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Zuleka Kaysan & Ivan Palomino | Founder and Managing Director & Learning Strategist and Behavioural Designer

How to Use Business Transformation to create a better ‘People Culture’

An organizational culture based on ethical practices, meritocracy, and a shared sense of purpose is difficult to achieve, but when organizations undergo a business transformation, a healthy culture is often de-prioritized over processes and systems.

And while many specialists talk about the importance of having employees onboard with transformation projects, why isn’t it also exploited as an opportunity to improve company culture?

Generally speaking, transformation projects become a focal point when businesses re-evaluate their goals. They’re usually either triggered by external factors, substantial or abrupt shifts to the business model and how value is created, or a recognition that the business needs to evolve gradually over a significant period.

When companies undergo change, it is the perfect opportunity to improve or redefine the organizational culture or mindset. However, organizational culture is often not central to the change agenda.

Transformation as a Response to Business Crises

As a result of the pandemic, 78% of executives are looking to transform their companies within the next three years. In an ideal scenario, companies would adjust their strategy to adapt to their business needs as part of business as usual. However, the reality is that many transformation projects are a response to the company hitting a crisis point – the culmination of the sum of its parts not working.

At this point, organizations facing pressure from their board or investors hire prominent consultants to fix things. This is usually done through ‘re-strategizing,’ unilateral communication with senior leadership teams, or buying expensive technology solutions (before understanding whether the solution fits the company’s needs).

What are the risks of a faulty start in a transformation project?

The Impact of the Wrong Start in Transformation

Execution and organizational culture are pivotal in moving from the need to transform to become a part of the overall strategy and modus operandi.

Zuleka, Founder of The Cornerstone Advisory, highlights an example of a company she worked with. Her client shifted their strategy three times in just two years to mitigate the crisis they faced. The strategic direction wasn’t the problem; it was the execution:

  • Objectives and KPIs were contradictory between departments. They served a territorial and self-serving culture.
  • Burgeoning processes and systems were implemented, which meant that employees faced frequent hurdles in getting their core work done.
  • Employees were disengaged, overworked, and met with inconsistencies, resulting in a duplicated effort and a constant change of direction.

When the primary reason for the change is in response to a crisis, already demoralized and demotivated employees will only view that change with skepticism. Introducing change to people in this environment simply doesn’t work.

How to transform while building an improved business culture

The example above is quite common and usually requires an experienced outsider’s perspective to make it right. In this example, Zuleka worked with the leadership team to switch from short-term patch fixes to long-term solutions.

Firstly, by building clarity and structure into how the business. She embedded strategic direction through OKRs (objectives and key results), enabled change through improved and purpose-built processes and systems, and gave leadership control through data and analytics.

While these enablers are necessary to the success of transformation projects, the defining element of success was involving employees throughout the journey; engaging with them to co-create solutions. Because who better knows what’s happening on the front line than employees? And in doing so, she created advocates, built support for the change, and developed a culture focused on collaborative problem-solving.

The value of this approach is two-fold:

  1. Creating structures and a company culture that enables the now,
  2. Fostering an innovation mindset and culture that helps the business evolve over time.

How does this help leaders? This translates into a positive employee experience that increases effectiveness, productivity, and willingness to embrace change and lead it. But most importantly, this creates an in-built mechanism of self-sufficiency that adds immeasurable value to a business’s future.

The First Collaborative Business Transformation Hub in the Middle East

The variety and size of the challenges businesses face in the Middle East are unique. Companies are confronted by fast-paced, transient, and multicultural environments that typically prioritize short-term gains. These challenging environments require a cohesive business culture that propels business transformation and prepares the company for the long haul.

In 2022, Ivan Palomino, Co-Founder of Bessern, and Zuleka co-created the first Business Transformation Hub combining their experience in organizational behavioral change and operational business transformation. The goal is to lead business change from both a structural and a human perspective.

Why is this so important today? Building robust business foundations minimize the need for crisis-led business transformations. Making the effort today means that companies are in a position to innovate better and faster in the future. But more than that, transformation and innovation become an ongoing part of the business and company culture and not as a last resort response to crises.

About the Authors

Zuleka Kaysan is a Founder and Managing Director of The Cornerstone Advisory. She works directly with business leaders and founders to position their businesses for success by connecting people, processes, and systems to results.

Ivan Palomino is a Learning Strategist and Behavioural Designer who helps people change the way they think, feel, and behave at work. He is the founder of Bessern.