Leadership Advisory, Executive Mentor, HR Strategist, Culture Change, Wellness 

Business Transformation – Transform the Leadership Team First


Transformation. So many businesses are talking about this now. It’s widely acknowledged that to stay viable in the current environment, a business needs to be continually reinventing itself. Considering how expensive from a time, cost and energy perspective business transformations are, its worrying that 70% of them fail to realise their objectives (McKinsey).

There are lots of process steps to execute a successful transformation. But here’s my view, you cannot transform a company to perform at a higher level than that of the top leader and the top leadership team. Put simply, you cannot effectively transform a company to its highest potential unless the CEO and Executive Team have transformed themselves. Sure, you can improve processes and systems and workflows. You can redesign the structure, have excellent communications and great training, with expensive talent. But to get the true transformation benefits at a cultural level that improve how your employees think, feel and operate, and have this translate into your customer experience, the top team needs to reflect on themselves and critically assess where they’re impeding progress.

It can be hard to convince senior leaders of this. At this level, they’ve been trained, assessed and 360’d over and over. They’ve seen it all and done it all. They’ve been highly successful to get to this point, and their intentions are mostly always good. But senior leadership teams can fall into patterns of behaviours and old ways of working that can at best slow down the transformation trajectory, at worst, derail it all together.

What’s expected of leaders is on the rise. The environment’s more complex, the shareholders more demanding, and the next generation of employees want to be inspired with vision, humility, vulnerability and authenticity. The internal view of the executive team brand that’s often discussed at the water cooler, doesn’t always make it up the line. The message can get diluted by the time it hits the C-suite. If feedback hasn’t been received well in the past, it may not even make it there at all. If the executive team is entrenched in ways of working incongruent with the espoused change, disillusionment sets in and this slowly kills engagement. And disengaged employees don’t put in discretionary effort and they don’t deliver great customer experiences.

In a transformation, there has to be alignment between what’s being asked of the teams and the behaviours of the top team. For example, if front line leaders are being asked to rein in spending and reduce FTE, but senior executives seem to have endless budgets, then resentment will set in. If the desired customer experience requires open flows of communication between departments, but the top team doesn’t share information amongst themselves, then the behaviours won’t change at the front line. If bad behaviour is allowed to go unchecked in the leadership team, then the same bad behaviour will manifest down the line and doom the transformation.

What is absolutely true is that the top leaders of an organisation set the culture. How these leaders lead, behave, respond and react sets the tone for everyone else. How people respond and react is rooted in past life experience right back to childhood and can be hard to change. But if a different way of working is required in the transformation, there needs to be a circuit breaker and a reset for the top team. Deepak Chopra says “Awareness is the birthplace of possibility. Everything you want to do, everything you want to be, starts here.” Having true self awareness about their brand as a team and and as individuals, being clear on what they want to be known for, and visibly operating differently, sends a very strong message to everyone that change is not negotiable.

The ironic thing is, those leadership teams that are brave enough to go there become much better leaders of course, but they also become much better people. Better people run better companies doing better work. This is the change we need to see in the corporate world. Bravery, integrity and humility in the C-suites of Australia, with leaders being the change they want to see. When this happens, that 30% success rate of transformations will rise and objectives will finally be met in the fullest sense.