An IT Guy Discovers, Shares the Secrets to Business Transformation

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Having covered the IT industry and written about IT professionals for over 20 years, I've seen what happens when the C-suite in a company tries to undergo some sort of business transformation without IT having a seat at the table. So I was recently gratified to learn that an IT guy has written the book - or at least one of them - on the topic.


Mohan Nair, chief innovation officer at Cambia Health Solutions in Portland, Ore., is a computer scientist with stints at Intel, Mentor Graphics and a few other IT companies under his belt, and now he's the author of "Strategic Business Transformation: The 7 Deadly Sins to Overcome." Nair's premise strikes me as a logical one: That effective business transformation won't happen unless business leaders give employees a cause to believe in. Here's an encapsulation of those "deadly sins" that Nair says must be avoided in this cause-driven approach:


  • Ignoring the new principles of business transformation. Many companies that fail focus on the outward manipulation of markets and customers driven from the "ego" of the organization. Unfortunately for them, today's markets are sensitive to purposeless wealth creation. No amount of end-of-the-year donations to needy organizations can make up for a lack of purpose and value. Mission and money must go hand in hand. If you think of making money without thinking of the greater contributions to society, you will neither attract the right people nor make money in the long run. This is because people themselves are changing. Finding meaning at work powers the 21st century employee population. This population knows insincerity from truth, so leaders cannot fake it. They have to be able to feel the plights of customers and people in our society.
  • Driving without a cause. Most companies have mission statements - as well as vision statements, value statements, and other official website/employee handbook fodder. Yet many employees don't believe in them and never use them. What they need is a cause, and that's altogether different. Once organizations know why they exist, to whom they want transformation to happen and why, they gain the audacity and authenticity to drive strategic business transformation. So don't confuse "cause" with "mission." A cause is a lasting theme, an architecture that supports the transformation of the greater environment. It has personal, rather than organizational, implications. Missions are given to groups marching in lockstep; causes are taken up by creative individuals. A mission is a bounded, purposeful action. Missions impose the will of managers on employees, whereas causes are grounded in the latent, unexpressed will of the overall organization.
  • Missing market momentum. Traditionally, products seek customers, customers form markets, and markets move with momentum. In transformation principle, momentum is identified before anything else, customers and prospects respond to momentum, then products respond to serve these prospects to move with purposeful intent. Momentum is a unique way to view the market. Companies that don't understand it will miss the drivers that indicate where momentum is going. Momentum drivers often lead "old" customers to consider their options in a whole new way. Being able to predict these changes of mind and heart, even before the customers themselves do, allows companies to get in first with products destined to be hot sellers.
  • Ignoring the two orders of value. If you assume that rational and emotional value propositions are all you need to consider, think again. There's also a "higher order" value proposition: the symbolic. Customers symbolically attach to the product or the company that sells the product. They come to identify with the purpose of the product and what it stands for. Organizations that are able to transfer and connect market momentum into value to the customers that emerge from a transformation will gain market share and be very successful.
  • Overlooking transformational servant leadership. The new organization is a workspace with no walls. Leadership styles of the past cannot conform to the unbounded workspace commanded by remote employees, portable tablets, portable computers, and worldwide internetworks. Hierarchical management techniques and paradigms are breaking down. You may try to bend the iron bars of the hierarchical organization to make it "look" better - but if you aren't practicing true servant leadership, you won't be able to attract the talent it takes to compete in the transforming marketplace. Servant leaders are powered by a desire to serve others, and they forget themselves, and this is the source of their undying energy and success. They do not come to this easily but through self-doubt, suffering, ridicule, and even pain. Yet they are among us, and we should realize that we cannot judge anyone in our organization to be inadequate, of not having ideas to transform the world around them. Our purpose is to nurture and to find the goose that lays the golden eggs rather than be in the business of ideas. Be in the business of nurturing people with ideas, and the ideas will flow.
  • Mistaking capability for strategic competency. Capabilities are what you can do for customers. Competence is the unique recipe of your capabilities and what you can do better than others consistently as far as your customers perceive. You can always gain a new capability: just learn how to do it yourself, hire someone who knows how to do it, or partner with another organization to fill that void. Stopping there, instead of understanding your competencies and using them to formulate your strategy, is the sin. It keeps you from being able to create value that people want and are willing to pay for.
  • Expecting flawless execution without a performance platform. It is critical to find the talent ahead of time, find the capabilities of the future ahead of time, and to ensure that your operating capability anticipates rather than responds to a transformed market. What if Amazon couldn't ship its products on time and accurately? Customers would go to the competition, of course. And yet, it's common for companies to do more and more - to implement greater and greater change - without a context for employees and customers to frame improvement initiatives. There are two categories of performance management corporations must master: human (inspiring, organizing work, people performance and incentives) and corporate (analytics, systems and methods around the financial, operational, customer and strategic outcomes and outputs). To execute well in the second category a company must have capabilities in four areas: monitoring, measurement, management, and direction setting. As if that weren't complicated enough, companies must be able to strike a careful balance between surviving today and investing in tomorrow.