Sustaining the transformation

Image by Susan Nikitenko from Pixabay

Many of you reading this blog, will probably already know that it is oft quoted that many transformational efforts fail to sustain (sometimes up to 85% though I don’t know where that number comes from or if it is ‘real’). It is quite an astounding figure and makes me wonder why so many organisations even feel like they want to embark on what seems, in that kind of statistic, quite a risky endeavour.

I really enjoyed reading a blog from lean leadership guru, Micheal Balle the other week who explored the risks that transformation consultants take, when helping organisations that embark on a lean transformation. There are no shortage of good reasons to help explain why many transformations fail to sustain, and plenty of research outlining the barriers to transformation.

In response to a tweet from Dr Toussaint, I thought I might try to capture my ‘top 10’ things that help to sustain a transformation here, and see if others agree, can add to them, or even think about them in relation to their own work. I don’t know of any specific research on this, if you know of some I would love to read it.

Signs and signals of impending transformation sustainment success from organisational leadership teams (a.k.a. the things transformation consultants are hoping/expecting to see happen)

1. Visible leadership teams. To say thank you to improvement teams or even better if leadership teams are members of a team, and clear their diary to do it.

2. Explicitly sticking to agreed and clear priorities and changing them reluctantly and infrequently, yet continuing to listen and respond. Ensuring the transformation is more than money and cost savings.

3. Grit and staying power, sticking with learning a method and approach, and not delegating this, even when it might be tempting to bring in someone else to do it their way.

4. Consistent leadership, with the humility to learn. Influencing and modifying the culture everyday.

5. Sticking to new ways of working, e.g. using a visibility wall, using standard work, and ensuring time pressures don’t stop it.

6. Building trust and support, and energy, and agency, and participation, not just engagement. Communicating and listening at every opportunity, in/responding to blogs, on corporate messages, in weekly briefings, at every staff meeting. Amplification of staff and partners supporting the transformation effort, through voice or action. Building political legitimacy.

7. Adequately resourcing the work: it’s important.

8. Expecting incremental results and maybe even dips at the beginning. Ensuring growth space or headroom for teams to form, and storm. Recognise need to take risks early to build results in the longer term.

9. Consistent behaviours: agreeing to do things in public and formally, with follow through behind the scenes, yet recognising we are all human, and there are ‘learning opportunities’

10. But mostly, being explicitly clear on the WHY. Why do we need to transform, what is the shared purpose? Why is it important and urgent and why having a robust and rigourous improvement approach that we all use is important?

What would be in your top 10?

(Please note this list is a generalised based on my work over the last 23 years and on conversations with other similarly experienced people, but they are rules of thumb, not research).



  1. […] Third, if this can be so, what is it that leaders and practitioners can practically to support the development and sustainability of cultures in which improvement can thrive? How can we develop that kind of sustained habitual improvement capability? What gestures can leaders at all levels take to help cultivate improvement cultures? What will it take to sustain such a cultural transformation? […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s