Top Ten Tips for Transformation Go-Live Success

Our featured blog this week is from Simon Brown, of Simon Brown Associates. He has 20 years of experience in transformation and has been involved in six end to end transformation programs, including the merger planning to create the new GlaxoSmithKline company, which was the world’s largest merger at the time and set a trend for the Pharma sector to follow. Here he gives his top 10 tips to make sure your transformation project is a success.

As a veteran of six end to end Transformation and Shared Services Programs since 1996, together with consulting for numerous other clients since 2010, I often get asked: what works best, what are your key learnings, what advice would you give?

Whilst there is no single “cut and paste” solution since each company has its own culture, its own spend budget and change readiness agility, there are certainly some common factors which, if applied with the correct level of dedication and follow-through, can make a great difference to the speed of implementation and effectiveness of your transformation.

My own experience to date is with these 6 global companies:

  • SmithKline Beecham 1996-2000,
  • GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) 2001-2,
  • The Coca-Cola Company 2007- 2010,
  • NCR Corporation 2011-13,
  • Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) 2014-2016,
  • Becton Dickinson (BD) 2016-2018

*My views below are based on my personal experience and personal views over 20 years and are not specifically assigned to as representing or reflecting the above organisations.

My primary focus has been with Human Resources Transformation, plus a dose of Global Business Services (integrating IT, Finance and HR back-office functions), and yet the journey to ‘go-live’ success is a similar one whichever function you are transforming.  So where I have referenced HR in this article please substitute the name of your own function in transformation as needed to suit.

Go-Live is that high profile moment when you turn all the thinking, planning, blood, sweat and tears of knowledge transfer including the processes which you lift and shift or lift and transform, into a new operational model. A model which the customers can see, feel, touch and truly experience. It’s exactly like when you open your store or restaurant and suddenly your customers are ready to consume your products and services and give you feedback on what they did or didn’t like.

So here are my 10 top tips for Transformation Go-Live Success:


  1. Begin with the end in mind.

    One of Stephen R. Covey’s Seven Habits!
    Think future state. Know your goals.

Establish a visual blueprint of your future organisation, your Target Operating Model. Be clear on the deliverables, and desired outcomes: the measures of success in terms of operational effectiveness, customer satisfaction and cost-efficiency. Define and agree on these upfront and together with your key stakeholders. Plan ahead and get answers to these points before you get sucked into the doing mode.

  1. Create a Compelling Vision to move forward

    Draw your own ‘Big Picture’.

By working together on the design and actually articulating the vision by physically drawing a tableau (“Big Picture”) to describe your future state (and at the same time to confirm why the current state is unsatisfactory) you are creating something which you can show and share with others to get them involved and engaged.  A picture is worth a thousand words: it draws people in, starts a conversation, creates meaning and dialogue for change. Like in a good art gallery, it provokes a response, creates an emotional reaction.

So to gain momentum to move forward we need to create a compelling vision, a good story, something to believe in, to follow, to become part of.  It is a kind of journey map with key milestones worth reaching, and a pot of gold or treasured place to be on the horizon, at the sun-rise, on the other side of the mountain. The compelling vision and the story that goes with it will particularly for senior managers have both a clear business case and like all good stories be capable to win hearts and minds, especially when good things come to those who take up and stay true to the journey. We all remember story-books where there are challenges to overcome, tangible outcomes and people as role models we can relate to.

Do share real stories from other companies who have already had successful journeys: they survived and thrived after all!  Provide real case studies, real people with real roles in the new model. Describe “A day in the life of…” for each of the key roles in your future state organisation.

  1. Engage your key stakeholders early

    Enlist business “change champions”.
    Obtain the voice of the customer.

Before you start to implement your new ways of working, be sure to get real supporters from the business on your side. Convert spectators into participants of your team, on the pitch, helping you to win.  Identify and enlist “change champions” who can talk positively about the benefits of self-service, portal and system technology, freeing up true HR business partners to actually spend more time supporting the business agenda and less time as a pair of hands-on administration.

