On How Digital Transformation Starts with Bold Goals


Karen Thomas-Bland headshot
Karen Thomas-Bland

Founder & Director at Seven Transformation Ltd.

Episode notes

The featured guest on this episode of Dreams with Deadlines has done it all: Global consulting on major corporate transformation initiatives, overseeing M&A integrations, and holding influential positions on multiple boards.

Karen Thomas-Bland, whose highly successful career with KPMG and IBM hopscotched across the UK, the US, the Middle East, and Latin America, joins Host Jenny Herald to share insights gleaned during complex corporate integrations. As Founder & Director of Seven Transformation, her consulting track record and unique perspective highlight Karen’s ability to build teams and implement seamless strategic, digital, and cultural initiatives across the enterprise.

What you will learn

  • Factors that contribute to the 70% failure rate among companies attempting to execute transformation, which can be attributed to:
    • Lack of audacious, bold goal-setting on the part of leaders
    • Lack of clear-cut KPIs
    • Lack of alignment among key stakeholders and leadership messaging
    • Lack of transparency and buy-in across teams and missions
  • OKRs and communications that ensure smooth adoption of initiatives
  • Common challenges associated with M&A scenarios – and critical tactics to ensure a smooth and human-centered integration
  • Why it’s okay to fail – and preferably to fail fast. Then learn from it!
  • An insider’s look at the composition of boards, their roles and responsibilities, as well as the need for more diversity

Show notes

  • [00:01:20] About Karen’s migration from focusing on business psychology to a strategic, interdisciplinary global consulting role with KPMG and IBM.
  • [00:03:08] How 12 years ago, Karen made the decision to go out on her own, providing three things:
    • Consulting with companies navigating transformation, M&As, and other strategic initiatives.
    • Serving on boards.
    • Angel investing.
  • [00:05:08] Karen reflects on the whys behind a 70% failure rate among companies attempting to execute transformation:
    • A reluctance on the part of company cultures to act audaciously and boldly.
    • A lack of clear-cut KPIs.
    • Non-alignment among key stakeholders and in leadership messaging.
    • Not having “the recipe” for securing buy-in across the enterprise.
  • [00:09:28] About digital transformation and what it actually entails:
    • The first priority is creating a mindset shift within the business and organization.
    • Clearly define customer needs and the consumer landscape. “It always starts with where you think the market will go.”
    • Deploy the same technology – platforms and apps – both internally and externally.
  • [00:14:06] Karen shares factors that set the stage for successful adoption of change:
    • Research and metrics to understand customer behavior.
    • Consider necessarily cultural changes.
    • Roll out pilot programs – but don’t stay in pilot mode too long. Prepare to scale.
    • Align customer-facing technologies with those used inside the enterprise.
    • Be prepared to fail. Do it fast – and learn!
    • Ensure that leadership is coming along on the journey.
  • [00:20:44] About all things M&A and special challenges and tactics for managing them.
    • #1: Make sure the value case is clearly understood from the outset.
    • #2: Understand the multiple cultures at play on both sides of the acquisition.
    • #3: Create an integration management function to ensure the initiative has structure, stewardship, and clear communications.
    • #4: Don’t neglect ripples within the customer base. Address concerns and offer transparency around changes.
    • #5: Maintain clear objectives and key results to measure financial outcomes, growth, and cost synergies.
  • [00:25:12] Karen shares her key top-line metrics on the scorecard for M&A success:
    • Growth in shareholder value.
    • The rate of talent retention and attraction.
    • Employee insight surveys. Positive or negative? Inspired or disaffected?
    • Customer retention and satisfaction data.
    • Track the valuation of cost savings synergies as well as growth synergies.
    • Implement Day 1 operational performance and resource management.
  • [00:28:45] When, whether, and how to deploy OKRs:
    • Be bold with intention from the outset to win hearts and minds.
    • Prioritize team engagement with the mission.
    • Establish key metrics to analyze customer, employee, financial, processes, and technology.
    • Think first about what you should measure – then consider whether that objective is achievable.
  • [00:33:12] Strategies for managing M&A leadership integration and reorganization:
    • Anxiety is par for the course and expected. Ditto ego!
    • Make fairness and transparency a central feature of any go-forward plan.
    • Make decisions swiftly to maintain stability.
    • Build relationships and understand people’s motivations upfront to smooth transition.
    • Prepare to be a coach and mentor through the emotional upheaval and insecurities.
  • [00:37:22] Why measuring for success in transitioning merged workplaces has to do with retention, which is quantitative, but also must be assessed in qualitative experiences. Did people feel respected and supported, whatever the outcome?
  • [00:40:06] Karen shares perspective on serving with nine private equity-backed boards, both as chair and a non-exec.:
    • The role has evolved in recent years.
    • You are responsible for serving multiple constituencies, including shareholders, employees, governance, compliance, and public perception/reputation.
    • Composition of boards depends on multiple factors, such as skill sets required.
    • OKRs have an important role to play in guiding the oversight provided by boards.
  • [00:47:22] Quick Fire Questions for Karen:
    • What’s your Dream with a Deadline? Twofold: Her family’s health and happiness and, personally, to get her book written and “out there.”
    • Can you describe a strategy execution challenge you’ve faced and how you responded? Moving an energy company through transformation inside multiple cultures and with limited digital capability or capacity among employees.
    • What advice would you give to boards that aren't looking at OKRs right now? Why should they use them? “It's an old saying, but I always go to what gets measured gets done or what gets measured gets managed.” It’s critically important to establish a goal (doesn’t have to be comprehensive) and put some OKRs under it.
    • What’s top of mind for you these days? Tough times economically on the horizon, and what that will mean for priorities such as diversity and green initiatives.

About our guest:

Karen Thomas-Bland headshot
Karen Thomas-Bland

Founder & Director

Karen is an Interim Executive Committee member, Consultant and NED with 25 years’ experience leading complex enterprise-wide transformations and M&A integrations. Her interim and consulting clients have included Accenture, Microsoft, EY, Invesco, National Grid, RELX Group and PE funds where she has successfully led major programs of change.

Additional resources