On the Transformation Journey, “On Time” is Overrated

In 2013, Dell Computer Corporation found itself at a crossroads. Once a market leader in personal computers, consumer preferences were changing—and fast. Suddenly, tablets and smartphones claimed a stronghold in personal computing. At the same time, the company doubted its ability to compete in the server space. A few years later, the company bought data storage firm EMC—a move that “still stands as the largest technology acquisition of all time.” It re-debuted on the public market in 2018 as Dell Technologies. And today, the company has earned a spot in the top 20 business transformations from the past 10 years.

Where Dell has succeeded is in reimagining its core—in creating a transformation strategy that transcends products (in this case, personal computers). Instead, Dell opted for a path of constant evolution and advancement in the technology space.

Learning from companies like Dell, we believe continuous improvement means looking past transformation as a set of milestones, products, or initiatives to be implemented “on time” or “on budget.” At companies boasting break-through strategic renewals, leaders have tapped into transformation's potential as a catalyzing force that moves the organization towards its shared vision. It’s an ongoing journey. At its heart, this journey requires employees’ buy-in and adoption to move productively through change and embrace constant refinement.

Nurturing employees’ appetite to embrace change and continuously improve requires a solid foundation of transformation capability. We use this term to describe the skills, processes, technology, and data that help an organization accelerate its transformation efforts. When we say “acceleration,” it’s not only about accelerating implementation, but also accelerating value realization. Much like when someone becomes excited about exercising versus solely going through the motions, results move forward apace. There is both a speed and momentum component of acceleration that ensures the transformation outcomes are tied to objectives—whether it’s increased physical strength or a digital initiative that upends legacy ways of working. In other words, transformation capability shrinks the gap between strategy and execution.

People are at the heart of transformation capability

Transformation capability goes beyond orchestrating a set of projects or initiatives. It is about reshaping the organization’s mindset to embrace change, seek transformational opportunities, and reimagine the possibilities. Our research shows that organizational readiness (31 percent) and employee skillsets (27 percent) are among the top three transformation capability obstacles.[1] In other words, failing to account for people matters is sure to undercut outcomes. Conversely, when employees are prepared to change, embrace a collective mindset, and understand their role within a transformation, efforts are poised for success.

When governed by a Transformation Value Office (TVO), your organization will build capability and transform more seamlessly through its people. Because the skills required to manage transformation at scale exceed those needed to manage standalone projects or programs (e.g., via a PMO), the TVO drives complex initiatives in the direction of the organization’s overarching strategic vision. In other words, it is a critical link between the executive vision and the work that gets done. While the idea of a transformation governance office is not new (40 percent of organizations with formal transformation governance in place use a Transformation Management Office) [2], we believe that conventional Transformation Management Offices fail to maximize the creation of organizational capability, which hampers ongoing value creation. The TVO is designed to address this limitation.

Enabled by a TVO, transformation capability shows up at every level of the organization. Executives need to sponsor and champion change to the organization, establish priority among initiatives, and create space for the organization to transform. In our research, leadership direction ranks as the top factor enabling companies to transform, followed by a continuous improvement mindset.[3] From there, managers and supervisors need to understand their role and help employees grow through change. Finally, employees should feel empowered to take charge of change, seek answers, and champion continuous improvement in helping to drive the change forward. With strengthened transformation capability, employees can more quickly adapt and move onto another critical initiative. 

To build transformation capability through the TVO, a Change Management Office offers critical operational support and helps employees move seamlessly through change. The Change Management Office ensures that everyone speaks the same language and is supported by standard methodologies and tools. From there, you can take a structured approach to the people side of complex, transformational change for sustainable, successful outcomes. ​Building a The Change Management Office starts with a few fundamental steps:

  • Define your community and purpose: This involves establishing or reinvigorating your change management community ​and conducting a change management maturity assessment. Among the requirements is establishing a guiding change management methodology.
  • Establish ways of working: Develop a Change Management Office approach for management routines, ways of working, and metrics. In this process, you should consider using change saturation insights to inform your approach so you can understand the level of change happening across your organization and impacting your employees. Change Pulse monitoring can help you drive informed decision-making around change and transformation planning as you build and implement Change Management Office processes ​and create a change management playbook.
  • Engage the workforce: Create and conduct change leadership training and establish a change management community of practitioners ​to ensure that you're bringing employees along the transformation journey.

It’s time to look past the criteria of “on time” and “on budget” alone to evaluate transformation outcomes. To achieve groundbreaking success and reimagination, you must put continuous evolution at the center through an intentional focus on transformation capability. This capability is powered by employees who embrace change, seek transformational opportunities, and reimagine the possibilities.


[1] June 2020 North Highland-sponsored survey of > 200 cross-functional employees at companies with annual revenues > $1B and that are headquartered in the U.S. or the U.K.

[2] June 2020 North Highland-sponsored survey of > 200 cross-functional employees at companies with annual revenues > $1B and that are headquartered in the U.S. or the U.K.

[3] February 2020 North Highland-sponsored survey of > 400 cross-functional employees at companies with annual revenues > $1B and that are headquartered in the U.S. or the U.K.