Change champions are leaders, role models (walking the talk), who are well respected by other managers and thus engender and enable peer and cascade credibility to the transformation story. Their enthusiasm, business savvy and effective communication style will help the transformation to become a business transformation, a new way of working, not just something for and on behalf of HR (or another back-office function).

The line manager then becomes a People Manager who has more ownership of hiring, onboarding, managing performance and engagement of their team. They become responsible also for initiating system transactions for and on behalf of their teams. Good People Managers will show by example to their colleagues and direct reports on what to do.

  1.  Align

    Systems with Processes, Projects with work-streams, Portal with People, to ensure the most frequently asked employee questions = content answers.

Generally, alignment is the keyword. Alignment of activities, sub-projects, work-streams etc. are key to the successful implementation and end-user digestion of the transformation and changes to the ways of working. Having a clearly coordinated and well-structured Project Management Office with a well bundled Communications plan can really help to present the transformation as one initiative, not a thousand unrelated busy tasks. Just like the air traffic controller the role is to ensure that planes take off and land safely at the right time in the right place.

Align Process & System. System design and implementation and process design and implementation need to happen in parallel, to be aligned. You can’t implement a system without a clear and consistent set of global processes, and global processes will only work if the system enables the necessary transactions.

Roles and workflows must be defined and aligned. One without the other = an unholy and costly mess and lots of re-work.

Align Portal with People. Think about what is relevant for the end-user when designing your intranet portal. Ensure navigation and access to information is simple and easy. Use a search engine with keyword enquiry. The most frequently asked questions that employees normally ask (have you got five minutes…?) are the ones to ensure you have written good content answers for on the portal. Keep these answers up to date, relevant and fresh and you will save everyone time.

  1. Hire an HR Shared Services Team Director and Team Leader * early.

Sadly, all too often companies make the mistake of leaving it until their new HR Service Centre is up and running before hiring the HR Service Director, and team leaders (for spans of 12 people +). The mistaken belief is that it is costly to hire these roles early. Particularly if they are an additional cost to a headcount not yet saved elsewhere in the organisation. My counter-proposal is to hire these pivotal roles early. Select those who are change agents, good at stakeholder engagement and employee relations, and particularly strong on delivery of customer service satisfaction: the most important metric there is!

Make them part of your pre-go live project team, conducting knowledge transfer, engaging early with key stakeholders, hiring the team. If they are involved in this it will build a stronger psychological contract and a vested interest to build the best team, the best processes, lay the best foundations for the new house right from the start. That’s actually cost-effective!

  1. Be clear on HR roles for the new HR Model

Answer the “what’s in it for me” (w-i-i-f-m) question honestly.
Have a clear, transparent, and fair selection process.
Give guidance on the transition and the project opportunities.
Be honest about the exit process and financial and career support for leavers. 

The HR Community will have one question on their mind as you announce your HR Transformation program: What’s in it for me? Behind that question lies their hierarchy of needs:

  • What happens to me – and when, what are the opportunities/options for me, and what if there are no opportunities for me?

Don’t pretend that these questions can remain unanswered. Don’t leave the elephant in the room unannounced. Don’t lose trust. Acknowledge that their questions are relevant and real. Be honest. You may not have all the answers yet but do your best to outline the road map and the 3 routes to be taken:

a – you can be selected for a role in the new model,

b –  you can grow your CV in change and project management,

c – there is no clear role yet defined that we can see for you, however, if you stay and help with knowledge transfer a fair and respectful package and support will be there for you if ultimately no suitable roles match for you.

  1. Change Management is key – win over HR

From all my transformation experiences in the last 20 years this is the one common theme for them all:  

HR is often more resistant to letting go of the current state than managers or employees are.

