Are You Committing the Seven Deadly Sins of Business Transformation?

Every day millions of Americans arrive at work filled with low-level dread and resignation. Since the recession hit (or perhaps before), they’ve been overloaded, overstressed, and overwhelmed.  Yes, says Mohan Nair, too many employees these days are running on empty—and no matter how great their work ethic or their fear of unemployment, at some point the pace becomes unsustainable.

The problem is not that employees don’t want to work hard,” says Nair, author of Strategic Business Transformation: The 7 Deadly Sins to Overcome.  “It’s that they have nothing to believe in. When people are motivated by a cause, they’ll work without stopping and without loss of energy. Their dedication to the cause will fuel them. The problem is too many companies aren’t animated by a cause at all—and their employees just live for the end of the day and for Friday.”

Giving employees a “power source”—which Nair defines as servant leadership, cause-focused strategies, and authenticity—is a crucial part of the message laid out in Strategic Business Transformation. 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 company’s value proposition and competency.

Think Apple. Think Disney. Think Google.

It’s this cause—this ideology—that powers strategic business transformation. And 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 are interested in,” notes Nair. “But now markets and customers are transforming because they encounter more unknown unknowns, those changes that they never anticipated and started to notice only after they happened. Companies that want to survive and grow must find the insight to know what their customers value and are willing to pay for continuously.

Nair says there are seven sins waiting to trip you up:

Sin #1: Ignoring the new principles of business transformation. Today’s markets are sensitive to purposeless wealth creation. 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,” says Nair. “Finding meaning at work powers the twenty-first century employee population. This population knows insincerity from truth, so leaders cannot ‘fake it.’”

Sin #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 don’t believe in them and never use them. What they need is a cause, and that’s 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.

“Don’t confuse ‘cause’ with ‘mission,’” says Nair. “A cause is a lasting theme, an architecture that supports the transformation of the greater environment. It has personal, rather than organizational, implications.”

Sin #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 don’t 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 #4: Ignoring the two orders of value. If you assume that rational and emotional value propositions are all you need to consider, think again. There’s 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 to the customers that emerge from a transformation will gain market share and be very successful.

Sin #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 aren’t practicing true servant leadership, you won’t 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:

- It’s 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 it’s appropriate and follow when it’s 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,” writes Nair. “They do not come to this easily but through self-doubt, suffering, ridicule, and even pain.

Sin #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: just 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.

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.

Sin #7: Expecting flawless execution without a performance platform.

Nair says 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 weren’t complicated enough, companies must be able to strike a careful balance between surviving today and investing in tomorrow.

“I call this balancing act ‘building the plane while flying the plane,’” says Nair. “You have only one plane, but if you just kept flying it you would eventually encounter a storm that you would not survive. If you stopped and built the plane of the future, you would lose the battles you currently face. So you must build a new plane while flying the plane into battle.

“It’s tough to determine how much to invest in the now and how much to invest in the future—especially since the future is a transformed environment,” he adds. “Prioritizing is part science and part art. The ability to make these decisions is where leaders truly earn their keep.”

Mohan insists 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.

About the Author:
Mohan Nair is chief innovation officer of a health plan in the northwest/mountain region.

Born and raised in Singapore, Nair observed and participated in a nation in transformation from a city-state to a strategic business center and community. As an infantry soldier, he learned the art and science of discipline, teamwork, and leadership. 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. He served as president for ABC Technologies, which eventually was sold to SAS. He has also played operational roles in two established international businesses, Intel and Mentor Graphics Corporation.

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