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Transformational journeys need to be led from the very top. Your Chief Executive Officer must both understand the magnitude of transformational change and be its greatest advocate.

The Chief Executive Officer will require the members of the wider leadership team to hold their nerve, through constant resistance and the high-risk demands before them. It is not a job for the faint-hearted.

Your executive leadership team

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

Start with the assumption that most executives have experienced change, but they have not experienced 'transformational change'. Good executives can and will learn along the way but asking them to lead from the start increases the risk of failure.

Bring transformational experience into the executive team and consider expanding the team further. This to allow responsibilities to be shared and provide space for the executive team to immerse itself in the transformation

This happened at Inland Revenue. The Chief Executive Officer created 2 new roles – a Chief Technology Officer and Chief Finance Officer, which were filled from within the organisation and 2 new Deputy Commissioners recruited form outside the organisation:

  1. Our Deputy Commissioner, Change and Senior Responsible Officer was an experienced business and information, communications, and technology executive. This role was responsible for leading and coordinating all change activities, including Business Transformation.
  2. Our Deputy Commissioner, Information, Intelligence, and Communications had extensive experience in customer engagement and analysis to provide the right capability to support transformation.

You need to consider if you have the right team at the top – these are not easy journeys. The executive team must be on the same page and if they are not, then you may need to let some go gracefully.

The executive team may change over the course of the transformation. New leaders will want to make their mark on the organisation and this needs to be accepted. They need to be given time to understand the change and an opportunity to challenge it.

Your programme leadership team

Hire a team of experts to augment the internal teams – this is essential. It is important to understand that these people are unlikely to be found inside the organisation.

It can be a tough lesson. While many organisations, including Inland Revenue have successfully delivered change in the past, it is generally a single product or part of the organisation - transformation is on a different scale.

Look for people who have run transformations before. In, general they are likely to be highly motivated contractors from the private sector, typically working outside Wellington and potentially New Zealand.

If you can bring these people in house, rather than relying on an outsourced model, you will have 2 big advantages:

  • Their accountability from that point on is to you, not to an external company. You can and will partner up with external consultancies, but you must understand that they are working for their company not yours.
  • As members of your new team are likely to have worked for external consultancies themselves, they know how to get the best from a consultancy. This includes helping you carefully manage scope, expectations, delivery and costs, which ultimately can lead to significant cost savings.

The skillset required to deliver transformational change includes an intense focus on planning, reporting, risk management and documentation. This can be overwhelming for the organisation at first. In Inland Revenue’s case it led to a cultural shift – where people became more accurate in their planning and accountable for meeting their commitments.

Inland Revenue’s Programme leadership team

Inland Revenue's business transformation Programme Leadership Team was made up of a mix of transformation veterans, former consultants and technical specialists, joined by a core base of Inland Revenue people with deep institutional knowledge.

In-house expertise

Leaders who joined the Programme Leadership Team from within our organisation included subject matter experts, who were the vital link between the programme team and the 'business' and also quieter leaders, who did considerable work connecting different strands within the programme, with the wider organisation, and with external stakeholders.

These people were vital as without their deep understanding of government, the public sector and Inland Revenue, the programme would likely have taken a far more circuitous path.

The right mix of people

Of the transformation specialists, though recruited individually, many had worked together before, ensuring a high degree of trust and mutual respect. The new blood from both inside and outside the organisation enriched the team and brought new and different skills to the group.

Building an expert leadership team is obviously important but keeping them together is critical. The Programme Leadership Team remained one of the most stable groups on the programme. The individuals complemented each other, not just in terms of skills, but also in terms of attitude, approach, philosophy and behaviour. It’s a group that enjoyed being around each other. That can not be underestimated when the pressure comes on.

Last updated: 23 Mar 2022
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