13th October 2017

My personal transformation (please note; I’m not about to turn into a butterfly) experience over the past year has highlighted some of the reasons why most enterprise IT / Digital / Business transformation programmes don’t work.

The majority of my success is down to small habit changes and 1-2-1 coaching aimed at improving parts of my daily routine, not an over-ambitious ‘big bang’ to disrupt what makes me ‘me’ and come out as a brand new shiny version. This, I believe, cannot be said for the enterprise transformations that are happening everywhere you look as they seem to be following the latter approach.


Firstly, Personal Transformation

I’ve been working with a personal trainer, Kevin Hurley, who has been driving me to change my lifestyle over the past months. I’m about two-thirds through where I want to be having lost c. two stone, a few inches off the waist and generally healthier and happier. This has been achieved through starting with high-intensity training in the gym twice a week then gradually introducing my own activities such as running, skipping, home-gym which then led me to start reducing my alcohol intake and cravings for sweet treats complemented by consuming more protein and eating freshly prepared meals most days.

Having tried a few times in the past to get fitter, lose weight etc; it hasn’t really happened as I tried to do all of the above at once; stop alcohol, no chocolate, go to the gym, run 10k etc. Yet, this time, the transformation wasn’t ‘hard’ as my trainer focused on changing one thing, the type right exercise and in-turn all these other lifestyle benefits have followed.

I am sure that if I had been told “no more Mars bars, no more sugar in tea, train 3 times a week, walk instead of getting the tube, don’t drink alcohol in the week blah blah blah” all from day 1, then I am pretty certain I wouldn’t be where I am now as I wouldn’t have had the patience or will to replace each with a newly formed habit.


Now, IT Transformation

It seems that most organisations think they can modernise their IT by making radical changes. This will usually mean engaging with a number of consultants (big and small) and experts to make a heavy non-negotiable manifesto that dictates that all these things need changing.

Then, to make this change you must stop doing this long list of things now to force a new way of thinking and working from day 1. This disruption moves throughout the business in the hope that the people within will go with the flow or drop out; the end result being that the company are now digital with a great people doing great things with speed and quality.

For example I am seeing organisations change the way they fund projects, thinking it will force the teams to behave differently: “We are a now an Agile company, so instead of getting £50m to deliver this IT project by March 2018, we will give you £100k for an MVP and if it works, you can request more funding”

This doesn’t work. It just causes pressure and stress on the teams and individuals to try and achieve something unrealistic based on their experiences and skill levels.

Similarly to my own personal transformation experience, enterprise organisations need to focus on small changes at the ground level that help the teams and individuals understand and improve habits that then naturally lead to other improvements. With this approach, it will then be the teams’ saying “hold on, we don’t need £50m to do that, we can get an MVP out the door within weeks to prove it’s a good idea and then get further funding”.

I book I read a while back, ‘The Power of Habit‘, that has a great case study about how small focused changes can have a huge positive effect:

“On a blustery October day in 1987, a herd of prominent Wall Street investors and stock analysts gathered in the ballroom of a posh Manhattan hotel. They were there to meet the new CEO of the Aluminum Company of America — or Alcoa, as it was known — a corporation that, for nearly a century, had manufactured everything from the foil that wraps Hershey’s Kisses and the metal in Coca Cola cans to the bolts that hold satellites together.

A few minutes before noon, the new chief executive, Paul O’Neill, took the stage. He looked dignified, solid, confident. Like a chief executive.

Then he opened his mouth. “I want to talk to you about worker safety,” he said. “Every year, numerous Alcoa workers are injured so badly that they miss a day of work. I intend to make Alcoa the safest company in America. I intend to go for zero injuries.”

The audience was confused. Usually, new CEOs talked about profit margins, new markets and ‘synergy’ or ‘co-opetition.’ But O’Neill hadn’t said anything about profits. He didn’t mention any business buzzwords.

Eventually, someone raised a hand and asked about inventories in the aerospace division. Another asked about the company’s capital ratios.

“I’m not certain you heard me,” O’Neill said. “If you want to understand how Alcoa is doing, you need to look at our workplace safety figures.” Profits, he said, didn’t matter as much as safety.

The investors in the room almost stampeded out the doors when the presentation ended. One jogged to the lobby, found a pay phone, and called his 20 largest clients.

“I said, ‘The board put a crazy hippie in charge and he’s going to kill the company,’” that investor told me. “I ordered them to sell their stock immediately, before everyone else in the room started calling their clients and telling them the same thing.

“It was literally the worst piece of advice I gave in my entire career,” he said.

Within a year of O’Neill’s speech, Alcoa’s profits would hit a record high. By the time O’Neill retired in 2000 to become Treasury Secretary, the company’s annual net income was five times larger than before he arrived, and its market capitalization had risen by $27 billion. Someone who invested a million dollars in Alcoa on the day O’Neill was hired would have earned another million dollars in dividends while he headed the company, and the value of their stock would be five times bigger when he left.

What’s more, all that growth occurred while Alcoa became one of the safest companies in the world.”

I believe the habit approach is the most successful approach to making big changes across an organisation, driven from the ground up. This is why MagenTys have modelled our consultancy delivery model in this way, we call it DEEDS:

Define – Find the root cause of the problem

Educate – Introduce good practice

Enable – Context-driven processes and tools

Deliver – Pilot, prove and scale

Sustain – Ship quality software, faster

Thinking about it, the DEEDS model could be a good framework for Personal Trainers too 🙂

If you’re interested, here are some good resources about habit formation: https://charlesduhigg.com/resources/

And, if you would like to know more about our DEEDS model, drop us an email here.

About Liam McDowell
Liam tries to keep our clients happy. He is a complete control freak so don't touch his suite of pens, cutlery or dare to sit in his chair!