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Our Business Transformation Deputy Commissioner Greg James shares his insights on the transformation journey.

Transformation vs change

Transformational change is not a single change event. Nor is it incremental.

It is a set of major changes for customers and employees where the impact is both wide and deep.

Transformational change is more than just technology and digital disruption, it can be a once-in-a generation opportunity to reinvent and to grow.

The key differences between change and transformation are:

Change Transformation
Shorter term Multi year
Limited number of systems All systems – policy, process, people and customers
Narrow and shallow All of organisation
Policy or process or people Fundamental rethink
Driver for change generally comes from within the organisation Driver for change generally comes from within the organisation
Incremental improvement with small gap between current and future states Wide and deep
Catch up or leap forward with a large gap between current and future states

Business models must be underpinned by:

  • modern technologies
  • systemic process improvements
  • new, flexible, and agile ways of working
  • scaling of digital customer channels inherent in digital transformation.

But these things alone do not define a transformation.

Although transformations take a long time from start to finish, they need to run at pace, with clear deliverables along the way to show progress and build confidence. To avoid failing or being downsized, spend time understanding why the good transformations do not fail and look to repeat that success.

If you are a government agency, get multi-year funding – this is non-negotiable!

Coexistence as you transform

Transformational change is multi-year and must co-exist alongside business-as-usual activity. The need to coexist with the old world as you build the new world is immediate.

If you are a government agency you will have the added challenge of coexisting with the Government of the day. Ministers will want, or may need, to make changes to your transformation. You must work closely with your Minister to build the change into your programme, to reduce risk around delivery and avoid confusion over changes to previously published outcomes. Coexistence is not just about technology, it is also about people, processes, and the organisational change. All of this creates complexity and adds to oversight, governance, and management. This is by far one of, if not the most difficult challenge faced by many transformations.

Our people

Transformative changes are disruptive and at times emotionally tough on your people – the soft stuff is the hard stuff.

Tensions between wide-ranging stakeholders means you will inevitably disappoint some along the way. It’s not going to be a popularity contest.

The culture of the organisation can be a block. Use less jargon and be pragmatic but expect that it’s going to be hard to win the trust of your people.

Change management 101 tells us that you need to repeat the same messages 100s of times and even then, do not expect that everyone will see it in the same way.

Some people may never buy in, and it can often be the ones that have given undivided loyalty in the past.

Understand and respect the past but focus on the future.

Greg's insights for delivery


You must have a CEO that understands the size of transformational change and is prepared to lead from the top.

The CEO must lead, and success will require the strength of leaders to hold their nerve through constant resistance and the high-risk demands before them.

Start with the assumption that most executives have experienced change, but they have not experienced 'transformational change'.

You need to consider if you have the right team at the top as these are not easy journeys.

The executive team must be on the same page. If they are not, then you may need to let some go gracefully.

Executive teams will need to devote significant time to the transformation journey. It is not something that can be delegated.

Bring transformational experience to the top table. It requires specific experience, and whilst good executives can and will learn on the way, asking them to lead from the start increases the risk of failure.

You also need to bring transformational change expertise into your wider programme. Hire a team of experts to augment the internal teams - this is essential as you need experience on your side of the table.

You can and will partner up with external consultancies, but you must understand that they are working for their company, not yours!


The right methods, plans, foundations and skills

Establish clear methods - a 'one-size-fits-all' will not work in most instances. Be prepared to adapt and mix things up to get the right blend.

Make sure your plans are at the right level and make them fit for purpose. No one understands multi-thousand-line plans so spend time on getting this right.

Be clear about what you need to do and when you need to do it. Plan, plan, plan and then plan some more.

Establish very strong programme foundations. You will need a strong Programme Management Office (PMO) and the right foundation framework and method, such as the 10 keys for reporting.

Build stakeholder trust. Be transparent and invest time in understanding each of your stakeholder groups. Build relationships and be clear about outcomes even if at times it is not what they want to hear.

Invest time in bringing the executive along on the journey - do not underestimate the size of the education process.

Key decisions

Find the key decisions that need to be made, for example:

  • What is your overarching strategy?
  • What is the target operating model you are looking to establish?
  • What significant changes do you wish to see in the new organisation?
  • Build or buy?
  • System integration if needed. Who will do this, you or a partner?
  • What do you want out of your transformation partners?
  • How are you going to measure their performance?
  • How are you going to measure your own performance?

Establish an early view of the transformational stages or phase that you will need to get to the end. You will not or cannot know everything up front given that you are embarking on a multiyear programme. So make sure your stages are broad enough in definition to allow you to adjust when you are on the journey.

Establish blueprints and plans for each area of transformation.

Make sure you have good commercial skills in your core transformation team and make sure that you create robust commercial practices and processes.

You need to build the story as you go, and linking your delivery, to your strategy and blueprints that will help people understand how the transformation activities fit together.

The right people

Make sure you have the best and brightest of your people embedded in the transformational programme. They should be your future leaders.

Make sure that your programme is set up to educate these people as you go, they will be the ones there at the end to take the organisation forward.

Plan at each stage of delivery

At the start of each phase of delivery, spend time working out the scope and the cost to deliver. Scope needs to be built together with the business groups affected by that phase of delivery.

Once you have the scope and cost worked out, lock the plans. Only allow change through a formal change control process.

Drive a programme culture of transparency, so that when things go wrong (which they will) you have not established a blame culture. You want people to come forward with problems when they see them, not after they have spent a lot of time trying to resolve them.

Risk and issues management

Risk and issues management is critical during delivery. You need to ensure that:

  • your process for managing risk and issues is visible
  • your people are accountable to mitigate any risks and issues
  • activities are measured
  • action dates are meet.

Too often risk and issue management becomes a shelfware exercise.

Review and improve along the way

Lessons learned need to be reviewed at the start of each phase and put into practice, with a formal lesson-learned process to be completed at the end of each phase. Be prepared to learn and adjust and continue to get better.

Be clear about how you are going to measure the success of each phase.

No matter how good your design process is, be prepared for surprises.

Make sure your governance is fit for purpose and adaptive to the changing nature of your programme.

Having independent people on your governance board helps to make sure you are not captured by internal groupthink.

Plan to be successful. Practice your cut-over as much as you can and test, test, and test.

Expose your solution designs early and test them with your wider business.

Organisational design

Organisational design and work on the operating model needs to be started early with your executive team.

Organisational design will impact leaders at all levels – understand what’s top of mind at all levels. Provide clarity on the impacts as soon as possible - its people’s lives you are dealing with.

As you go through your delivery phases make sure you start planning for how your organisation will manage life after transformation. You will most likely have had a big reliance on your transformational programme team so you will need to build a transition path to future change.

Last updated: 23 Mar 2022
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