William Niles is the Chief Executive Officer for Brinks Home.
In his play The Tempest, William Shakespeare wrote the famous line, “What’s past is prologue.” In August 2019, our company was emerging from a turbulent and complex financial restructuring and, in my role as chief transformation officer, I wondered whether our future was tied to the past — or could we escape it?
Two years hence, I am happy to report that the past is not always prologue — provided that you and your organization are committed to executing a transformation in a disciplined, data-driven, measurable and fearless manner.
Here are a few lessons I learned during our transformation.
1. Build a ‘transformation office’ and staff it with your stars. I suggest you establish a formal transformation office (my team calls it the “TO”). Staff it with your most talented and data-driven senior executives who understand all aspects of your business and are committed to accelerating and embracing change. Strong leadership in this role is essential, as the TO will prioritize the allocation of cross-functional resources (e.g., capital, IT, business intelligence, financial planning, human resources, etc.) and measure the efficacy of the transformation initiatives against specific milestones. Go big here.
2. Don’t reinvent the wheel when setting up the TO. Establishing the framework for a highly effective TO is not easy. It is not simply a program management office. I recommend you consider bringing in a third party with deep domain expertise that can assist you in establishing your TO and its framework for day-to-day operation. My company, for example, worked with a trusted management consulting firm to help us successfully establish our TO. Shortcuts are not recommended.
3. Set a North Star. During a robust transformation, competing or dissonant agendas among senior business leaders will arise as the organization begins to re-shape itself. To help keep everyone focused on what matters most, I recommend setting what I refer to as a North Star. The North Star is a simple-to-understand slogan that serves as a point of reference around which your business leaders can anchor priorities and allocate limited resources. Use the slogan often and throughout the organization. For example, our North Star was and remains, “Create profitable accounts at scale and hold for life.”
4. Make data-driven decisions. All decisions made and actions taken in the TO must be based on objective and measurable targets. In order to do this quickly and effectively, you will need access to real-time and accurate information from across all aspects of your business. If you don’t have an enterprise data hub that gives you real-time business intelligence, I recommend making that a priority. In another Forbes post, I discussed how we built our enterprise data hub and had it operational in less than six months.
5. Take the fear of failure out of the equation. The entire team, including the TO leaders, needs to be able to admit when a project is a failure — without delay or fear. The worst thing you can do is cling to hope and delay the inevitable based on the fear of admitting that something did not work as planned. Every project that fails in the TO should be celebrated, as it teaches you something to take forward and succeed on the next one. By taking ego out of the equation and not being afraid to admit failure, you can quickly move through initiatives and focus your resources and time on those that do work.
Even with these steps in place and your transformation office ready to go, organizational change still takes time. It is important to give initiatives and projects time to succeed (or fail) and to set reasonable expectations. Our TO has been operating for just under two years, and we have made great progress, but it did not happen overnight. Along the way, we have refined our process, improved our teamwork and built cross-functional trust — all of which have enabled us to be better for our customers, our partners and one another.
Unlike The Tempest, no magic is required.