Having shared the stage at the Nordic Business Forum, in late January, with Anita Traaseth, Alex Osterwalder, Eric Ries and Seth Godin was definitely exciting. But what I found even more exciting, was the common denominator shared by the questions participants asked. Be it from pharma, banking, education or telecommunication the questions had the same theme: ‘How do we do it?’

For me at least, this common denominator proves something interesting. As a movement, lean innovation, has made it past the inspiration point. Now people demand action. They want to start applying all the knowledge accumulated over years of reading books and attending workshops.

With variations in size, culture and industry, I feel that each organization should strive to find its own path to creating an innovation ecosystem. If there are countless ways in which an organization can transform itself. The same is not necessarily true for the how a transformation might fail:

  1. Lack of executive support

No transformation can take place without executive buy-in. Involving the C-suite early on in the process will prove useful when the transformation picks up speed. On top of the internal ‘air support’, executives can help easing shareholders’ and partners’ anxiety.

  1. Executive impatience

Executives excited about change are always helpful. But there is a thin line between enthusiasm and impatience. Transformations are more like marathons than sprints. If impatience kicks in, mistakes might be made and the entire project might suffer. Managing the relationship with impatient executives can sometimes prove harder than getting the initial buy-in. But if the transformation team is able to show some validated progress, these early successes can be used to buy more time.

  1. Not enough motivation to make the transformation

Some organizations lack a clear rationale behind why a transformation is needed. They, sometimes, do it because everyone else is doing it. Not having a clear answer to the ‘why’ question, will impact goals setting, motivation and commitment.

  1. No compiling vision of the transformation. Or no initial agreement on goals, outcomes and KPIs.

Planning a journey starts with at least a rough understanding of the destination. Similarly a transformation needs to start with a vision for its end goal. With the vision agreed upon, measures for success (and milestones) need to be locked in next.

  1. Opacity

Transparency is critical to transformation. Support for a transformation is in inverse proportion to its opacity. The more transparent the transformation is (starting from the why all the way to the desired outcome) the more likely are people to buy in.

  1. Too many people tasked with the transformation

A good vision should be appealing to everyone in the organization. A good vision should make everyone excited about the outcomes, and willing to go down the uncharted path. But if the excitement will lead to too many people getting involved the project will suffer. Delays grow with opinions and opinions grow exponentially with the number of people involved. Clear boundaries on how many people are on the ‘transformation task-force’ need to be put in place.

  1. Not enough people tasked with the transformation

Not having a critical mass of people to work on the transformation is as bad as having too many people work on it. If the transformation ‘task-force’ is spreading itself thin across the company only a handful of things can get done well and on time. This will have a 2-fold impact. Short term the transformation project in itself will suffer (e.g.: delays, confusion etc.). Long term, the outcomes of the transformation might end up being different than what it was expected.

The right number of people needs to be involved. And this number needs to make sense from the perspective of the goals of the transformation and the size of the company.

  1. Wrong approach – too much planning or no planning at all

Planning the transformation in too many details is equally harming as not planning at all. But historically corporations have a tradition of over-planning more than of under-planning. If the transformation is there to help the company be more customer focused and evidence drive, the process of transforming the company should live by the same rules. With the customer of the transpiration being the company and the data driving the process being the data showing the output of the ecosystem.

  1. Not able to get to critical mass

A transformation should go beyond process and tools. It should aim at culture. The shift in a culture can only happen if a critical mass of followers of the new culture is attained. New behaviours stick only when they become unconscious norms.

  1. Middle management opposing the transformation or not being involved.

In any large organization middle management plays an important role in making vision happen. If the middle management layer is not being involved or even worst feels threaten the chances for success will shrink. Depending on hierarchical level and relative power certain actions can be take for when it comes to middle management involvement.

  1. Scaling too soon

Similar to product development, where scaling an idea too soon (before validation) is a sign of a failure waiting to happen. In the case of a transformation, premature scaling is equally damaging. Premature scaling can take the form of a global train-the-trainers program happening before full C-Level commitment is obtained.

A company transformation is a massive task. And the transformation should not be viewed as a destination. The end scope of the transformation is for the company to become more adaptable, independent of the changes the future will bring.