Should You Abandon a Failing Transformation?

Have you ever made an investment into something, and later realized it’s a LOT more complicated than you ever expected it to be – perhaps a large home renovation or starting a business – and ultimately faced a difficult choice to either (A) exit & cut your losses or (B) minimize your investment when you simply cannot get out of it?

That choice is exactly what millions of organizations face right now after heavily investing in large COVID-driven transformations. With increased economic and shareholder pressure, should you abandon your transformation? Is it time to pivot?

70%+ of our transformations are failing to deliver the returns they promised (Forbes & HBR 2021). Why? One of the main reasons is they are a lot more complex than we expected them. And the complexity lies in the human dimension, not technology (Forbes 2022). In fact, all transformations in today’s post-COVID workplaces – ones already suffering high leadership turnover, increased stress, and staff burnout – are extremely difficult (MIT SLOAN 2021).

Sure, quietly de-investing and de-prioritizing in the failing transformation may seem like an attractive option (often carrying smaller reputational risk). Yet it’s also a more costly one because it will continue to drain your limited capacity, focus, and money. In many cases, decreasing your investment will have only a nominal impact on your outcomes.

First, should you abandon your OUTCOMES?

For some businesses, priorities are shifting for a very good reason. Instead of growing your virtual workforce infrastructure, you may need to focus on the customer or employee experience. Even more importantly, you may need a more significant evolution of your business model (MIT Sloan 2021).

Yet often times it’s not the outcomes we want to abandon… rather, we get discouraged by the difficulties we encounter when trying to achieve these outcomes

What should you do if your great home renovation is blocked by an inspection or mold behind the walls? What should you do if your new startup is hit with supplier or competitor challenges? So where do we go from here? How do we recover? And how do we renew the faith our shareholders have placed in us?

Second, should you abandon your APPROACH?

Recent history has blessed us with many stories or organizations whose stubbornness and fear took the better of them. In times when they needed to pivot and evolve without mercy, businesses like Sears and Blockbuster persisted with what they knew rather than embrace the change.

Ask yourself if the transformation is impeded by something you have control over or large systematic organizational issues nobody has been able to solve.

Be encouraged and firm in your outcomes… then pivot your plan without mercy.

  • Change your planning approach to include early prototyping and testing.
  • Re-motivate and re-inspire your team who are no doubt also discouraged.
  • Instead of a large transformation that’s hard to steer and achieve, switch to a series of rapid evolutions that allow you to pivot on a regular basis
  • You may need to change leaders but in some cases, your current leaders simply need new skills or tools to help them

Most importantly, change your approach to allow you to know when you have to pivot again AND to make it easy for you to pivot on a regular basis.

Third, there is a PERSONAL side to this question

Perhaps you are not fearful of evolving and pivoting your organization. Perhaps you are also fearful of evolving and pivoting yourself. And the last few years have indeed been very difficult. Maybe you feel stuck, tired, or even burned out. In fact, multiple recent research studies are warning of a significant rise in top-level executive burnout and turnover… 70% of senior executives are ready to abandon their current posts and pensions (DeloitteCEO Magazine, and Forbes all 2022).

Many of them feel they are up against insurmountable odds while they themselves are dealing with mental health and family pressures. Some even feel trapped and burnout with quitting being their only perceived way out. And yes, they will be taking all their organizational knowledge, business strategy, and in some cases even intellectual knowledge with them.

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