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change management


Why you should involve your own talent for a successful business transformation

Published 22 January 2024 in Management • 5 min read

Fully owning the process allows organizations to develop a systematic approach to problem-solving and managing change.

Talent is the lifeblood of an organization. They provide the capabilities, perspectives, creativity, and innovation that are key to developing an organization in the short and long term. As a business leader, you are constantly nudged toward attracting and retaining talent, as this enhances the competitiveness of the firm.

A more tacit but integral method to do this is by actively and meaningfully keeping your talent involved. One of the ways to involve these people is to provide them with opportunities to work on business-critical projects and decisions that help shape the strategic course of the organization, in step with you.

Nowadays, many companies opt to appoint top consultants to strategize and steer their business transformation projects. In fact, we have increasingly seen top consulting brands being hired not only to support companies with strategic analysis but also to implement large-scale change. These consulting firms pride themselves on the skills, speed, and flexibility needed to deliver increased business performance.

Consultants can be slow and expensive

Experience shows that this might not be as fast and sustainable as some boards and leaders might think. More to the point, it can come with a hefty price tag. Speed may be impeded by waiting for consulting specialists or working with newly hired consultants or with subcontractors. These external parties are not well-gelled into the organizational culture and often miss out on the subtle cultural cues necessary to effectuate change.

While short-term interventions by consultants might provide fact-based deliverables, it is often employees within the organization who are required to lead through change over time. Executives end up being disappointed when the transformation stalls or ends up being non-sustainable.

Rather than being faced with a situation of frustrated employees once consulting firms exit or efforts stall, it can be wise to involve your talent at the beginning to develop not only their skillset but to ensure the long-term sustainable implementation of strategic projects.

Ownership of the change process must reside within the organizational talent and not an external third party. In the process, talents will learn to deal with ambiguity and complexity. Accountability allows your talents to take ownership of what needs to be done to achieve the desired results and skills developed in-house will allow you to also save costs as they can be reused in other situations too, and as often as necessary.

Talent can be deployed in transformation projects either for the purpose of exploration or exploitation. In exploitation projects, talent can help to optimize existing products and services. In exploration projects, talent is needed to generate new ideas, identify opportunities, and develop new products and services. By creating talent teams that respond to changing environments, you can redeploy scarce capabilities toward the highest priority work and avoid inefficiencies of hoarding valuable skills in different parts of the organization.

By matching skills to the work undertaken, talented individuals can start to shape the strategy and organization of the future. We have seen this work well in a fertilizer firm where talent teams worked on strategic initiatives both in the production context as well as in new business development.

talent management
Ownership of the change process must reside within the organizational talent and not an external third party

Part of building skills does require training and ideally a systematic approach to working on transformation or strategy execution projects. Having a methodology can often help with fact-based decisions, which is especially important in the early phase of transformation projects. A playbook will help manage the complexity of the transformation process and guide teams of talent toward business-critical decisions. At the same time, it allows the institutionalization of a systematic approach toward problem-solving and managing change.

Steering strategic initiatives

There are a number of management tools that talented teams can use to help steer the strategic initiatives that form part of your business transformation. Talent teams need to keep in mind that critical thinking is at the core of any approach you take or tool you use, yet working with frameworks can help bring clarity and direction into the transformation.

Given that the choice of tools and frameworks falls on teams and their sponsors, it is important that talent teams understand their options before making a choice. The greater the knowledge for tool choice upfront, the more individuals can try to obtain a fit between the situation and the tool that must be employed. It is important to remember that the usage of tools – and the results that emerge – provides a space for exchange with colleagues and that a common language is a ground for better conversations across functions, hierarchies, or geographies.

As there is often more than one tool that makes sense to use, teams must be aware that the tools will focus their attention on some strategic issues more than others. This means that particular positions or viewpoints are more likely to come to the forefront while others can become blind spots.

We often look at the success of a tool from two perspectives: one that is widely adopted, but more importantly one that leads to the right decision.

For a tool to lead to a good decision, it should provoke new explorations, enable interim decisions that allow you to move forward with an initiative, satisfy either internal or external clients, allow you to demonstrate competence, and ideally highlight, bring to the surface, and help resolve the different viewpoints or positions that people might have relative to the decision to be made.

Ultimately, the sustainability of the transformation will depend on the ability of teams to garner enough excitement within the organization that the proposed changes that emerge from the strategy execution projects can inspire others to carry the change. This is where talent, rather than consultants, have the advantage of knowing the organization and working with sponsors not only to consider the rational side but also the emotional side of transformative change.

Strategy Execution Playbook by Bettina BĂĽchel, Mahwesh Khan, and Catherine Agamis is out now.


Bettina BĂĽchel

Professor of Strategy and Organization at IMD

Bettina Büchel has been Professor of Strategy and Organization at IMD since 2000. Her research topics include strategy implementation, new business development, strategic alliances, and change management. She is Program Director of the Strategy Execution and Change Management open programs, as well as teaching on the flagship Orchestrating Winning Performance (OWP) program.


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