Take time to get HR on-board with change – actively listen to their hopes, fears, and concerns.
With them on-board you have a salesforce for the new way of working!

Don’t underestimate change management or the time it takes. Give quality time to this.
Behaviours don’t change on paper or after a single slide deck presentation. You are promoting a new concept (well not that new since Dave Ulrich first promoted the new HR Model back in the mid 1990s) and at first it seems just a concept, a rather uncomfortable concept. Until people see how it works for them.

  • There is a change for line-managers to become more empowered and empowering as People Managers.
  • There is some change for employees – to do some of their own self-service system transactions.
  • There is even more change for HR -changing roles, changing organisation structure, headcount, new skills to learn, old skills to let go.

Of all the stakeholders in the change mix, my experience is that HR is often more resistant to letting go of the current state than managers or employees are. They have more skin in the game and they perceive they have more to lose. Have the courage to spend time with HR to help them through their personal transition. First, they need to accept that the change must come from them.

  1. Rule of 8: communicate, communicate, communicate

In times of significant change, research shows the same messages need to be repeated up to 8 times before they are heard, understood, and internalised.

(Price Pritchett: Business as Unusual).

I attended a seminar back in 2000 and read the book. At that time, I was involved in the merger planning to create the new GlaxoSmithKline company. It was the world’s largest merger at the time and set a trend for the Pharma sector to follow. A huge change was taking place and Price Pritchett taught us the “rule of 8 “for communications. In turbulent times of change, you can never over-communicate. As we have all experienced in 2020 with the Covid19 pandemic.

When the game is changing, and the old rules and framework is not the same any more you have to help the team to take it all in and to adjust to the changing environment. People often don’t hear, and sometimes don’t want to hear, the first message of change. They just don’t take it in.  So say it again, and again and again eight times like a beat in slightly different ways but actually with the same core message. At 8 times or more nearly everyone hears it, internalises it and recognises it as their new terms of reference.

  1. Do knowledge transfer as a Joint Project Team:

Country HR working together with the HR Shared Services Centre.
Aim for a “one team together” mindset. HR Services team and Country HR team working together. Transferring knowledge of process, policy and transaction and legislation from each country to the new HR Service Centre is a big full-on project, not just a short task.

Create a project management team mindset with a clear charter and purpose: we are doing this together and we will do it well. It’s about collaboration, it’s about not wanting to let employees in that country down. This approach sets up conditions for success.

Spend time and budget to do as much face to face/voice to voice knowledge transfer and training as you can. It’s about giving and receiving the gift of knowledge and can actually be a reward for an employee to get the opportunity go to another country to do this.

Steer clear of any connotations of “taking over”, “raiding their brains”, “us and them” – these set an unhealthy atmosphere for the project and must be confronted early if they arise.

  1. Go-Live is just the start!

When you “go live” it is not the end of the project – it is just the tangible beginning of the new way of working.
Stay close for the first 3-6 months to create habits for the Service Delivery Model.
Keep the score to record early successes, and encourage improvements.

Don’t disband the project team just yet. Check first that the new roles, systems and processes are working and working underneath the surface. Ensure that people are trained for their new roles and that they have actually made the behavioural transition from the old state model to new state new model and new actions. Invest time to institutionalise the new ways of working.

Actions are everything. Read also the signs -verbal and non-verbal. Praise adoption and good examples of new ways of working. Encourage customer feedback on the service and be quick to improve the service where needed. Nip in the bud the bad habits and signs of old ways of working via firm, constructive feedback with SMART examples.

Do take time to positively celebrate Go-Live day with a drink and a cake as a milestone achieved.      It marks the end of the beginning; the start of a new life-cycle of continuous operational excellence.

Simon offers bespoke HR solutions to match your business needs, to deliver effective Human Resources outcomes. You can find more about what his company does on his website.

James Cumming is our MD, Interim and Transformation Search specialist. Please get in contact with him directly to discuss any of these topics further.