Why your next transformation should be “all in”


Here is an excerpt from an article written by Chris Bradley, Marc de Jong, and Wesley Walden for the McKinsey Quarterly, published by McKinsey & Company. To read the complete article, check out others, learn more about the firm, and sign up for email alerts, please click here.

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The problem is, it’s no longer enough. Digitization, advanced technologies, and other forms of tech-enabled disruption are upending industry after industry, pressuring incumbent companies not only to scratch out stronger financial returns but also to remake who and what they are as organizations.

It’s entirely possible for organizations to ramp up their bottom-line performance even as they secure game-changing portfolio wins that redefine what a company is and does.

Doing the first is hard enough. Tackling the second—changing what your company is and does—requires understanding where the value is shifting in your industry (and in others), spotting opportunities in the inflection points, and taking purposeful actions to seize them. The prospect of doing both jobs at once is sobering.

How realistic is it to think your company can pull it off? The good news is that our research demonstrates it’s entirely possible for organizations to ramp up their bottom-line performance even as they secure game-changing portfolio wins that redefine what a company is and does. What’s more, “all-in” transformations that focus on the organization’s performance and portfolio appear to load the dice in favor of transformational results. By developing these two complementary sets of muscles, companies can aspire to flex them in a coordinated way, using performance improvements to carry them to the next set of portfolio moves, which in turn creates momentum propelling the company to the next level.

Life on the power curve

If you want to see where you’re going, it’s best to start with a point of reference. Our choice, the power curve of economic profit, came out of a multiyear research effort that sought to establish empirical benchmarks for what really makes for success in strategy. To create Exhibit 1, we plotted the economic profit (the total profit after subtracting the cost of capital) earned by the world’s 2,393 largest nonfinancial companies from 2010 to 2014. The result shows a power curve that is extremely steep at both ends and flat in the middle. The average company in the middle three quintiles earned less than $50 million in economic profit. Meanwhile, those in the top quintile earned 30 times more than the average firm in our sample, capturing nearly 90 percent of all the economic profit created, or an average of $1.4 billion annually.

In this blackboard session, McKinsey’s Chris Bradley, coauthor of Strategy Beyond the Hockey Stick, describes the distribution of companies along the power curve of economic profit.

Although there is an enormous gulf between the middle firms and the top-quintile firms, companies can and do move up. Eight percent, or one in 12 companies, managed this feat across the decade we examined (from a starting position in 2000–04, to an ending position of 2010–14). As described in Strategy Beyond the Hockey Stick (Wiley, 2018), the specific odds of a company succeeding are largely explained by its endowment (for example, its size and debt capacity), its trends (a declining or improving industry), and the application of five big moves.

While all of these factors matter, the five moves play the biggest role in determining whether or not a company successfully climbed the power curve. They are also the ingredients of a truly transformational transformation program, so let’s look at them next.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Chris Bradley is a senior partner in McKinsey’s Sydney office, Marc de Jong is a partner in the Amsterdam office, and Wesley Walden is a senior partner in the Melbourne office.


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