Transformation—that is, the need for companies to reinvent themselves for a revolutionized business world—is Topic A in the C-suite and beyond. The media has exhaustively documented technological, financial and cultural changes that have led to the disruption of companies and entire industries.
This has certainly led to some inspiring success stories. Companies both long-established (IBM, American Express, Lego) and darlings of the digital age (Amazon, Apple, Netflix) have shrewdly carried out radical transformation inside their four walls. And yet, many of the lessons companies should have learned by now about reinventing themselves do not seem to be taking hold. McKinsey estimates that 70% of businesses fail to achieve their objectives toward change.
Should we be surprised? Too often, companies struggle because they are reactionary, scrambling to address present, institutional matters instead of getting out ahead of the tsunami of transformation. Evolving a business, simply put, is not merely reacting to change—it is predicting it, preparing for it and meeting it head-on.
Working on the frontlines of transformation provides perspective—and a roadmap for proactively reimagining and retooling an enterprise rather than playing a futile game of catch-up. Being prepared for transformation and seeing it through mean addressing some essential questions—questions you should look to answer not only at the outset but again and again, and every day.
In the context of these transformative times, consider the following:
- Responding to the signals of change in your industry and the world at large, what are the elements of your business that warrant fresh thinking? Likewise, what is it about your business that still works and should be highlighted? Recognizing and emphasizing what has made you successful up to this point while acknowledging corporate and cultural cues heralding change are just as important as the willingness to shake things up. Remember, once-mighty companies from Kodak to Sears, Blockbuster to Tower Records failed to predict and/or manage change and ended up as roadkill.
- Who are the essential change agents within your organization, what roles do they serve in a transformation and how is it best to keep everyone on the same page? Core change begins with a CEO who provides clear leadership and direction. Of course, no transformation can happen without the active support of employees across all levels. In fact, employee buy-in is one of the most underestimated factors in remaking a business. Nothing is an obstacle to change like confusion or resistance among the rank and file.
- How does your current marketing and communications strategy serve you in a transformative age? What are the strengths of your brand, how do they align with your overall strategy and how can they be elevated in the public eye? Then, as part of your evolution, which new elements of your brand story will be most resonant and how can they be most effectively communicated? Your transformation may include new products or packaging, a new logo, a wholly revamped corporate positioning, switching up media you use or adopting a whole new language for communicating your brand’s strengths. Brands that were once written off, from Gucci to Old Spice, were revitalized in large part thanks to shrewd marketing. Reconsidering the totality of a marketing and communications approach and ensuring they reinforce one another are indispensable in recasting a business.
- How can a legacy brand acknowledge its long-standing market equity while paving the way for a new, equally impactful future? Flexibility is key—staying open to change and taking advantage of every opportunity are essential for any brand that expects to compete and dominate in a fast-moving, entrepreneurial world. (Do you recall that power outage during the Super Bowl telecast a few years back and how Oreo brilliantly harnessed the event using social media?) But even as you seek to rewrite your brand story through shrewd creative executions and fresh marketing approaches, do not embrace the latest, greatest advertising tactic just because it’s shiny and new. After all, what works for one brand may not work for yours.
All this may be sound advice, but no matter how well prepared you are, know that there will always be slip-ups on the road to transformation.
But the journey to change is constantly unfolding, never-ending—and inescapable. It calls for nimble, agile and responsive measures. You will be much better equipped to manage transition and all that comes with it if you keep an eye on the horizon ahead.
Bessie Kokalis Pescio is vice president of global internal communications at Philip Morris International.