Why jeopardise business transformation success? Get a second opinion

Getting a second opinion is second nature…

In every aspect of personal or business life where the consequences of failure are dire, we think nothing of seeking expert second opinions to protect ourselves from worst-case scenarios.

Take just a few examples:

  • We’re regularly screened at all stages of our lives for potential life-threatening medical conditions. If diagnosed, a second opinion is always encouraged to make sure we get the best treatment.
  • If your organisation is making a significant investment affecting the future of the business, we will probably consult various financial experts to take a deeper look at various scenarios before we reach an informed decision.
  • If your organisation is dealing with a complex legal issue with significant financial risks, you’d seek more than one opinion on the options available to give your company the best chance of a successful outcome.

And it’s not hard to see why.

You’ll have a much greater chance of success if you don’t go it alone or rely on one source of opinion. You’ll get expert advice based on knowledge and experience you clearly don’t have.

Above all, you’ll strive to get the best advice to underpin the success of your business.

…unless you’re driving business transformation

Yet the same principles don’t seem to apply when it comes to executing programs driving business transformation. These programs can make or break the success of any company.

I’m saying this based on solid experience.

In the last 30 years, I’ve been involved in getting 119 business-critical programs back on track. In all that time, I haven’t encountered a single situation where a second opinion was sought before the program was kicked off.  

In each case, a second opinion beforehand – from execution experts – would have provided executives with the insights they needed to set their game-changing transformation program up for success.

Instead, business leaders are typically on the back foot from day one.

They over rely on wishful thinking and only act when they are forced to stare down the barrel of a gun. This is an obscenely expensive and time-consuming strategy which, more often than not, puts organisations in permanent catch-up mode.

So, why does this happen?

Several things are at play here, but one human behavioural factor stands out for me:

Confirmation Biascollecting evidence to support what you want to believe.

For some reason, when it comes to business transformation, executives overrate their organisations’ capabilities to successfully execute these massive, inherently complex programs. 

What’s more, in most cases the business has never successfully completed a program remotely like it before.

Typically, execs tend to act alone and tune out dissenting voices – only listening to those opinions they want to hear. They’ll create unrealistic expectations, setting financial targets and timescales that create a short term “sugar rush” with critical stakeholders, without much input from those who will do the work.

Let me go a tad further.

My experiences on transformation programs also suggest this tends to be a male behavioural trait.  Female executives are more likely put their personal biases to one side and seek expert opinion.

Learning from the military

General Stanley McChrystal, former Commander of the United States Forces in Afghanistan, echoes the sheer common sense and logicality of a second opinion.

Using his experience from a rapidly changing and chaotic battlefield where the lives of his troops depended on it, he understood the need for scenario planning.

He set up Red Teams to run simulations to rehearse various scenarios. No one wants to be taken by surprise on the battlefield.

He created an excellent model (below) that shows the more challenging and chaotic the operating environment is, the greater the need for internal coordination and using practical outside expert help.

External Change Versus Internal Coordination Graph

By their very nature, business transform programs are slap bang in the middle of the “complex to chaotic” category. In addition to external help, these challenges also require massive levels of internal coordination for successful execution.

For information on how to get it right on digital transformation, check out our blog here.

Get a second opinion via an independent program assessment

General McChrystal’s experiences are consistent with our own. There is little point in “rolling the dice” and hoping for the best when executing business-critical programs. The odds are stacked against you.

We have seen over 100 of them where each exec took a punt and came up painfully short of their target.

You need an independent assessment of what you’re dealing with, not what you think you’re dealing with, recognising that you may lack the capabilities, expertise and resources to operate in such a volatile environment.

To use an analogy we’ve used before, it’s the business equivalent of climbing in the Pyrenees above 8000 metres in the “Death Zone.”  Above 8000 metres, you have just a tiny chance of surviving without expert help, specialist equipment and a flexible plan to deal with events that turn up out of the blue.

With over 100 program rescues under our belt, we found what’s least expected is what often blindsides you.

Why risk jeopardising a transform program that could make or break your organisation AND trash your reputation?

There are many benefits to getting a second opinion. These include everything from peace of mind and confirmation that what you’re doing is likely to be a winner.  You’ll also be much more confident you’ve identified blindspots, challenged groupthink and, you will almost certainly have identified several areas where fresh approaches would strengthen your program plan. 

Finally, a second opinion always offers insights into other risk mitigation options you may not have even thought about.

I’d be delighted to share my experiences with you about how an independent program assessment can help to strengthen your execution plan. Drop me an email, and I’ll get in touch.

About the author

David Hilliard is Founder of Mentor Europe, execution specialists in strategic program execution.