Focussing on people means business transformation is far more likely to succeed

A new study from EY and Saïd Business School study suggests that leaders prioritising a human-centred approach to transformation turning points are up to up to twelve times more successful.  The EY organisation’s latest research with Saïd Business School, at the University of Oxford, reveals new insights into what happens when a transformation program’s leadership believes a transformation has or will go off-course and intervenes with the intent of improving its performance (turning points).

According to the joint research based on analysis of 846 senior leaders, and 840 workforce members, across 23 countries and 16 industry sectors, and five qualitative case studies, turning points are ubiquitous in nearly all transformation programs. 96 percent of respondents experienced at least one turning point over the course of a project, with 76 percent citing them as unavoidable in today’s unpredictable business environment.

Data from the three-year collaboration with the EY organisation and Oxford Saïd has highlighted that transformations are not linear, and that along with global volatility and the increased speed of disruption, new thinking is demanded around how leaders must navigate these turning points while also addressing the changing environment inside and outside of an organization. The data reveals that at the centre of this new thinking are humans.

The research finds that when leaders fail to take a human-centric approach to navigating turning points, the transformation program is 1.6x more likely to underperform and 3.5x more likely to leave workers experiencing negative emotions, such as anxiety, fear, and apprehension towards future change.

Yet, those who take an adaptive, people-centred view to a turning point are more likely to successfully steer the program back on course and can also potentially double (2.1x) the speed of the overall transformation program, improve the wider program performance against key performance indicators (KPIs) by nearly two-fold (1.9x) and support workforce readiness for the next transformation program (1.9x).

The study revealed a three-step human-centred approach — Sensing, Sense-making, and Acting — that enhances the overall transformation chances of success by a factor of 12:

  • Sensing: Focusing on early detection by looking beyond traditional lagging KPIs to behavioural and emotional changes of the people involved in the transformation.
  • Sense-making: Identifying and addressing root causes of issues in collaboration with team members across the transformation program.
  • Acting: Reinforcing the six key drivers that set the conditions for successful transformations established in our initial whitepaper, these include engaged leadership, collaboration, fostering a culture of inspiration, empowerment, care, and finally recognition of the emotional impact of technology.

The study claims to have identified a new standard in helping leaders and their teams deliver transformation programs smoothly that moves beyond traditional KPI measurements and places a spotlight on the importance of comprehending the impact and role of human emotions as benchmarks in a transformation, demonstrating the power of placing humans at the centre.