Teaching the elephant to fly: optimism in successful Business Transformations “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” Henry Ford – Boardroom Issue No. 8

Business transformations are never easy. It often feels like teaching the elephant to fly. And yet large organizations with their elephant sizes are attempting to fly every day – some of them even successfully. In this article, we recognize this optimism and share our observations in successful transformations – thus flying the elephant.

Defining the elephant: 6 Building blocks of a transformation

The story says that six blind men were asked to determine what an elephant looked like by feeling different parts of the elephant’s body. The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a solid pipe. A king explains to them: All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all the features you mentioned.

Similarly, large transformation programs also have different parts that can be perceived or explained differently. However, successful transformations embrace a holistic view of the big picture. They focus on what needs to be done first and create a meaningful roadmap for implementation afterwards. This is obviously different than constantly fixing the patches in many different project areas, all improvised along the way.

At VODW we focus on six building blocks during such transformations. While we believe all these building blocks are valuable enough for a standalone success, in our experience, organizations that excel in their transformations orchestrate them coherently.




Designing the elephant: Selecting the right levers for the transformation

At VODW we regularly observe and identify many best practices within our transformational building blocks. In our experience, successful transformations often combine some of them – however selectively based on a conscious strategy. Here are a few common characteristics of best practices that can be used as design principles for transformational aspirations:

  • Customer strategy and propositions are based on a clear customer centric vision; and structurally adjusted to changing market conditions.
  • Customer experience is based on distinctive brand values and consistent across channels. Senior leadership stimulates customer experience initiatives, which creates measurable impact and value.
  • End-to-End operational excellence fully supports selected customer journeys with efficient and effective execution capabilities. Mindset & behaviors are in line with customer vision and values.
  • High-performing commercial organization creates strategic value. Commercial skill sets are up to date and agile way of work is embedded in all activities.
  • Marketing intelligence and analytics support the fact-based and data driven organization. Customer triggers are integrated and customer processes are predictable with applied data.
  • Digital solutions are based on a clear customer-centric vision. Marketing technology is a single customer data platform and omnichannel journeys are executed integrally.

Flying the elephant: Managing the transformation

At VODW we believe that a transformation program is – just like the strategy – a matter of doing. We therefore recommend organizations to diagnose their building transformational blocks first, then taking their initial steps – one at a time. When one step is mastered in the transformation journey, then multiple steps and little jumps might follow; and who knows one day the elephant might fly. So, a little optimism would perhaps brighten up the rock-solid transformational aspirations.

By the way, if you like to watch an elephant jumping on a trampoline, here is the link for a two-minute illustration:


#Boardroom Issue