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​This knowledge is brought to you by Malcolm Alder, an expert in business transformation management and just one of thousands of top management consultants on Expert360. Sign up free to hire freelancers here, or apply to become an Expert360 consultant here.

Table of Contents

  1. What Is Business Transformation
  2. Planning
  3. Execution
  4. Fly Or Fail?
  5. Key Attributes Of A Great Transformation Manager
  6. Conclusion

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It can sometimes seem like many organisations are in a permanent state of business transformation.  The word sits alongside innovation, agile, disruption and pivot as business buzzword of the decade.  Yet “business transformation management” is such a broad term, what does it really mean?  Particularly, as is increasingly likely, if you find yourself assigned to a business transformation program or hiring an expert in business transformation management, what can you expect? This article considers the nature of change, typical phases of work, personal attributes for success and the factors that typically determine success and failure of transformation management.  This should help you better prepare if you are starting a role as a business transformation analyst and assist you in performing in this role. This piece will also be beneficial if you are responsible for setting expectations and outcomes when hiring a business transformation consultant.  

What Is Business Transformation?

Since this is such a broad-ranging term, it follows that there’s no single definition that applies to major change management programs across organisations.  The nature of finance transformation will be inherently different to transforming customer experience, for example. To truly change, the end state must be radically different to the starting point.  This is not tinkering around the edges.  Perhaps the clearest analogy to hold in mind is a caterpillar turning into a butterfly.  Not only is a butterfly a thing of beauty but it is far less constrained in where it can go and what it can do than the caterpillar that is confined to creeping around slowly.  In a business context, the table below provides examples of projects that would embody true transformation.


​So if you’re assigned to a business transformation project, the first thing to check is whether the scale of targeted change is similar to the examples above.  This is important for many reasons.

Branding a program as transformation is not just semantics.  It sets higher expectations so the risks and consequences of failure are also greater.  Determinants of success and failure are discussed later but one of the first traps to avoid is calling a program transformation when it’s not. Let’s deal with the transformation program itself. This paper assumes that you’re a mid-level, external consultant assigned to work on a business transformation plan for which the business case and initial planning have already been undertaken or you’re looking to hire for such a role.   However, all of the considerations below also apply if you’ve been seconded internally as an employee.  While you may have less experience than a consultant, that is balanced by an insider’s knowledge of your organisational culture, and possibly different communication paths if needed. You may want to consider presenting a business case to key stakeholders to have an experienced external consultant assist you in your transformation program. Your internal knowledge, balanced with their external experience, will make a near unbeatable team. Four critical areas for a business transformation manager to cover are detailed below. These include the planning, execution, determinants of success and personal attributes of a successful transformation analyst.  

Business Transformation Management

1. Planning

Planning is critical to be successful as a business transformation manager.  There are some essential factors to get right when planning a high quality business transformation strategy.

Rationale and motivation

Is it clear as to why organisational transformation is being undertaken and are those reasons compelling?  The scale of project is large.  It demands additional cost for consultants, potentially new technology and will draw staff away from their day-to-day roles.   There’s significant opportunity cost as some current activities will need to be cut back or back-filled with contractors.   There is risk to BAU operations.   If the business drivers, business case and Board and C-suite commitment are not all complete and clear, you should raise questions.  In particular, a “me too” following a competitor; a slick and convincing sell from a technology vendor; or a desire to dress up a regular project as “transformation”, are all situations where red flags should go up.

Scoping and budget

Have objectives, scope, timeframe and budget been clearly set?   As you join the project, you should generally expect to be given a Project Charter or similar.  This is a single document (or documents accessible on a shared platform for the whole team) that sets out all these areas.  It will also typically include the background, context and approvals given by the Board, identify the Sponsor and senior leaders and governance arrangements and preferably, include key risks and potential mitigations. Whether there’s a Charter or not, you should also try to form your own objective judgement on the overall risk of the project.  Rightly or wrongly, it’s a good idea to assume that your immediate career prospects and reputation will at least partially be tied to the outcome of the program.   For example, if the company has six divisions and two have already been through a business transformation process successfully, that’s far less risky than a first-timer looking to transform the whole enterprise in one big bang (which is now, for good reason, less common than it has been in the past).

