Why Pivots and Transformations Go Wrong

Why Pivots and Transformations Go Wrong

Whether you’re a founder pivoting your startup or a leader at a larger company driving digital transformation, you have to navigate turbulent waters as you create change in your organization.

As a leader, you typically have better visibility and see the obstacle ahead — it’s intuitively obvious to you that you need to steer the ship in response. As a result, communications on pivots and transformation often focus on the what and the how e.g. we’re swerving left, and we need you to do XYZ. But often the why for the transformation is left out because it seems obvious. To others aboard who don’t have the same visibility, your actions may seem arbitrary and perhaps even unnecessary.

In declaring a pivot or transformation, the leadership team often believes there’s more buy-in for change than there really is.

Without clarity on the why and the vision behind the need for change, individuals are often operating fast in their own roles, but not cohesively. For example, the sales team may need to respond urgently to an existing customer, but your product team may see that as a lower priority compared to the urgency of delivering features needed for the new business model.

Speed can look like this All moving fast, but in different directions

Each person may be operating fast to meet business needs but not always in the same direction. You find that the pivot or transformation seems to be causing confusion across the organization.

Over time, it feels like people are working in silos and not collaborating as they should be. When this festers, it can affect organizational culture and people can start to become disengaged — that makes steering the ship even harder!

How can you manage change in your organization more systematically?

At a company undergoing a major transformation to its core business (let’s call them AnonX), the executives recognized the importance of getting the team’s buy-in on transformation. They used the Radical Product Thinking methodology to take a vision-driven approach to create change.

The leadership team at AnonX started by defining a clear vision for the world they envisioned. Through a facilitated session, the team answered profound questions to craft a detailed vision in just 2 hours.

The leadership team had an intuition for why the transformation was necessary, but they needed to articulate the problem space clearly so that the rest of the organization could see why the change was needed. We created a vision that was centered on the problem and defined a visualizable end-state. To make this process efficient, we used the Radical Product Thinking approach to crafting a vision using a fill-in-the-blanks statement:

Today, when [identified group] want to [desirable activity/ outcome], they have to [current solution] . This is unacceptable, because [shortcomings of current solutions]. We envision a world where [shortcomings resolved]. We are bringing this world about through [basic technology/ approach].

Radical Vision Statement

Alignment at the leadership level is an important first step to get the rest of the organization to buy into the vision. With that accomplished, it’s tempting to think that the next step is an all-hands-on-deck meeting where the leadership team shares the vision articulating why the change is necessary and the desired end state.

While handing this vision to the team may work in a small startup going through its first pivot, the larger your company, the less likely it is that this approach will work.

If your startup has been through other pivots, employees may be tired of change and not looking forward to another one. In larger companies where this requires a new way of doing things, employees may not buy into the vision you’ve defined. In these situations, handing down a vision to employees may be greeted with eye-rolls instead of a warm welcome.

The idea of creating alignment in the organization is usually interpreted as employees aligning to the leadership’s vision. In reality, employees may have insights from their work whether it’s through technical knowledge or being on the frontlines with customers. Alignment in the organization comes from integrating these views with the leadership’s in order to create a complete picture.

At AnonX, we held meetings with different teams to share this vision. In these facilitated sessions, teams co-created the vision for transformation. Many of these teams shared fresh perspectives that were deeply insightful and the leadership team edited the vision statement they had crafted to incorporate these ideas.

A vision-driven approach uses vision as the starting point. Alignment on the vision lays the foundation for agreeing on a strategy, priorities, and a plan for measuring success.

In working with organizations ranging from startups to multinationals, I repeatedly find that taking this systematic, vision-driven approach to creating change has three benefits:

Being vision-driven looks like this RPT helps you align your team

  1. It creates better alignment across the organization: The process of articulating the vision clarifies for teams why they are doing what they are doing. It helps align the arrows so you’re moving fast AND in the same direction — the result is you have velocity, not just speed.

  2. It creates a deeper sense of purpose: A detailed vision helps create a clearer sense of purpose. But taking a facilitative approach to crafting the vision takes this a step further. It changes the paradigm that the team has to work on the vision handed down by the leadership team. This facilitative approach transforms your vision into the team’s vision.

  3. It improves organizational culture: These conversations often bring up uncomfortable truths that are thought but not spoken. By bringing these conversations out in the open, they become constructive discussions. The lift in morale and energy from these conversations is like watching the sun come out after days of rain.

Making a successful pivot or transformation requires more than communicating the need for change — you need to help your team navigate the changes this requires from them. By taking this vision-driven approach you can bring your team with you on the journey.