Digital transformation will inevitably unearth “blockers” — people who refuse to accept and endorse the change despite evidence to the contrary. Often the only solution is to go around them, even if they are senior management.

That’s the view of Mike Dudarenok, Flight Centre chief customer officer: technology – corporate. Dudarenok discussed the digital transformation of Flight Centre’s corporate division at Forrester’s CX event in Sydney this week.

Before the change program Flight Centre’s corporate “was doing ok” but wasn’t growing at a pace that satisfied Dudarenok. He pitched a new role for himself and a significant transformation to management. Eventually they signed off and Dudarenok led a major technology upgrade across the company’s corporate arm.

Over three years, the transformation increased product offerings from five to 42, grew and maintained customer retention to 99 per cent, increased customer acquisition by 357 per cent, and earned the division a slew of Flight Centre company awards, Dudarenok said.

The starting point for a major change project, Dudarenok argues, is outlining “where you want to be” at the end of it.

Start with the end in mind

“Every single time I go onto the next job, I write the story of what the future will look like in three years time. That’s the first thing I do,” he said.

Authoring a detailed story helps generate buy-in and sets tangible goals to work towards, Dudarenok said. It also now includes a “benefits realisation model” – something initially missing from Flight Centres transformation.

“I probably realised about 18 months into the program that ‘I don’t know how to measure these things’,” Dudarenok said.

According to Dudarenok, there was no doubts they were making progress, but he lacked common measurements from before the transformation to compare throughout. He recommends organisations take stock of their current position before commencing a transformation to help identify long term progress.

“Don’t make the mistake of having no clarity [on] what success looks like in the measurable terms.”

Establish a guiding coalition

Telling a transformation story is important, but it’s just as important to have others telling the same story, according to Dudarenok. He calls it a “guiding coalition” and it is essentially finding other employees to share and echo the change story. The best way to grow that coalition is by helping other departments, Dudarenok said.

In the case of Flight Centre, Dudarenok found allies from sales and marketing after he helped them solve their own problems, a process which also gave him a better understanding of the business, he said.

“It wasn’t the one voice anymore. It was multiple voices saying ‘hey, those things are important and I’ve seen how they change things’.”

However, Dudarenok said he encountered resistance in year two of the transformation plan. A challenge most transformations could expect, he said.

“When you start a transformation program you make a lot of incremental wins. There’s a lot of low hanging fruit and you go through this on a high. But you eventually get to the point of hope fading.”

There is no secret at this point, Dudarenok says, it takes hard work and perseverance. It’s also likely much of the opposition will come from within, following the change honeymoon period, Dudarenok said. This is where Dudarenok’s guiding coalition helped maintain the change vision.

Pick your battles

“No matter what type of transformation program you are doing, or no matter what you are doing in change overall, you will find people who will put blockers in front of you.”

Often there is no option but to convince these people and bring them on the change journey, Dudarenok said. Again, the guiding coalition plays a big role.

But there is another option, according to Dudarenok.

“Just go around them. [If] they don’t want to be part of it, it’s fine.”

“I know this is controversial, but sometimes even the senior management are wrong. And you need to have enough balls and enough perseverance if you actually genuinely believe, and your people believe, to make this right choices.”

Challenging senior management is a prospect that Dudarenok concedes “caught me out a bit”.

Time is the best judge

Change projects are, by their nature, judged incrementally and people struggle to look into the future, according to Dudarenok. At times this can be too short sighted and it’s up to change leaders to contrast current positions to the original starting point, Dudarenok said.

“Don’t forget to tell people the stories of before. We always tell people the stories of what the future is going to look like but we forget to tell people the stories of contrast.”

The stories of contrast help people to understand the change and sustain momentum, Dudarenok said.

“Your stories of before and stories of the future, and the feeling of today, is what allows you to get people to believe in the success.”

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