How I Learned Three Hard Truths About Organizational Transformations

Posted by Chris Myers on April 19 2018

I don't care how much experience you have or how sophisticated you are; change is hard.  As humans, it seems as though we're destined to forever oscillate between craving change and fearing it.

When we set out to transform BodeTree into a very different type of organization, I knew that there would be quite a few challenges we'd have to overcome.

While there were a significant number of operational changes that needed to take place, I felt relatively comfortable with those. It was the human element that concerned me.

We had spent the better part of a decade trying to build a business that could bring innovation to the world of small business banking.

The team and products we developed had performed admirably, but now we found ourselves going in an entirely different direction.

I desperately wanted the team to come along with me on this new journey, but I knew that not everyone would be able to accept the change.

The experience of navigating such a dramatic change taught me three hard truths about organizational transformations.

#1 - It has to be all or nothing

When it comes to business personas, I've found that I'm very much a diplomat. I always try to understand the varying perspectives surrounding any given situation and strive to find a solution that is acceptable to everyone involved.

As with every management style, my diplomatic approach comes with unique benefits and drawbacks.

On the positive side, I can usually act as a peacemaker and facilitator, finding solutions where everyone is happy, and relationships are set up for lasting success.

The negative result of this approach is that I occasionally find myself holding the middle ground, not committing to any one strategy for fear of upsetting those around me.

When first contemplating the transformation we were about to undertake, I briefly considered trying to serve two masters. I reasoned that we could continue helping financial institutions while expanding into franchising.

I quickly realized, however, that the move toward franchising required more than just the creation of a new offering; it demanded a complete recalibration of our governing philosophy.

Trying to be two different organizations at the same time would tear us apart, frustrating my team and hindering our growth.

We weren't just expanding our business; we were transforming it,  and that required us to make a decision. When it came to BodeTree's involvement in franchising, it had to be all or nothing.

#2 - Transformation requires bold and decisive action

Once we decided that we were all-in, I realized that an incremental approach to managing this change would doom the organization. Instead, we had to adopt a strategy of bold and decisive action.

The first step was to sell off the main components of the business we had worked so hard to build while retaining the core assets that gave us an edge.

Many of our team members and external advisors recommended a more cautious approach, but I knew that would lead us straight into a no-mans-land from which we could never emerge.

As a leader, I had to summon a fair amount of courage to plot a course forward. Even people who initially supported the decision wavered at different points, and my co-founder and I often felt that we were the only ones forging ahead.

It's been said that hesitation kills, and I couldn't agree more. Once we started down the path of transformation, there was no going back. The only option was to push ahead, harder and faster than ever before.

There were times when I felt as though I was making a terrible mistake, but I realized I could not allow those doubts to influence my decision-making. It was like jumping off of a diving board; questioning the decision mid-air would only result in disaster.

#3 - Not everyone will make the jump

I desperately wanted my entire team to join me on this journey, but I knew deep down that not everyone would be able to accept the change we were making.

When confronted with a reluctant or non-cooperative team member, my first inclination was to try and appease them in order to buy enough time for them to see the light.

Fortunately, I stopped myself from making that mistake. I'd been through this before, and have learned not to pander to team members.

Teams are built on mutual respect, and it does no one any good to sugarcoat the truth or pander to the whims of any one person.

Instead, I drew upon my experience and set a very clear expectation: this was the direction we were taking, and I expected everyone support the change or leave.

Some people came along for the ride and found quite a bit of success in the new environment. Some decided to leave of their own accord.

Unfortunately, a small number paid lip service to the transformation but refused to change their approach, requiring me to make a change.

This took an emotional toll on me, but it proved to be the right decision. I had to remind myself that my duty was toward the organization as a whole and its shareholders, rather than any one team member.

Ultimately, those who left us, either by their own choice or mine, ended up happier after the move. Not everyone is cut out for an organizational transformation, and acting on that realization proved to be liberating.

The hard truth

Our transformation was both risky and terrifying, but it proved to be the best decision we ever made.

Nothing of value in life comes easily; you have to fight for it. The truths I encountered throughout this process reinforced my belief that a firm, transparent, and bold approach always wins out in challenging times.

Tags: Decision Making

Chris Myers

Written by Chris Myers

Chris Myers is the Cofounder and CEO of BodeTree and a Partner at BT Ventures. He is also a columnist for Forbes Magazine and a regular contributor for MSNBC.