transformations get personal

by Bill Mullins
My experience managing business transformations has shown that “executive sponsorship” can mean different things to different people.

The adoption of an enterprise-wide change management process goes a long way toward demonstrating executive commitment to a program of continuing change within the organization. But what makes some executives more successful than others at driving business transformations? What steps can we take that might increase the chances of success?

A global study of 534 senior executives — 61% at the C-level — across a wide range of industries, highlights the top factors in successful change management:
Transformation gets personal bar chart

Anyone who’s ever been a part of organizational change knows that it’s a multi-year process, and executives have to understand that strong, involved leadership will be a key factor throughout that process.


Looking in the mirror

A McKinsey article1 delved into how business leaders can better understand and adjust their own behavior to more successfully promote organizational change. Much of the discussion focused on senior executives’ improved profile awareness (recognizing the internal drivers of your behavior) and state awareness (recognizing the effect of certain moments or situations on your behavior). But one observation really struck me — the extent and power of misperceptions about transformation within organizations.

The McKinsey1 diagnostic that reached deep into the workforce — aggregating the responses of 52,240 individuals at 44 companies — demonstrated perception gaps across job levels at 70 percent of the participating organizations. In about two-thirds of them, the top teams were more positive about their own leadership skills than was the rest of the organization. Odds are, in other words, that rigorous organizational introspection will be eye opening for senior leaders.

It seems that a common stumbling block to change is simply misjudging the challenges at all job levels. Specifically at the executive level, I think this means overestimating one’s ability to lead change initiatives. Executives may be up to the challenge initially — but are they prepared to sustain their leadership over the long term? Anyone who’s ever been a part of organizational change knows that it’s a multi-year process, and executives have to understand that strong, involved leadership will be a key factor throughout that process.

There are misunderstandings at every job level, and I believe we all underestimate the difficulty of change. On top of that, we are understandably engaged in ensuring that the business succeeds in the here and now. So where do we find the time and energy to shift our focus without losing sight of what it takes to hit our current goals?

Willingness to look beyond

In our experience with over 4,000 successful change management engagements worldwide, Ricoh believes this is precisely where a knowledgeable perspective from outside the organization can really help. Our engagements begin with a Discovery Statement of Work, where we analyze the cultural challenges and key influences related to a change initiative, including recommending the support all employees will need to accommodate a new way of working.

The Discovery assessment can help you get an outside look at your organization and benefit from the experience of others. The assessment reflects a great deal of knowledge and best practices gleaned from businesses of different sizes and across industries and regions. Such an assessment can go a long way to planning for change more realistically, with fewer misperceptions and greater clarity.

Internal communication

Seeing and scoping the problem more clearly makes for a good beginning. From that starting point, communications become critical for helping to dispel misperceptions and drive success across all job levels. A deeper understanding of the cultural barriers and employees’ ability to change helps tailor and target these ongoing communications. Early in change initiatives, for example, Ricoh Organizational Change Management Services have crafted pre-announcements for publication in internal magazines or on websites. These help build awareness of the initiative, gain acceptance among employees and drive involvement across the organization.

Change management initiatives can include everything from FAQs to videos, emails, webpages, posters, manuals and more. Think of these as internal PR campaigns, where you’re dispelling rumors and misunderstandings and building enthusiasm for a new way of working. Your messages, therefore, need to be repeated, over and over, through different channels and, where possible, tailored for affected groups.

Change can hold organizations back from seizing valuable opportunities

Don't let the challenges that accompany change interfere with your business.
Bill Mullins
Bill Mullins began his career with Ricoh as a Managed Services Site Manager in 1997. He was responsible for one of the largest Managed Services locations in the US. Mullins has over 30 years of management, 10 years of training and 5 years of change management experience in multiple industries.
1 Boaz, Nate and Fox, Erica Ariel. "Change leader, change thyself." McKinsey Quarterly. March 2014.