The Secret Sauce of Transformation

“Right, we get the right tools and processes, but how do I know we’ve transformed?” asked the leader of one very large IT organization that I was working with. 

As I watched the consultants stumble to answer, he continued, “But you’re not telling me anything different from anyone else. I just don’t see the secret sauce. Where’s the secret sauce to this whole thing?”

It may not be the same words, but I guarantee you that this same conversation has been had over and over, in office after office, between endless sets of senior managers, management staff and consultants – all over the world. 


How do we know if we've transformed?

How do we know if we've transformed?

“Yeah, we know all this change stuff, but how do we make it stick? Where’s the secret sauce?


The funny thing is, I’d bet that if I told you what the secret sauce is, you still wouldn’t be able to use it, let alone taste it. In fact, I’d bet that most transformation efforts are ended before they’re fully implemented. Why? Because, and legitimately so, the business imperatives change. 

In the space of just a few years, we go from “Customer First” to “Nothing but Quality” to “Best in Class” to “Innovation” and on to “Cost-Effective Operations”. And its not that we have business-initiative-attention-deficit. Or maybe we do. But the environment, customers, regulations, wall street, etc. – continuously flux and change. And so we respond with … whatever seems to be the “urgency-dejour.

However, like the latest fad diet on on any given New Year’s day, we say we’re going to do it, but we never address the heart of the matter: change. A new diet isn’t about recipes, exercise, ingredients, intake or losing weight. Its about changing behavior that will lead to changes in the other things we are seeking: the results

While we proclaim the “new me” for the new year, we fail to address the issues that are made redundant in nearly every large business – that change is not made up of proclamations. Change is made up of behaviors. And unless we get our transformation efforts out of the strategic planning sessions and into what Mintzberg calls the “operating core”, then it doesn’t matter what we call them, because we’ll get the same results from every one: nothing of real substance.

“So what about the Secret Sauce?”, you ask? 

There is no secret sauce. Transformation is no secret. But there is a sauce, and its ingredients are Leadership (consisting of equal parts Humility and Discipline), accountability and flat-out Hard Work. That’s it. No surprises, no secrets, no spying on the Colonel to see what he puts in his chicken. Its all there on the table. 

You need to create leadership by having the humility to face your own shortcomings and recognize the need to change yourself and your leadership core before you ask your workforce to change. Thicken the leadership paste with the discipline required to work on that individual change in yourself, day after day after day. Hold yourself and others accountable, regularly and often. Then add working hard to the mixture, to do the right things, not the easy things, to lay the foundation for the future changes to take place.

No secrets. No proclamations. No mission-statements. No banners, t-shirts, laminated cards, no guiding principles. No way. You don’t get great change by talking – you get there by doing.


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