Lessons learned implementing global transformation programs

Supporting and successfully accelerating global transformations is one of a-connect’s key capabilities. Over the years, our teams have worked hand-in-hand with our clients’ teams on ambitious programs across different industries. We have gathered insights and lessons from these experiences to provide our take on what makes a difference in achieving transformational goals and shaping the culture of large organizations undertaking the challenge of transforming.

8 Minutes By Simon Pannatier and Sara Enriquez Life Sciences 05/09/2024

At a Glance

Leading a successful transformation is nothing trivial for global organizations. Regardless of the specific approach and methodology that teams in charge can adopt, in practice, there are five key aspects that they need to get right: 

  • A pragmatic, realistic, and holistic plan has been created
  • Capability gaps have been identified and filled.
  • Authority is delegated, and implementation teams are empowered.
  • Communication is frequent, inclusive, and purposeful.
  • People always take priority.

1. Create a pragmatic, realistic, and holistic plan.

The timing of transformations can depend on impending business needs. Going too fast may risk missing your goals. Going too slow may risk losing people’s motivation, particularly in global initiatives. Focusing on the important and not on the urgent respecting the natural pace of the organization contributes to realizing tangible and sustainable change.

Above all, transformation, ideally motivated by an inspiring purpose, needs to be addressed realistically:

  • Prepare well: Investing in the preparation phase is crucial for your transformation. Ensuring critical gaps are identified and filled will pay off along the process (e.g., data quality, system compatibility, capabilities). Failing to do so becomes the main reason for delays and replanning.
  • Be consistent: Setting-up a lean transformation office and choosing the planning approach, tools, and governance that suits the organization and sticking to it. There are many options available that should help track and manage your progress effectively and make sure that everyone on the team understands and follows the chosen approach.
  • Test before scaling up: Doing a pilot or a dry run will help you check for readiness. Failing early will allow the team to tailor the approach and timing needed for the implementation. A common mistake is to skip or shorten the piloting phase in your project plan.
  • Leave some room for flexibility: Allowing buffer time for completing critical tasks and for dealing with any issues after finalizing every critical phase.
  • Expect the unexpected: Understanding that transformations involve human beings, not machines is key. Holidays, sick leaves, or personal days will affect timelines, and it is not rare that absence rates may even increase during the transformation due to stress or anxiety.
  • Manage the timing of organizational changes: Keeping role handover activities short creates a sense of urgency and reduces uncertainty in your organization.

2. Identify capability gaps. Fill in with the right skills from the outset

Before the transformation starts, it is critical to ensure that the organization has the right skills to carry out this challenging task. Assess the skills gap and recruit the right talent. Often, internal talent is focused on the day-to-day and cannot be fully allocated to transformation efforts.  Engaging external support becomes the next challenge. 

Building a cohesive team that combines in-house and external talents is not always easy. Corporate preferences and previous experience tend to guide the selection process.  Whatever the source, organizations should make sure to look for key skills when selecting an external team:

  • Problem-solving skills: no matter how solid the design may be, removing roadblocks will be key.
  • Relationship building skills: working as one team will make a difference.
  • Pragmatism and accountability: an accountable and pragmatic external team will be pivotal for success.
  • Humility and listening skills: knowledge and experience are multiplied with respect and willingness to learn and to adapt to your organization’s culture.

Combining the corporate and functional knowledge and organizational network of internal teams with the right external support is worth investing time from the outset: involving the on the ground internal team in the selection process, providing the selected external team with a clear direction, measurable objectives, and sufficient background information.

When choosing the external team lead (or leads), whether internal or external, previous experience, empathic leadership, and listening skills will magnify individual capabilities. Solid stakeholder management skills tuned to the organization will build trust within the team and create the collaboration required for succeeding as one team.

3. Delegate authority and empower the implementation teams

Clarity can boost and even accelerate transformation programs.  Delays and roadblocks are often caused by unclear goals, insufficient information, or misaligned expectations.

Transformation leaders and sponsors can help teams succeed by increasing transparency by:

  • Making teams part of the project planning and split into smaller projects with clear objectives.  Keeping planning exclusively in the hands of a central transformation office may create unrealistic and unshared plans.
  • Enabling teams to create sprints or short project phases that focus on solving a specific problem with the right skills and resources.
  • Promoting information sharing (e.g., sharing best practices and updates, identifying interdependencies) and fostering problem-solving across teams.
  • Appointing a decision-making responsible for each team involved in the transformation. Letting teams make their own decisions and provide scalation mechanisms only if issues can’t be handled.
  • Setting-up a regular meeting with the transformation team (internal and external) to monitor progress and address any critical issues that need immediate attention.

4. Communicate frequently, inclusively, and purposefully.

Uncertainty combined with reluctance to change is inherent to transformation programs and can affect people’s motivation, sense of purpose, and well-being. Communication is a key tool to reduce uncertainty and inspire action towards the transformation goal.

Communicating effectively involves managing frequency, including the right audiences and adding purpose to all messages:

  • Invest time to explain the purpose of the transformation from the outset.  Addressing the magnitude and the timing for achieving the set goals from the outset will provide direction to the organization.
  • Involving leadership in key messages and interactions. Conveying the meaning and the reason for the transformation requires sponsors and leaders to show personal commitment.
  • Planning communication activities is key.  Defining a team responsible and accountable for identifying who to reach to, what to say and when and how to say it.
  • Communicating often and through different channels. Reaching stakeholders in the most appropriate way.

5. Put people first

  • People & Organization is more than just one of the workstreams within the transformation charter, it deserves more attention from the leadership, resources and requires a leader that understands the organization and can inspire people.
  • More than ever, the multi-generational dimension of the internal and external team members needs to be considered for communication and alignment, system design, and stakeholder management.
  • People should always be at the heart of any transformation program. If an organization fails to do this, change will be difficult, and key people will be lost in the process.

Reach out to us if you’re thinking of transforming your organization or interested in having a conversation in more depth about this topic.  Conversations can change perspectives and can be the first step toward igniting change.

About the authors

Sara Enriquez joined our Client Service team in 2012 and holds a dual role as a Client Service Partner focusing on Life Sciences clients and is also part of our Leadership team focusing on strategy and innovation. Sara made her career to date turning problems into projects and projects into new opportunities. She started her journey in South America, focused her studies in Microeconomics and Game Theory, trained her consulting skills at McKinsey, and gained “boots on the ground” experience in diverse strategy and business development roles as part of the management team of Ferrovial. Three continents and countless projects later, Sara works with a-connect’s clients and Independent Consultants across industries with a focus on Life Sciences.

Simon Pannatier is a Project Manager focusing on the Life Science sector. Based out of the a-connect Zurich office, Simon brings a wealth of experience to the table. His track record includes executing transformational projects across three continents for Fortune 500 clients in healthcare and beyond. His passion lies in orchestrating strategic shifts that lead to business growth and foster collective success. As a former BCG consultant, Simon honed his expertise in driving impactful change within organizations. Before his consulting career, Simon gained valuable commercial and operational insights during his tenure at P&G and in various dynamic scale-up companies. He holds an MBA from INSEAD.

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