Can transformation ruin relationships?

Transformation is typically a thankless job but to stay relevant in the market place, companies have to go though it and someone like you and I have to do the “dirty” work. These initiatives are not for the faint-hearted, and as a result of going through it, I have seen relationships formed, strengthened or even destroyed during the course of these programs.

My past bosses and mentors have always reminded me that work relationships are always very important, particularly those with your stakeholders. It puts you inside an ecosystem that builds partnerships and that each member of that pool has everyone else’s back. Recently I have been reflecting a little bit and then certain events flashed in my mind, which started to question my belief on this topic. Who has the bigger purpose — business mission or relationships?

What am I talking about?

I am neither a social relationship guru nor my name is Dr. Phil. I am not going to talk about your personal relationship goals and how you can do better in life.

Over the last five years or so, I have carefully started to follow the trajectories of senior IT executives and particularly those who are a bit out of the ordinary and those who stand out from the crowd. Some of them were ex-bosses, some current bosses and some inspiring people that I have met over my professional career in Calcutta, Chicago, New York and London. A lot of these executives have an unique ability to push the boundaries and transform the industry they work in. They urge their C-suite/boards to take risks and sometimes knowingly put the cart before the horse. The majority of those people that I find inspiring go above and beyond their call of duty to leave a mark in the industry and in most cases they reap benefits later on in their professional lives.

Why later? 

You may note that I have bolded the word “later” in my previous sentence and there is a reason behind it. I have seen that transformation is often a thankless job. There are traps and landmines set all along the way for you to fall into. I have not been lucky yet to find out a company where there is no one that takes advantages from your failures, especially if you are an executive trying to swim against the tides.

These “perceived” failures may come in different flavors:

1. Scope clarity. There is a little bit of intentional “winging it” when it comes to scope of a transformation initiative. It is intentional because in a connected business ecosystem; it’s very difficult not to unearth a complication that you had not seen before or you are seeing a slight bigger improvement in the horizon and your “forward thinking” philosophy gets the better of you.

2. Program governance metrics. When it comes to digital or business transformation the holy triad of cost, time and scope is often messed up and companies who are very narrowly focused often would use those metrics to publicize the poor health of a transformation initiative. Now don’t get me wrong; I am not advocating “wild west” delivery management; but a compassionate product council and an adaptive who can shepherd “change requests” and “re-baseline” plans based on the new reality.

3. Stakeholder management. Transformation typically doesn’t happen on a “yellow brick road” or a “dewy sun kissed meadow” and therefore stakeholder expectations and reporting often take a huge toll. It’s like a race car track in which sometimes driving etiquette like signaling before changing lanes is often an unrealistic expectation.

4. Culture. Fail fast has now become a cliché, and most executives (if not all) are possibly lying when they show off this cultural trait in their team/company. In this area, talk and action are not often in sync.

Now coming back to my word “later.” I have seen many digital executives reap the benefit of a transformation initiative in their next job. Transformation initiatives often lead to a power vacuum and sly minded executives (most often not the change agent) often get a real good opportunity to grab power and take credit. Some boards/C-suite see through it, but most don’t and the transformation champion often becomes the victim.

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