Most large-scale business transformations fail.
It’s difficult but not impossible.
I’m not talking about tactical and even minor strategic adjustments. I’m talking about wholesale transformations—the type where everything that used to work no longer does.
“Honey, they shrunk my industry.”
“Hey, who moved my cheese? And the maze? And my business model?”
“Did you get the license of that bus that just ran over my value proposition?”
The kind where your markets and customers are listed as missing on the back of milk cartons. (Are there still milk cartons? That part of the packaging industry may not have made it through their transformation.)
Yes, most fail.
Not all, just most.
And there are some good reasons for bad outcomes. Mostly, it’s darned difficult. And the work of transformation is counter to how we’re wired, particularly in long-standing and large groups.
It may be the most difficult act in all of business.
There are rarely any second acts in organizational life, to borrow and mildly massacre F. Scott Fitzgerald’s quote.
What was difficult in the twentieth century is nearly impossible today.
When it does happen—when transformation succeeds—we celebrate it in our business schools, and we write books and make speeches about it. IBM under Gerstner is the “textbook” case. IBM under Rometty might just make it too, bucking the trend for obsolescence and the forces of creative destruction and inner demons of dominant logic.
The third act for IBM?
The storm is just hitting at GE.
We can watch these both in real-time. Will they succeed?
Most of Collins’ good to great firms are no longer great, or good. Many are gone.
Is that the best we can hope for? Good to great to gone?
We’ve all been searching for excellence, thanks to Tom.
The pursuit of sustained excellence has turned into the business equivalent of the search for the holy grail.
Difficult, But Not Impossible
As we all are, I am biased by my own experiences.
I’ve personally lived and played a leadership role in this transformation process in what seems like three lifetimes.