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Transformations fail due to faulty leadership

Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra’s optimism on Prinsjesdag – the State Opening of Parliament – is all well and good, but there’s a reason why purchasing power is still lagging behind. The business community is holding its breath because a disruptor in a bomb vest could be lurking behind every lamppost waiting to attack your great brand or company. CEOs have their transformation plans ready – that’s not the problem. But the same CEOs can’t sleep at night for worrying about why they just can’t get their thousands of employees to adopt a new behaviour.

McKinsey has ascertained that more than 70% of all transformations unfortunately fail. This is hardly surprising when you consider that, while the CEO can genuinely want change, you’ve got a handful of Santa’s helpers against a gargantuan mass who despise change. Plus there’s another problem on top of this in the Netherlands: the Dutch Disease. Austrian ski instructors know exactly what this means. German or French classes happily file in line behind their instructors like geese all day. But a Dutch skiing class wants to discuss everything beforehand: departure times, the route, coffee and lunch locations, etc. So within fifteen minutes the group is spread out all over the skiing area.

The Dutch business community is just like Monty Python’s 100-yard dash for people with no sense of direction and after the starting shot the runners all go in different directions. Mix this national anarchist trait with the new generations XYZ and you wind up with a fatal cocktail that makes even the Russians shake in their boots.

They’ve now passed the point of desperation in Dutch boardrooms. The board members have read and re-read all the books by Sun Tzu, Covey and Maxwell. They’ve given all the management styles a whirl: management by objectives, by exception, by delegation, by fear and ultimately by looking desperately out of the window. Only to come to the conclusion that the secret of the transformation smiths lies not in leadership, but above all in good followership. So whoever has the most followers wins. And only those who can chart the strongest followers – the internal opinion leaders – gain a grip on their organisation.

And that brings us nicely to the opportunity to preach to the choir. Because I’ll give you three guesses who has more than a hundred years of experience in influencing the behaviour of the masses. Not the McKinsey’s, PWCs or Accentures. Those bright left-brainers know as much about psychology as they do about piano tuning. That’s right, for playing with the minds of the masses, organisations are genuinely better off turning to the advertising agencies. Because we masters of persuasive communication do not care whether you need to bring about a great migration of wildebeests to the store. Or ensure thousands of employees understand and embrace the new company mission. So while the consultancies may have dangerously deep pockets, that can’t take a century of craftsmanship away from us.

Dick van der Lecq

Dick van der Lecq is the Managing Director at DDB Unlimited. He was previously the Managing Partner at Etcetera.