If your organization is like most, you may have started 2019 with your eyes set on major business transformation. Perhaps it’s process improvement within your manufacturing facilities or the deployment of a new digital platform. Maybe you’re hoping to build out your analytics capabilities or transform your customer experience. Whatever your “new year’s resolution” is, stating your goal will probably be much easier than achieving it. 

According to several studies on the topic, about 25% of transformation projects succeed. That means 3 out of every 4 “big” projects fail.

While succeeding in a major transformation effort is challenging, it’s not impossible. In our experience helping organizations turn their strategy into tangible, value-adding transformation, we’ve identified several strategies that increase the probability of a transformation project’s success.

In this three-part blog series, we share three of those strategies for building and executing a winning transformation program. First up: focus on the frontline manager. 

Focus on the Frontline Manager 

More often than not, transformation programs start at the top: the CEO or another executive comes up with a vision, lays out a plan, and says, “go.” While that approach makes some sense – it’s the leader’s job to come up with the strategy, after all – this “top down” approach has an obvious Achilles’ heel: turning transformation vision into transformation reality requires buy-in and action not just from the top of the organization, but from every level down to the front line.  

Failing to engage frontline employees and managers early on in a transformation program is therefore a recipe for disaster, and there’s data to back it up. A 2017 study from McKinsey & Company found that just 3% of transformations were successful when frontline managers weren’t actively involved.  

With a stat like that, two obvious questions come to mind: why are frontline managers so critical and what can we do to engage and empower them? 

Why Are Frontline Managers So Critical to Transformation? 

Frontline managers are the make-or-break players in transformation for three key reasons:  

  1. They know the business inside and out – In almost every organization, managers have the most holistic, yet detailed view of how the money is made or lost. They know the ins and outs of how processes and technologies work, what motivates employees, and what drives customers. With that knowledge, managers can usually help you identify the blind spots in your transformation vision and roadmap before those issues derail your program. 
  2. Employees trust them – In many organizations, frontline employees are suspicious of “Corporate”, and they’re almost always skeptical about consultants (we’re not offended). But most employees trust their boss. Seeing one’s manager bought into and rallying around a transformation program can therefore go a long way in creating trust and momentum for a strategic initiative. 
  3. Managers are the “translators” of your transformation – Managers are often called upon to “translate” between strategy and execution. This is especially true during a transformation. Managers have the critical responsibility of listening to the overarching strategy, absorbing the vision and plan, and then translating that into operational speak for employees. If managers aren’t equipped or motivated to do this well, communication breakdowns occur, and the transformation program is dead on arrival. 
How Can You Engage & Empower Managers During Transformation? 

So, what can you do to engage and empower your frontline managers during a transformation program? In our experience helping organizations navigate through times of change, we’ve found three tactics particularly effective when it comes to involving frontline managers. 

First, involve them from Day 1. Better yet, involve them before Day 1. Bad transformation initiatives fail to consider and involve frontline managers until the changes are materializing, which is too late. Good transformation programs involve the managers on Day 1 – when project execution kicks off. But great transformation programs take it a step further: they involve managers not just in the execution, but in the strategy and visioning. Seeking managers’ ideas and input in the roadmap phase of the project not only helps you build a more bulletproof plan, but also gets them bought into the program vision from inception. When the rubber hits the road and execution begins, you already have these critical team members on your side. 

Secondly, empower them with real responsibility on your transformation project. If you’re building a new supply chain process, don’t just rely on your supply chain VP or your external consultant. Ask one of your supply chain managers to step up and lead the project. Make it clear that this is a real role with real responsibility. Empower them to design the best processes and technologies, to actively manage the team, and to passionately lead the change. Find opportunities for your manager to present to corporate leaders about the transformation and elevate them in front of their peers. Do this across all your projects and functional areas, finding key frontline managers to drive the change. They will quickly become your change coalition, a critical element in any successful transformation.  

And finally, be candid and set clear expectations from the start. Managers can see through corporate speak and can read body language and non-verbal cues. They’ll quickly know if you’re not shooting them straight, so you may as well be honest with them. Share the vision, explain the pros and cons, and talk to them about the risks to the project and what you’re doing to mitigate those risks. Tell them the transformation will be hard, but worth it. Set clear expectations about what you need from them during the project. This will go a long way in gaining their trust and engagement during the effort.  

In our next post, we’ll cover our next strategy for building and executing a winning transformation program: take the time to plan your transformation…and iterate on the plan throughout your journey. 

Learn more about Sense Corp and our transformation capabilities at www.sensecorp.com 

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