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BW Businessworld

Go “Beyond Great” By Changing How You Change

Transformation must become part of everyday life at your company and its operations rather than what it currently is at most organizations: a single, discrete, extraordinary episode.

Photo Credit : Pic Courtesy: Pixabay


If you’ve ever attempted a transformation at your company, you know how challenging it is to get everyone aligned and focused given the powerful emotions that change can engender. The majority of business transformations—up to 70 percent, by some estimates—end in failure. So what if I told you that to thrive in the years ahead you’ll now have to learn how to conduct multiple, overlapping transformations on an ongoing basis?

It’s true. The six key paradigm shifts covered so far in this series and described in my recent book Beyond Great all require significant transformations undertaken progressively over a period of years. Instead of undertaking them sequentially and then returning each time to “business as usual,” you’ll need to pursue what my colleagues and I call “always-on transformation.” Transformation must become part of everyday life at your company and its operations rather than what it currently is at most organizations: a single, discrete, extraordinary episode. Ultimately, taking your company “beyond great” means effecting an additional, meta-transformation: changing how your company changes.

Microsoft stands as a case study of what companies might accomplish if they learn how to do transformation differently—as an endurance race rather than a one-and-done sprint. Since Satya Nadella took the company’s helm in 2014, Microsoft has undergone a momentous turnaround, increasing its market capitalization from about $300 billion to almost $1.9 trillion as of early 2021. To pull that off, the company has undergone a series of transformations related to its strategy of pivoting from PCs to cloud, mobile, and artificial intelligence. As Nadella described in his book Hit Refresh, Microsoft transformed its culture to become less adversarial and more collaborative and growth-oriented. It also became more customer-focused and data-centric, and it has begun to engage collaboratively with outside partners.

As our research reveals, leading-edge companies are excelling by applying an approach to transformation we call “Head, Heart, and Hands.” The Head is about strategy and vision, establishing goals and how you’ll attain them. Heart is about fostering passion for change in employees. And Hands is about developing executional ability. This framework isn’t novel per se, but leading-edge companies are pushing it in new directions to develop the capability for always-on change. Here’s what they’re doing:

First, they’re focusing first and foremost on the Heart. To prime the organization for perpetual change, organizations are going big on purpose, culture, and empathy. They’re helping frame change’s greater meaning for the organization and making that meaning tangible by hitching it to a set of underlying ideas and behaviors. Recognizing that change is hard for people, they both acknowledge and prepare for that reality.

Second, they’re enhancing the Head by broadening their outlook when framing goals as well as the path for achieving them. Microsoft, for instance, famously adopted the sweeping vision of “mobile-first and cloud-first” and articulated the cultural change agenda that would get the company there. It then broke this vision down to strategic priorities: growing its cloud business and changing its culture first then investing in growth, then becoming more sustainable. Companies we studied ultimately distilled their vision into a set of initiatives that leaders could pursue.

Third, leading-edge companies are boosting the Hands by emphasizing agile ways of working. I described the importance of agile in the previous article in this series, but it has special relevance here. Agile-ready workforces are better at rapid and ongoing change. Companies are also enhancing their executional prowess—the Hands of transformation—by adopting governance structures that specifically address transformation and by proactively cultivating specific expertise and skills they will need to drive future change efforts.

Always-on transformation is the last of the seven paradigm shifts companies must undertake to build new forms of advantage and win in the years ahead. Your company can thrive, and indeed, pull ahead of the competition in the years ahead, but only if it transforms itself proactively to be more responsive and adaptive. Question existing mindsets. Avidly pursue the seven paradigm shifts I’ve laid out in this article series. And don’t satisfy yourself with conventional notions of “great.” Do what leading-edge companies around the world are doing and go beyond.

Comments from Rama Bijapurkar

Thank God the ‘jhatka transformation’ idea is now passe’. Ten years ago, transformation was a magnum opus with armies of consultants tramp(l)ing through client organisations, camped for 6 months, ringing out the old , forcing in the new. Newton’s second law in practice! Such transformations have been fraught with risk and even super competent CEOs like Indira Nooyi and Shibulal have been burnt by investors at the “perform while you transform” stake.

“Changing how you change” is a powerful idea though not easy to imbibe or apply. As commented in earlier articles of this series, new and old economy India Inc have to fundamentally change to be aligned with the principles of being “beyond great”. Today’s ‘purse protection first -head next and align-the-troops’ paradigm of change has to give way to the “heart first-head next and hands to make it happen”

This humongous change agenda is daunting and boards have to learn to engage far more with the change process, at head, heart and hands level; nudging and monitoring change has to take up as much time and mind space as supervising the existing business. The ‘soft’ area of heart is barely debated in India’s boardrooms today.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Arindam Bhattacharya

Managing Director and Senior Partner & Co-Author Beyond Great

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