The One Big Insight

Learning from experiences comes from reflection and many of the insights I gained from leading the transformation team at DBS was as a result of talking to the many business leaders that came to visit. One of the most common questions we got was unsurprisingly about technology. Over the course of 3 years, we fundamentally redesigned over 600 legacy applications thereby dramatically cutting support costs and development times. Specifically we were asked about our IT architecture, our tools and automation techniques. We were always happy to talk through our IT designs and processes but frankly these were the wrong questions. The better question would have been “How did you motivate and equip your team to carry out the transformation?”  Or “How did you give your teams the belief that they could develop world leading technology?”  

Technology does not change itself. Nor do processes or strategies.  This line of thought led me to the realisation that…

“Companies do not change unless the behaviour of their people changes”.

This one and seemingly obvious insight (which took me an embarrassingly long time to unearth) summed up what you need to know to put in place a successful transformation program.

The insight seems so simple yet it is often overlooked.  Yet failing to put in place the right conditions to drive behaviour change is the reason that so many transformations fail.

It is often said that people do not like change. Not true. Following 2 years of travel restrictions most people I speak to our eager to get on a plane and experience new things again. Yet it is true in the work place. Why? Most people tell me that it is due to fear.  Change brings personal risk.  Companies are designed for inertia and no single corporate superhero can over the structural forces in place. It is therefore the role of leadership to create the environment that encourages a drive for improvement. However so very few companies set out on their transformation journeys without considering how they are going to bring their people along.

Many leaders tell me how they need to make the tough decisions on how they need to let the people go who do not get on board. For me this is a failure in leadership as most people want to part of the success yet there is something else in the way. This can be lack of understanding of the company’s direction (more common than you might think), fear of looking stupid in the future world or a feeling that staying with the current state is going to be better for them financially or in terms of status.  All these problems can be overcome by transformation planning. Moreover with the right preparation leaders can unlock the passion of their people, create an army of change agents and accelerate towards their vision.

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