Is Business Transformation Just Business As Usual? 

6 min read
Oct 12, 2023 4:15:27 PM

Is there any business that isn’t transforming in some way, right now?   

In the latest EY CEO Outlook Pulse, 98% of CEOs expect a moderate or severe downturn in the global economy, with 55% predicting that the recession will be different from previous slowdowns, buffeted by a whole new set of forces (geopolitical, supply chain, talent, ongoing pandemic uncertainty….)  

McKinsey & Company analysis estimates that the average lifespan of an S&P 500 company has dropped from 61 years in 1958 to less than 18 today, driven by M&A, bankruptcy (and name changes).   

Who would choose to be a CEO in these turbulent times? Actually, quite a few people – the Spencer Stuart 2022 S&P 500 CEO Transitions tracker showed that 56 S&P 500 companies appointed a new chief executive in 2022, bringing transitions back in line with pre-pandemic levels.   

That’s a lot of transformation. 

But what differentiates business transformation from just regular old strategy?   

The key thing that differentiates business transformation is scale.   

  • Big, bold ambitions to drive breakthrough, not incremental value 
  • Programs to drive the top and bottom line, through new ways to reach and serve customers and/or drive organizational efficiency  
  • Initiatives to completely disrupt the way the organization – or the industry – does business 

(We’re going to discount digital and technology here, as they’ve become an integral part of any transformation).   

Reading ten different articles on business transformation is likely to give you ten different models. From the 7S model, to the 8 step change model, to ADKAR, to a Balanced Scorecard and everything in between. These out of the box models promise to deliver frameworks designed to help organizations plan and implement changes to make widespread improvements. The challenge with implementing a model like this is that of course, there is really no one-size-fits-all model for an individual business. It's an ideal and it would be nice if it worked that way, but these step-by-step approaches overlaid onto businesses don't often work. We believe that successful business transformation must bring together the best of two things: behavior change and systems thinking.   

Out of the box business transformation templates are widely available but rarely of value to organisations


How do we know (apart from intuitively) that people are the key?  

McKinsey and Company analysis shows that there is a tipping point of around 7% of workforce involvement. Transformations with 7% (or more) of the workforce owning the change are 2x as likely to beat their peers in total return to shareholders (TSR). But this is the minimum – the more people are involved, the better the results (we’d draw the line at early involvement of resistors though).    

But it’s not just about choosing a random 7% (or more). Identifying change agents is the key. These are the people who are respected and listened to in a team. They may not be who you think they are – less middle managers, more the person everyone wants to have a beer with. Having a range of change agents also drives diverse, whole brain thinking.    

To identify change agents, you’ve got keep your eyes open and your ears to the ground. Who are the people who show up to workshops or townhalls and ask questions? Who's willing to contribute to the discussion? Who are your hand raisers? These are the people who have the potential to become change agents (regardless of seniority). You also have to really get to know them – from asking questions you might not want to hear the answer to and offering an open and trustworthy dialogue you’ll get to know their position on how it is now, and how it could be. Sharing and understanding pain points means that we can discover what’s holding the organisation back from change. These conversations are vital to uncovering the people who  are going to become our change agents; the right people to be connected with to deliver the best outcome possible. And finding these people is step one. Once you’ve got them, you’ve got to change them too.   

Changing the change agents  

So now that you’ve found them….how will you drive change, so that it becomes contagious and really transforms the organization?  

We collaborate with this group and connect them together but also look at them as individuals and have a framework to understand what motivates them to change. We think of four key phases (need, get, do, live):  

I will change if...



I understand why change is needed, it makes sense to me and is relevant 



I understand what’s being asked of me and what I need to do differently 



I see other people (peers, leaders) behaving differently
I’m given low risk opportunities to try and I have the skills that I need 



The structures, processes, systems and relationships around me support the change 
I’m encouraged positively – not punished 

Think about how to get change agents on board along the journey.  Do they have total clarity on what’s being asked of them? Do they have total belief in what you’re trying to do? We’re talking about winning the hearts and minds of individuals who have that contagious level of influence in an organisation that you can’t force. So they have to be all in. Then, with them, co-create solutions for each of Need/Get/Do/Live that work for the organization, based on a deep understanding of the people within it...their motivations, triggers and barriers. Don't try to do this without the Change Agents, it's likely that not only will you get this wrong, but that they might resist the change.


Lars Roos, Director of Digital Operations at the LEGO Group spoke at World Agility Forum September 23–24 2022 about how, having turned the business around by through digitization, LEGO wanted to pivot to an “engagement” platform with greater flexibility and scalability.

To do this, the IT team created a new way of working, using agile methodologies, rooted in software development - but broadened to include LEGO’s timeless bricks.

The First Change Agents
Agile Early Adopters

The transformation was inspired by a small group of digital project managers in the digital marketing team, who decided to pilot agile in their projects, and found it more motivating and engaging.

Based on the experiences of these early change agents, LEGO took the leap into agile transformation, including a new digital operating model and organizational structure, with greater team empowerment, in two departments of more than 500 employees across the world, but who also interacted broadly across the LEGO organization.

The transformation was carefully mapped out, with a clear change journey.

Need It Change Agents
Transformation Team

A small transformation team orchestrated the change journey and nudged change along, making coaches available and equipping leaders to support the change.

The transformation team clearly communicated the direction four months in advance, in an email from the CEO to all employees. This gave employees and leaders time to consider the change (including their hopes and fears) and to communicate with each other about its possible impact.

Get It Change Agents

70+ leaders from around the world were brought to LEGO’s Billund, Denmark HQ for a two-day onboarding workshop one month prior to launch. Here, leaders with LEGO or other agile experience shared stories, and leaders asked questions and candidly shared reflections and concerns.

Critically, they also had the chance to try out the new ways of working using the LEGO Scrum city game, where leaders built a LEGO city in short sprints. The result was that leaders left with a clear understanding of the new ways of working and the benefits it could bring to the organization.

Do It Change Agents
Agile Ambassadors and Coaches

Rather than mandating any specific methodologies or tools through heavy playbooks, the focus was on individuals and interactions across LEGO. This was supported by local ambassadors, with local coach support, and encouragement of ongoing peer sharing within and across teams or departments.

Deeper learning was supported through LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®, with supporting courses (focusing on standard methodologies) and information about key tools and coaching.

The transformation team developed a network of a few local coaches for each product area, who supported and collaborated on the transformation directly and early with internal customer teams. This drive local building of key competencies across the organization.

Live It
Scaling the change agents 

The change became ‘just the way we work at LEGO’ when the change agents became product managers and program managers who coordinate “product increment planning” (PI) meetings. In these large meetings (‘planning as a social event’) teams “pull” tasks into their teams rather than these being assigned by a middle manager.

Internal social media (open to all LEGO employees) e.g. Yammer and a central hub were used for internal comms, to share good practices and guidelines and grow understanding, with video quickly adopted as the main ways of communicating and sharing learnings from challenges, and success stories from working teams, coaches and leaders.

Key takeaway 

Regardless of the type of transformation, be sure to put people at the center of your program – because nothing changes unless people change.   

About the author 

Lisa Davies is a member of Oxford’s leadership team. She specialises in helping organisations to build high performing teams that deliver business results and encourage individuals to maximise their potential.

Want to learn more about business transformation?

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