Is the next wave of transformation on your agenda or setting it?

27 Sep 2022
By Paul Mahan

EY Oceania Consulting Partner

Experienced leader and changemaker. Passionate about helping people develop and grow. Father of three. Rugby, golf and cricket fanatic.

27 Sep 2022
Related topics Transformation Realized

In brief

  • The rate of change has never been this fast and will never be this slow again.
  • Transformation is now a constant for all organizations, but success is far from guaranteed.
  • Why transformations centred around humans succeed when others do not.

Transformation Realised brought together some brilliant minds in an experiential and immersive environment, and helped to navigate the New Zealand transformation agenda. It created exponential value through placing humans@centre, leveraging technology@speed and innovating@scale.

The truth is, no matter how long your business has been around, in a world changed by COVID-19, every company is in start-up mode. Businesses have the unique ability to look for those strategic tipping points, scan for disruptions and apply new technologies quickly. These actions are critical in taking your business to the next level and fully realising your transformation journey.

Transformation today is urgent, more challenging, yet rich with opportunity. It’s about reframing your entire business, rather than incremental improvements. It’s about driving genuine, truly innovative change through new business models, elevated employee and customer experiences and finding new ways to leverage data and technology. It can no longer be considered a one-off event but rather a constant state of development.

The truth is that businesses can’t afford not to change. And they simply can’t afford to fail, yet so many transformations don’t meet expectations. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

EY and the University of Oxford Saïd Business School explored the emotional cost of failed transformations and what it takes to get them right. About two thirds of the business leaders, surveyed said they’d been part of an underperforming transformation over the past five years.

So why do transformations centred around humans succeed when others do not?

It comes down to six drivers, all rooted in human emotions. Tapping into emotion is critical, as like humans and emotions, transformation journeys are neither linear nor straightforward. Embracing the emotional corkscrew, rather than ignoring it, creates a culture where people feel safe to experiment while remaining disciplined.

If you want to transform your organisation, the first thing you need to do is transform yourself and your people. Leaders, need to recognise their limitations, admit what they know, what they don’t know, and what they need to learn. This takes courage, and it takes humility. The study found one of the differences between high-performing and low-performing transformations was the ability to accept ideas from junior team members. About half the leaders in successful transformations did that, compared to about 30% in less successful programs. It’s about fostering a “we not me” approach.

The evidence tells us that instilling leading practices based on six key drivers can give organisations the best chance of success.

  1. Leadership: Adapting and nurturing your own skills can support you to become a transformative leader who in turn transforms your organisation. We can’t emphasise enough the need to invest in yourself first. An honest appraisal of your strengths, and areas that could be improved, will help you become an even more inspiring leader. Communicate and collaborate with your teams – remember, ‘we not me’.
  2. Inspire: Create a vision that everyone can believe in. For the vision to be real, leaders need to clearly communicate why change is needed, not just what they need to do. Leaders need to foster true belief in the vision rather than simply an understanding of it.
  3. Care: Build a culture that encourages everyone’s opinion. A finding from the study shows that half of teams who’d been through an underperforming transformation said that transformation was just another word for layoffs. This shows how important it is to genuinely listen to the concerns of teams, support them, and consider their ideas.
  4. Empower: Set clear responsibilities and be prepared for change. Shift from a “don’t fail” to a “fail fast” mindset as breakthroughs come from experiments – even those that don’t quite work as expected.
  5. Build: Use technology and capabilities to drive visible action quickly. The right digital tools and mindset can be a huge boost for your teams. The right technology is critical to fulfilling the vision and facilitating the process of transformation. Executives ranked effective use of technology as the number two driver of success and ineffective use of technology as the number two driver of underperformance.
  6. Collaborate: Build a genuinely collaborative culture. This can make for some uncomfortable shifts from the traditional top-down hierarchy, to one that’s more interdependent and connected. Culture is the key differentiator in overcoming those interrelated challenges of transforming, attracting the best talent, innovating, and deploying new technologies at scale.

With these six drivers, you can more than double your chance of transformation success. Because the truth is – yes, transformation is hard. But it’s also rich with opportunities, can create exponential value that lasts and provides long-term sustainable financial returns.


Despite recent technological advances and organisational learning, little has changed over recent years in the way we approach transformation. We now need to change the way we change by placing humans@centre, leveraging technology@speed and innovating@scale.

About this article

By Paul Mahan

EY Oceania Consulting Partner

Experienced leader and changemaker. Passionate about helping people develop and grow. Father of three. Rugby, golf and cricket fanatic.

Related topics Transformation Realized