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Why You Need to Eat the Frog: Transformation Lessons from a Leader
Brian Tracy is a personal and organizational development maestro who has helped millions. He is also the author of Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time.
So what does a catchy book on time management and accomplishment have to do with transformation?
In our best movie narrator voice, we say: “Everything.”
You see, it is human nature to postpone the ugly, dirty work of transformation – or try and sugar-coat it into something else. Transformation involves a massive commitment of time and resources; it often pivots companies in new and unexpected directions; and it puts leaders on the hook for delivering success for bet-the-bank initiatives. That’s a challenge a Top 10 C-level leader we know faced in their work.
“Eat That Frog!” teaches individuals and companies to tackle the thorniest, most challenging project first, and it is an edict that the C-Suite and their workforces are obeying more than ever with transformation. Across all industries, there is a sense of urgency that the clock is ticking on transformation.
So what did this Top 10 CIO do?
While she oversaw a global company that was a market leader, the C-level executive knew that change was coming, and it was Darwinian in scope. So she opted to redesign her entire organization to become truly agile in nature so that the company could change, innovate, and thrive in a turbulent and highly competitive market. The CIO wasn’t just worried about competing against peers: She was worried about new market entrants that could break off processes and gain share. Amazon, anyone?
Agile Means Business: Building for Sustainable Change
First, a caveat: Agile has become such a buzzword, it’s important to make sure we’re talking about the same thing. Agile organizations aren’t companies that have adopted a DevOps culture and Agile methodologies (although that’s important). They are companies that embrace change, drive it from the culture out to technology (rather than the other way around), and use continuous learning to optimize processes. McKinsey says that very few companies have achieved true agility organization-wide, but that nearly 25% of performance units are now agile.
What an Agile Organization Looks Like
McKinsey identified five key hallmarks of agile companies, which they call “living organisms.”
- Leadership shows direction and enables action
- Teams are built around end-to-end accountability
- Hierarchy (“boxes and lines”) are less important than action
- The organization can change direction quickly, with flexible resourcing.
How the CIO Created an Agile Company
Learning #1 – This company looked forward by 10 years, not three.
This CIO created a 10-year strategy, then looked back, and did a gap analysis to drive the new organizational and operating model, investment ask, and resourcing plan. The new model would be customer-focused; manage IT as a portfolio; aligned to the value chain; and enable continuous process optimization.
The reason why – You can’t move a global enterprise with one or three-year strategies and investment. Yes, change is constant, but you need direction.
Learning #2 – This company got the executive investment and sponsorship for the hard journey.
Asking a CEO to invest $100M to $1B in both “soft” initiatives such as organizational redesign and “hard” initiative such as technology platforming is difficult. But transformation needs CEO sponsorship and commitment, as well as a budget that can be significant and sustained. This CIO got the entire leadership on board for the journey.
The reason why – A lot of these changes don’t deliver overnight results and require some upfront spend and commitment. You can’t get cold feet mid-way through, just because your CapEx and other key numbers look bad.
Learning #3 – This company fixed its broken processes and technology upfront.
The CIO had successfully pivoted her IT organization away from waterfall to Agile development and had created business innovation and value. But there were many more things to fix. The CIO and her team “ate that frog” and solved challenges such as rationalizing the entire application portfolio, pivoting to IT portfolio management, building domain knowledge, and dealing with QA issues that caused business pain.
The reason why – When you layer new technology on broken processes, you can increase complexity. Eat the frog and solve your known challenges first, even if it slows digital gains. You’ll pick up speed later on.
Learning #4 – This company built a culture of change.
The CIO needed to create a culture where everyone focused intensively on driving customer value. She did so by reorganizing the IT organization into a series of self-empowered, inter-disciplinary teams, who were encouraged to embrace experimentation, collaboration, and learning. To increase consistency, all the teams used the same processes and were held to the same standards. They had to produce results, but they had a great deal of flexibility in how they got there.
The reason why – You need your rank and file workers to understand and drive change and commit to continuous learning. Many may balk at first, but when they see the power of the new model, as well as the freedom to be change agents, commitment will snowball.
Here was one employee’s feedback from the Top 10 leader: “I’ve been with our company for 19 years and have gone through many organizational changes. [This] organization transformation… requires us to think differently, act differently, and operate differently. It’s exciting, welcome, and long overdue.”
Learning #5 – Embrace risk and uncertainty.
With constant marketplace evolution, the CIO’s 10-year strategy is bound to change, and some initiatives won’t succeed. However, the CIO have set up the agile organization she needs to drive results and essentially be self-healing, incorporating learnings from both successful and failed initiatives and re-optimizing for the path forward.
The reason why – Not everything will be successful. You have to empower employees to be innovative, free thinkers who align actions to outcomes, but also have the ability to make some mistakes, recover fast, and put those learnings to work.
The realignment will make the IT organization faster and more efficient, which meets meets a key need to scale without increasing headcount.
The CIO is well on her way. Having “eaten the frog” with strategic, systemic changes, she will be able to deliver outsized gains with her fit-for-transformation organization. Even analysts are impressed. A leading analyst said, “This organization model is leading-edge, structured for efficiency, and has a functional design.”
Become a transformation leader today.