Wins & Fails of Business Transformations

Transformations can look very different from one company to the next, especially depending on their external environments. Indeed, in some industries, regulators will impose changes, having a major impact on employee engagement in the transformation. For example, in France, the professional training sector is regularly affected by reforms, with each new administration bringing in its own new policies. Regulations in the banking sector are also constantly evolving, with the European Central Bank continuously imposing new rules.

In addition, the company’s internal environment, including its corporate culture and financial health, is an important factor affecting employees’ engagement in the transformation. Business transformation projects may not be perceived by employees as being essential when the company is doing well. By contrast, in some organizations, it’s the employees who demand change while managers fail to see why they should transform a model that’s working.

In light of this diversity of contexts, during our most recent session, members from the Inside Success Lab shared their “tops and flops” from projects that they’ve worked on in their organization. What pitfalls should be avoided? What are the practices that work well? How can we highlight the success of a transformation?

1. Vision

No matter the stakes and context of the transformation, we cannot stress this enough: the essential prerequisite for the success of any transformation project is to put the project into a global perspective and establish a long-term vision to explain the project.

Be careful about offering a vision based on regulatory requirements: employees may just go along with it without actually buying in.

Also be careful with transformation projects focused on the implementation of a new tool. One of the most common pitfalls is that a company focuses on the new tool without explaining the significance of the project from a global perspective.


  • Adopt a long-term vision starting from the time you start planning the size of the budget for the project
  • Invest in change management to match the importance of the project or program


  • Have a short-term vision
  • Fail to share a vision and communicate with teams
  • Communicating in a way that is too top-down or “idealistic”
  • Focus on the tool to be deployed, telling teams “we’re just changing tools”

2. Timing and pace

In a business transformation project, it is essential to take into account the timing of the change.

There’s danger in trying to go too fast and not taking the time to develop sustainable support for the project. To get each individual engaged, you must be willing to lose some time. However, you still have to be careful about that because when you lose time, you also risk losing the significance of the project, and thus employee engagement.


  • Give each employee the time they need to adjust their thinking so that they can adapt to the change at their own pace
  • Be patient and plan programs for the long term; you have to be willing to lose time to get true buy-in for the future
  • Announce the transformation and the change management plan simultaneously
  • Get top management on board at the same time as your teams
  • Continuously facilitate the change in the long term and constantly check employee engagement; long-term tracking is very important
  • Identify success communities/stakeholders from the start of the project


  • Go too fast
  • Constantly push back milestones
  • Fail to follow up
  • Not involve IT from the start of the project, creating the risk that the project will get held up for technical reasons
  • Not keep people informed

3. Top management

For a successful transformation, you have to make sure that top management is truly and publicly committed. A lack of support for the transformation project from management can make it harder to carry out.

Also watch out for the initial “yes” from management, which does not necessarily mean that the project will be launched. That “yes” may just be to put on a show.


  • Create a dialog between management and employees
  • Get management, including top managers, on-board with a project launch seminar
  • Communicate with the board: manage their impatience and reassure them about progress of the project using KPIs


  • Lack support: top management is just putting on a show
  • Face disagreement among board members

4. Management

Managers are key in connecting the vision established by top management with buy-in for the project among employees. As such, they must generate engagement in their teams, particularly by building confidence in each individual and getting them to want to participate by continuously facilitating the project in the long term.


  • Get first-line managers on board before top management
  • Get top management to back you with a launch seminar
  • Create a vision for managers and collaboratively consolidate people’s different visions into a shared project
  • Make management 3.0 tools available to managers (tools that are collaborative, easy to use, and very fast)
  • Provide managers with everyday support via a weekly report on successes that’s short and very easy to read
  • Know how to say no!


  • Neglect first-line managers, who are key parts in the corporate machinery
  • Not get HR involved in the project
  • Communicating in a way that is too top-down or “idealistic”

5. Teams

Each employee must understand the collective and individual benefits that they will get out of the change in order to get on board. To make this happen, you must give them a fitting and personalized vision of their rights and responsibilities within the framework of the transformation. As such, the issue of meaning is crucial.


  • Entrust change management to the employees themselves (for example, by involving employee representatives)
  • Co-create with employees: allow them to take ownership, better understand the issues at stake, and attain the desired results more easily
  • Get a large number of future users involved at the project’s design/development phase
  • Include all stakeholders and establish liaisons (ambassadors or networks of contact people)
  • Give meaning to the project, show that you follow through on what you say, and communicate about progress
  • Capitalize on measurable success (ROI, KPIs) and on-the-ground success
  • Create workshops involving both employees and managers (from all levels)


  • Be too rigid in your way of managing the project: you need to be flexible and adapt to users
  • Put out internal communications that don’t match the reality on the ground
  • Produce deliverables that lack clarity
  • Use too many engagement tools
  • Don’t give enough time for change
  • Not develop messaging around “responsibilities and commitments” and “benefits” for each group of people affected by the change

6. Project marketing

Project marketing is the central element of the project that helps continuously maintain buy-in for the long term. Generally speaking, for a successful transformation, project marketing must remain open and flexible. In addition, the people doing project marketing must remain capable of rethinking their strategy and changing course if they hit a roadblock. You must be careful not to use a communication style that’s too top-down; it should be adapted to the individual. Internal communications must be adapted according to the needs of the project.


  • Establish a team dedicated to change management and a PMO led by a change manage
  • Communicate continuously from the start and with project marketing adapted to the different target groups (e.g. employees, managers)
  • Use digital media to communicate: strike the right balance between communications with physical media and digital media, taking into account the specific characteristics of each company (mobility of teams, international presence, languages, etc.)
  • Secure the budget for the change management team for the long term so that they can continuously facilitate teams
  • Officially declare to employees the timing of the change
  • Support teams on a daily basis and highlight successes (e.g. weekly meeting that helps make the project more tangible for other teams)
  • Define KPIs, measure them in real time, and share them in order to capitalize on successes; get experts and managers involved in choosing the KPIs
  • Share best practices between peers using an appropriate tool
  • Bring in a dimension of fun to the change: incorporate marketing, games/gamification (role-playing using skits to caricature real-life situations; “Undercover Boss”-like scenarios; offer goodies; presentations from star speakers)
  • Celebrate successes and show appreciation for users over time
  • Craft the employee experience (UX/UI): in an IT project, create an employee portal, for example


  • Get all stakeholders involved by opening all channels of communication to them without monitoring; social media and direct modes of self-expression can bring out a vocal minority that wants to obstruct the project
  • Don’t dedicate a large enough budget to teams in charge of transformation projects
  • Communicate too much about technology and data to create buzz, and not enough about the human angle; it’s also a mistake to dedicate too many resources to one or the other
  • Impose and add too many tools and resources made available for change management: that makes the project harder to understand and hurts the employee experience
  • Establish a change management plan relying solely on training
  • Carry out the change management plan in a way that’s too serious and official, without a dimension of fun
  • Forget about the client, be self-centered
  • Operate using a V-model