People and skills

Is there a fully detailed Project Plan with allocated resources?  Does it look to you as if there are enough people allocated?  Do they seem to have the right blend of skills and experience?   Depending on the type of transformation, you may reasonably expect to see people who, collectively, can: project manage; analyse, map, redesign and test business processes; research markets and customers; undertake functional analysis and organisational redesign; design technology architecture (and implement and test if required); do business and financial modelling; design and execute communications plans; undertake change/transformation management; and importantly, lead and inspire teams!  As if this isn’t enough, as you get to know the broader team, form your own judgement on the diversity represented by gender, age, ethnicity, skillset and also personality type.  When undertaking transformation, the stakes are far too high to have any risk of groupthink.   For example, it may be tempting to populate a team to discuss business transformation solutions exclusively with effervescent optimists.  That’s like having an orchestra with on oversupply of cellos: balance is critical.  In fact, if you do see a team that’s too skewed towards optimists, think seriously about taking on the role of devil’s advocate even if that’s not your natural personality type (and vice versa). Is there an appropriate mix of internal and external resources?  External perspective and experience is valuable but expensive and doesn’t have to run the business when transformation is complete.  Internal resourcing certainly has benefits, not least for the staff seconded themselves.   However, if you are an internal secondee, try as hard as you can to ensure that it is a total shift from your regular role for a defined period of time e.g. a full-time secondment for 9 months.  Then look to see how your previous role is to be covered and other than the odd word of friendly advice to the person back-filling, DO NOT get drawn back in to help out.  Check that the cost of employing contractors is included in the transformation budget. If it’s not, build a business case to get some budget. Expert360 has a great guide, here.


Committed, visible leadership from the top of the organisation is a non-negotiable for any transformation.   While you have no ability to influence this, it is definitely helpful to know if the most senior person has real skin in the game e.g. a performance bonus resting on the outcome.


Closely allied to the prior point, is the communications plan.  This relates to both the project team but also staff across the broader organisation.  Genuine business transformation services will affect many people who have no ability to influence the outcome.   Assume there will be nay sayers and even some who will actively undermine the project.  While communication alone can’t prevent that, it helps counter it by keeping as many people on-board as possible.

2. Execution

There are just about as many approaches and methodologies for transformation as there are consulting firms.  This article doesn’t advocate one over another as it’s not about the specific business transformation methodology.   The sections below are typical but not necessarily exhaustive, stages in a major transformation program with tips or areas to watch out for in each.

Establishing the baseline

  • Evidence – if someone tells you customer queries are resolved in 24 hours on average, that’s helpful but you need to get the data.  It may be 24.  It may just as easily be 72.
  • Metrics – since the future state may be very different from the baseline, think about the ongoing applicability of the metrics you use.  For example, a retailer may be planning to close the worst-performing 40% of its stores and drive traffic online and to other stores.  If the historic metric has been revenue per sales person, it could improve but won’t be telling the whole story.  Find metrics for before and after that will give apples to apple comparisons.

Developing the Future State

  • Exemplars  – if you have to do the research, look beyond your industry.  If you are being truly customer-centric, think about your target customers and the best customer experience they are likely to have anywhere in their life.  If you think that is with a surf retailer but you’re a utility, go find the best in surf retail.  Disney deliver incredible experiences by the million every day – what can you learn from them?

Undertaking Gap Analysis

  • Operating model – as a transformation manager it is critical to consider how your organisation works and is structured internally.  This will likely guide which business transformation framework you choose. For example, if your company has been largely State-based with replicated back office infrastructure and processes but is moving to an outsourced, single platform, many aspects of operations including reporting lines, key metrics, capabilities will change.  Don’t underestimate the extent of change and how personally challenging and concerning it will be to many people.

Designing the Future State

  • Provide constructive challenge – as in the design phase, find exemplars and refer to them.  If you’re redesigning a payment process, think about the various contactless payment methods that now exist (in stores and toll roads, for example) and challenge any manual intervention being proposed even if it proves to be a necessity in the end.
  • Technology vendors – by their nature are good salespeople who know their product well.  However, don’t be afraid to push back on their suggestions for upgrades, additional capacity, and extended service contracts. If the business doesn’t need it, you need to recognise it in your role.

Implementation Planning and Execution

  • Resourcing – as a business transformation manager you can’t let scheduled team members be pulled off the project at this point.  Once the future state is designed, people have the vision and can foresee the benefits.  There can be a tendency to ease off and think the job is 90% done.  Even if it is, ensure the planned level and quality of resourcing is maintained.  Don’t allow yourself as an employee to start picking up parts of your old role as a favour.
  • Sequencing – as a transformation manager this is where detailed project and transformation management, GANTT charts, and so on, really come into their own.  Inter-dependencies and critical paths come to the fore.  Ensure that your workstreams remain fully integrated and in sync with all the others.
  • Switch-over – it must be clear as to how switch-over is happening and that it is communicated across the organisation.  If there is major process change or a shift from one technology platform to another, how is it to occur?  A single big bang?  Parallel running for a defined period?  Product by product switchover following pilots and testing?  There’s no right answer but everything must be planned with a single approach that has been risk-assessed and has backup plans in place. 


