Brand transformation can be painful and hard

Transformation without pain is not real transformation. Today, most of the brands are going through a transformational journey. They want to change from a caterpillar to a digital butterfly. They want to go through a dramatic change in form and appearance.

They don’t do it because it is cool. They do it because they need to change, or else.

But transformations are a lot like revolutions; Bloody, painful, messy with winners and losers. We just have to look back in history at the French, The Russian Revolution, The Arab Spring, and Cuba. After dismantling their existing system, they tried a new model that had never been done before, at least in their environment. This means a new structure, policies, people, culture, and economics. They didn’t get it right in the first shot. In fact, it took years to make the revolution work. In some cases, it didn’t work at all. Countries had to go back to some version of the old system.

Real brand transformation is a painful and messy journey, with no guarantee that’s going to work. But the other option is a slow death, where everyone loses.

It’s striking though, as most simply don’t acknowledge, or perhaps have the will, to change. A striking forecast is that 40% of the current top 200 companies on the stock exchange won’t be there in 10 years.

A big part of the problem is cultural. They are not designed for constant change. They want predictability as public companies.

It is also unrealistic to expect a public company to dissolve into chaos while they get the formula right. There are examples of successful companies who have or are in the process of transformation. The leaders of these organizations set forth a measured path forward that doesn’t require dismantling as much as forging a new identity from existing strengths and talent. It’s not always pretty, but it is structured and it feels safer and less risky for employees and shareholders making it much easier to accomplish. Microsoft under Satya is a great example.

The job of advisors is:

1. To show them the slow death so they’ll have the motivation.

2. To verify they are strong enougth for the journey ( and if not – help them get stronger)

3. Once they are ready – guide and support them during the journey, creating a balanced set of moves with diverse attributes of risk, investment, time and expected results

Another challenging part of transformation is managing the knee-jerk reactions of stockholders. Their reactions feed the fear that lead to rash decisions, and a rush to make the company appear healthy. Many investors are not in it for the long haul and have little patience for you “getting your act together”. They demand quick returns — and sometimes unrealistic demands for turnabouts, growth and profit. And every step and process requires you to consider profit maximization.

In addition, many companies don’t do much about managing the expectations of the various sectors involved: what the many stages and the real pains (both tactical and psychological impact) of transformation involve. It’s akin to the stages of mourning.

Nor do they provide substantive support during the various phases. They decimate staff and dismantle teams without fully understanding the impact, and look to the remaining staff to hold the pieces together whilst they hemorrhage in a multitude of ways. They cut off limbs and do little about triage and give even less thought to healing.

Most sectors are left to fend for themselves in a state of confusion. They do a big “kick-off”with visionary talks, plying on heaps of encouragement and thanks, then they disappear.

Strategic transformation has a lot to do with strategic diversity management. Survival and health depend on the skills of the leaders and their ability to see and plan for the big and the small, the broad strokes and the nuanced details, to manage the complexities.

Hence, it takes tremendous partnership — earnest and generous collaboration from top-down, down-up, across and diagonally. What often ends up happening is that the “ones in charge” become overloaded and overwhelmed. They haven’t thought it through; they haven’t planned thoroughly enough; they’ve glossed over the details; they just didn’t have the skill-sets to properly manage the transitions of transformation — nor the ability (or inclination) to ask the right questions of the right people and to really listen to what is being said.

We’ve become shamefully obsessed with immediate gratification. In our organizations, our politics and ourselves. 90-day earnings calls, ROI’s and KPI’s as sticks to beat and bludgeon employees with. We’ve lost all sense and appreciation of patience and perspective. Immediate is not immediate enough.

Along the way we have burnt out our brightest and most passionate. We’ve created disillusionment not inspiration. We’ve extinguished the flame rather than nurturing the flame of possibility. The long game should not be misinterpreted for procrastination or conflict avoidance. It should be seen as the prudence and pragmatism from which greatness can emerge.

Indeed revolutions and rebellions have been a part of society for millennia from the Set rebellion during the reign of pharaoh Seth-Peribsen of the Second Dynasty of Egypt in 2730 BC to Catalonia’s referendum for independence from Spain in October 2017. Dissatisfaction with the status quo whether it be civil, political, religious or other has harkened action by those with their vision of something transformative and perceptually better.

True transformation is indeed painful, intense, stressful and often time’s not successful for many of the reasons you and others have mentioned in their comments thus far. What determines the success of a business transformation is the continued viability and sustainability of the firm through its customers who vote with their wallets and have a positive view of the brand’s equity. 



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