The Paradox of Enterprise Transformation

Enterprise transformation is a hot topic these days. Thanks to the catalysts of climate change, energy prices, and disruptive start-ups like Tesla, the worldwide automotive industry is being forced to re-imagine its collective future. Virtually every business, company or organization is either evaluating the best course of action for their respective transformation or is about to embark on their journey.

What is the Paradox of Enterprise Transformation?

All enterprise transformation is, conceptually, the same. To implement an effective and sustainable transformation, every enterprise, business, or organization must specifically address the degree of collaboration between “the business” and IT. To be effective and sustainable, any transformation will fundamentally alter the entire organization’s relationships with its key constituencies (internal and external) and will challenge the validity of all internal dogma.

Paradoxically, despite the fact that every enterprise transformation is the essentially the same, in practice, the journey each enterprise follows, like a snowflake, will be entirely unique.

A paradox is “a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true.”

Merriam-Webster generically defines transformation as “an act, process, or instance of change in composition or structure, a change to the outward form or appearance, or a to change in character or condition.” This elemental definition establishes the fact that “transformation” is a synonym for “change.”

To make this more applicable to business, I offer the following definition from William B. Rouse (Tennenbaum Institute, Georgia Institute of Technology):

“Enterprise transformation concerns change, not just routine change but fundamental change that substantially alters an organization’s relationships with one or more key constituencies, e.g., customers, employees, suppliers, and investors. Transformation can involve new value propositions regarding products and services, how these offerings are delivered and supported, and how the enterprise is organized to provide these offerings. Transformation can also involve old value propositions provided in fundamentally new ways.” (A Theory of Enterprise Transformation)

Why it’s important to understand the paradox?

No matter the industry or enterprise, effective and sustainable transformation (a.k.a. change) is extremely challenging to achieve. I have listened to dozens of “C-level” executives as they struggle to articulate both the “What?” and “How?” when it comes to the transformations they know their organizations must accomplish.

In 1604, Christopher Marlowe published “Doctor Faustus.” In the play, Mephistopheles tells us “to the unhappy it is a comfort to have had company in misery.” In other words: “Misery loves company.”

While understanding the “Paradox of Enterprise Transformation” does not fix the problem on its own, it does serve to provide some much-needed perspective. If you are an enlightened executive who has been asked to lead an enterprise transformation, you are in good company. Not only are your peers on the journey, but each is also finding the journey challenging and fraught with pitfalls.

During my conversations, I am inevitably asked the question: “When is the best time for us to get started?” My response: “If you are asking the question today, you should have started 12 months ago.” To suggest that “time is of the essence” is a major understatement.

The 2nd half of this decade will be clearly marked by those businesses who recognized and embraced the requirement for sustainable enterprise transformation from those who did not. I can say, without hesitation, the winners (a.k.a. the survivors) will be the businesses for whom adaptability to sustained transformation becomes embedded into its culture and perceived as a key competitive advantage.

I will also offer one approach to preparing for meaningful and sustainable change. As I outline in this white paper, starting from the beginning — defining a desired outcome, no matter how bold or provocative — will help those who chose to break free from old habits. It used to be cliché to say: “The only thing constant is change.” Moving forward, the only businesses that will thrive are those willing to embrace the fact that adaptability to constant change defines what it means to be in business.

About the author:

Tal Golan (@TalGolan) is the Chief Strategy Officer at VERB.