Changing the Culture

  • Lead the change – it doesn’t matter if you’re not a change expert, or you don’t yet understand business transformation principles.  By your words and actions every day, you can help drive change.  For example, if a main objective is to drive HR processes onto tablets and mobile and away from physical forms, you need to be in the vanguard of doing and coaching the new way.


3. Fly Or Fail?

There are many frightening statistics out there suggesting that up to 70% of major corporate projects fail.  In which case it’s tempting to ask, “why bother?”  It’s a fair question.  However, what that statistic doesn’t tell you is the number of companies that chose not to transform – and paid an even bigger price! McKinsey have undertaken research into business transformation case studies that identifies three primary attributes of transformations that succeed.

McKinsey's primary attributes of successful change[/caption] While the latter two attributes are self-explanatory, the first is multi-faceted.   It covers both planning and execution phases and encompasses all relevant stakeholders from the Board and C-suite to the most junior person on the project team and the broader organisation.   It combines good planning and accountability with a totally invested leadership group where the program objectives are 100% aligned to the most important business objectives.  A common attribute is that the best available staff are assigned to the hardest areas. Conversely, surveys from down the years point to a depressingly consistent list of reasons for failure.

So if you’re assigned to a program that looks more like this list than the attributes of success, refer to my point on integrity.  Even if it’s incredibly difficult and potentially risky for you, I strongly suggest you need to raise your concerns and do so as early as possible.  

4. Key Attributes Of Great Transformation Management

Clearly, it’s no easy thing taking on a core role as a transformation manager in a major transformation program.  It isn’t for everyone.  There will almost certainly be days when you’re preferred path isn’t chosen, or someone has a go at you or indeed, you just want to quit.   So perhaps before you commit yourself, you may like to reflect on the attributes that my research and 25 years of experience tell me are important in a transformation manager.

Confident – this is essential to convey to everyone that you’re in control of what you’re doing and believe in the outcome you’re working towards.  Yes, you may have to fake it on occasion but if you’re fully committed to the future state, then instilling confidence around you is an important part of the business transformation management journey. Lateral thinking – you won’t need this every day but it’s a critical skill at key points.  It doesn’t come naturally to everyone so practice if you need to.  Bring observations you’ve seen from different industries.   As a customer, think about your best ever experiences and ask why your client can’t be as good.  Don’t be afraid to draw on analogies from sport or from the arts.  I’m a big fan of using the analogy of orchestras (as above); they’re complex, intricate networks that create beauty in real-time. Organised – this is non-negotiable.  If you’re not naturally disciplined and organised, undertake training and practice until you are.  No-one will want to carry the load for you not being prepared. Good communicator – is natural for some and a hard, panic-inducing grind for others.  A great transformation manager must be aware that they are selling as well as executing the program every day. Integrity – this is non-negotiable for any consulting career.  It’s not just about being trustworthy and honest.  If you see someone taking a shortcut that is too risky or an assumption that goes beyond heroic in to la-la land, you can’t turn a blind eye.  You need to call it out.  If everything goes belly up and it is found out that you knew but didn’t act, you’re complicit.  Don’t risk being put in that position. Flexible – is another given for successful transformation management.  It would be a rare program indeed that went 100% to plan.  Things will change and you need to be able to adapt and flex as necessary. Self-motivated – as with being organised, high achieving transformation management needs to be up for it every day without someone else having to worry about whether you’re pulling your weight. Emotional intelligence – the longer my career goes on, the more I’m convinced that EI (or EQ) is a core attribute of successful people.  It combines so many of the skills required of a successful business consultant; being a good listener, being able to read the mood of both individuals and group dynamics, being empathetic and building rapport (without compromising the technical work you’re doing) and being genuinely able to understand the perspective of others be that a customer or staff member. This may seem like a long and perhaps daunting list,  however, if you become highly competent in all of these attributes, you’ll be more than a high-performing transformation management consultant.  You will be very close to the leadership profile that most organisations are now looking for as you contemplate your longer-term career aspirations.  That’s in addition to your experience in a successful, major transformation.   


Taking on a major transformation management role in a change program is not for the faint-hearted.  That said, if you have the sorts of personal attributes identified here and you’re working in the right environment, the satisfaction you gain from a successful outcome will be immense.  It will also be a standout on your CV for many years to come.  So be brave and best of luck. If you’re reading this piece in the hope of recognising what makes great transformation management, you’re on the right track. Of course, you can use Expert360 to hire some of the best there are. 

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