September 9, 2019

First three steps for success in leading organisational transformation

Every day the internet is swamped with news and articles about the speed of digitalisation and how fast businesses are changing.

Digitalisation has impacted each one of us in more ways than one, and we all know that if we don’t learn to sail along the waves of digital disruption, we will sooner or later run out of business.

However, transformation doesn’t come easily. Here are three steps to transformation that I’ve learned from my experience:

1. Ask why you need transformation. Rhiana Matthew, in her article, “Don’t go digital for the sake of it”, asked an interesting question: Have we become so fixated on being one of the first to do something that we have lost sight of what we are trying to achieve?”

Sometimes transformation for your organisation may not look like what you see on the news or read on the internet. This is the reason many organisations start with ambiguity and end up in confusion.

With so much opportunity, resources and access to information, there is always something new happening around the world. Artificial intelligence, virtual reality, driverless cars, and so on – all of these technologies are great and every organisation wants to excel or at least be a part of the revolution.

But the problem is we jump into the digital race too soon before asking some fundamental questions like, “Does my organisation really need this? Do my customers need it? Where exactly will this new technology take my organisation to?”

Without clarity in the passion behind the motivation, most of our enthusiasm for transformational initiatives will be lost after a few knocks from experimental failures. If we aren’t persistent at those testing times, our journey of transformation may not reach the light at the end of the tunnel.

So, clarity with passion and purpose is most important as we start.

2. How to achieve transformation. Once you have answered why you need transformation, the second question is how do you achieve it.

There are so many great ideas and inspiring transformations happening around the world, but if you try to become an exact copy of them, you are most likely to fail. You don’t need to be another Google, Apple or Airbnb to come up with revolutionary ideas. You can always be equally innovative and transformational as any other company – or even better, within your own context and journey.

When you’re learning from leaders and innovative companies around the world, you need to ensure that what you’re planning to achieve is relevant to your people and applicable within your context. This is the tough part, and not possible if your people do not believe in the same values and visions you have. Therefore, start with your people.

Ronan Gray in his article, “Digital transformation is all about people” said, “In the race to implement the latest technology, too many businesses are forgetting the most critical element [of] any successful digital transformation: People”

Find out how you can educate, train and empower them to help you achieve the transformation you’re seeking. When you empathise with your people, you will start to identify what is missing in your organisation, and which areas you need to grow and build.

If you start aligning your transformational milestones with the goals of your people, transformation will be easier and faster than you think.

3. Commitment to transformation. Persistence and consistency are key in the process of transformation, from day one till the final day and even beyond. It requires strong willpower, determination and passion to push against all challenges and carry on despite encounters with failures and disappointments.

You need persistence in standing against all adversities and failures, and consistency to continue doing what is right not just for a few days or weeks, but every day over and over again until you are sure that the transformation has become the new culture of your organisation.

When you try to bring transformation or change of any sort into your organisation, it is most likely to be met with opposition, conflict of ideas and traditions. This opposition is good for testing your ideas and validating the feasibility of your proposal.

It is good to always remember that the strength of your leadership is reflected more in your consistency and persistence against confusion and disappointments than in the promises of your ideas. Transformation is a struggle for every leader. However, it is not as difficult as some of us estimate it to be.

Transformation is more than just another interesting topic of discussion for leaders, it is a reality and can be practically achieved when you starting asking the right questions of yourself and your people.

Arinya Talerngsri is the chief capability officer and managing director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup), Southeast Asia’s lifelong learning centre. She can be reached by email at