Transformation at Scale: Leaders that make the impossible happen.

In this disruptive age, executive teams constantly find themselves at strategic crossroads — pivot points in their evolutionary arcs when they are asked to make the impossible happen. Ours is an era when the patterns of the past collide head-on with the thinking of tomorrow.

From my work and research with top executives, I’ve found that leading through such inflection points requires a whole new level of tenacity, creativity and velocity. The most extraordinary leaders approach transformation not as a one-off event; but, instead, as a discipline to be mastered.

For leaders that find themselves operating on this historical fault line, five practices are paramount for consistently reinventing the future:

  • Think exponentially out of the gateThe biggest mistake that leaders make is viewing the future as simply a more effective and efficient version of the past. This measured mindset puts a ceiling on the level of performance (i.e., growth) that is attainable. Before you even start down the path, it’s essential to frame an outsized future that will stretch you and the organization beyond where you’ve ever played and won before. This is not about re-organizing or re-structuring; this is about establishing a brand new basis of competition, and reconfiguring the marketplace in the process.
  • Over-invest in top talentThe quickest, surest way to win the hearts and minds of a wobbly workforce is by convincing the stars to stay on board. This will send an unswerving message to the troops that you’re serious about turning the ship around. On day one, boost the compensation packages for the 13% of the workforce that have the largest impact on customer & shareholder value creation; these are the technologists, the sales engineers and the product managers that are truly irreplaceable. For the employees that aren’t “irreplaceable”, provide a nominal salary increase, letting them know that the bar has been raised; and that you’ll support those that are ready for the advance.
  • Build an ambidextrous operating model(s)Winning in transformation requires an organizational architecture — structure, governance and culture — that is “ambidextrous”; possessing the capacity to execute with precision on today’s objectives, while innovating to create sources of future growth. As McKinsey spells out in their recent study, the most “agile” companies drive greater performance by combining the right balance of speed and stability. By designing a “both-and” operating model — one that is focused and flexible — transformative leaders bridge what is often the missing link between strategy and execution.
  • Scale meaningTo be transformative, the scale that we are after is not in structure or in staff; but, rather in performance. Unleashing a higher echelon of performance happens when leaders tap into a deeper sense of purpose buried beneath the surface. The red thread in transformation is ambition. By drawing a hard line (linking) from one’s reason for being to the company’s mission, leaders ignite a collective passion that can overcome any and all obstacles that stand in the way of success. This is the intangible, yet catalytic, dimension of transformation.
  • Deliver wins, every 60 daysClimbing out of the hole is one of the most humbling and exhilarating adventures an executive team will ever undertake. For every two steps forward, there will undboutedly be four or five steps back — lackluster product launches, shareholder revolts, top talent turnover. The biggest risk, in any significant transformation, is that the organization will rubber-band back to it’s original form. Momentum is the key in overwhelming such inertia. By delivering wins every sixty days, the leadership team will increase the organization’s capacity to operate at a higher velocity, while buoying the company’s confidence in winning.

And, finally, this is what transformational leadership is all about. That uncanny ability, when faced with deep uncertainty and improbable odds, to step knowingly into the void. While the terrain is jagged and the stakes are outrageous, transformational leaders play bigger than the moment.