Disruption, friction, and change: The hallmarks of a true transformation

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A company transformation is a holistic, top-priority endeavor that requires aggressive focus from the management team to reach the full potential of a business.

Transformations are difficult undertakings and come with a high likelihood of failure. But with a focused plan and dedicated leaders, a company’s executives can turn around the business and achieve meaningful success. In this episode of the McKinsey Podcast, McKinsey partner Michael Bucy and senior partners Stephen Hall and Doug Yakola, leaders in the Recovery & Transformation Services Practice, speak with McKinsey Publishing’s Tim Dickson about what it takes to truly transform a business and bring about lasting change.

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Tim Dickson: Hello and welcome to this edition of the McKinsey Podcast. I’m Tim Dickson, an editor with the McKinsey Quarterly. Today we’re going to be talking about transformations: big, organization-wide change programs with the potential to really change the trajectory of a company.

These are historically very difficult and remain difficult. So how can executives increase their chances of success? Joining me today to discuss this and other issues are Michael Bucy, a partner in McKinsey’s Charlotte office; Stephen Hall, a partner in the London office; and Doug Yakola, a partner in our Boston office. All three are members of McKinsey’s Recovery & Transformation Services Practice. Mike, Stephen, and Doug, thanks so much for joining. Now, Doug, you have said in a recent article that “transformation” is, and I quote, “The most overused term in business.” When you talk about transformations, what’s different? What’s new?

Doug Yakola: Transformations, the way that we think about them, are organization-wide and completely holistic. This is something that you don’t do with just the top five executives in the company in a top-down exercise. It’s not something where you transform a small piece of the business. But a transformation happens when you get the entire organization involved in something that is bigger than themselves.

The way that we think about it is, it needs to be hugely aspirational. A transformation takes place where the people don’t understand the breadth and depth of what they can do until they get involved in it. It’s truly about the full potential of the company and not just an incremental bump here and there.

Dickson: Anything you’d add to that, Stephen?

Stephen Hall: One of my clients likes to talk about the need to go against the grain. A true transformation is disruptive. It doesn’t just work with the existing governance, the existing processes, the existing budgeting cycle, the existing ways of doing things. It is going to disrupt. And it’s going to create challenge and tension and friction in the organization. We view those characteristics as being necessary co-travelers to delivering a true transformation of the company.

Doug Yakola: Because it is so disruptive, it’s also a top priority of the organization. This is not something that can be third or fourth down in the CEO’s list of things he or she must do. The way we talk about it is, it’s the number one or number two priority past safety that you need to be thinking about.

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Here is a direct link to the complete transcript.

Michael Bucy is a partner in McKinsey’s Charlotte office, Stephen Hall is a senior partner in the London office, and Doug Yakola is a senior partner in the Boston office. Tim Dickson is deputy editor in chief of McKinsey Quarterly and is based in the London office.

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