Can a Virtual Middle Market Business Transformation Program be Successful?

Virtual or Virtually Impossible?

If a middle market company chooses to conduct a business transformation project virtually, can the transformation be successful? The short answer is yes—it is possible to conduct a completely virtual transformation program successfully. And in 2020, for some companies it has become a necessity. Many middle market companies are investing in transformation projects due to pandemic-related business disruptions such as spikes in demand, workforce losses, supplier difficulties, or because their business demands have slowed allowing their employees to spend time working on transformation projects. Further, many middle market companies have become virtual during the pandemic, either reducing or completely eliminating brick and mortar presence for their employees.

A major middle market ERP provider recently told us that new sales are up 5-7% in the first three quarters of 2020 as many middle market companies are undertaking business-changing (i.e., major transformational) ERP implementations. More and more companies with most or all of their employees working virtually are collaborating with a consulting group and software provider (both working virtually) to implement an ERP solution without any ‘in person’ contact. The simple—and perhaps surprising—reality is that these providers have been doing virtual middle market ERP implementations for the past 10 years.  The right consulting group paired with the right software provider can implement business solutions virtually with high success rates and reduced expenses.

So, let’s take it one step further. Accepting the premise that an IT-related transformation project can be done virtually, can a non-IT focused project be done virtually? The answer is yes with the caveat that the project needs to be approached and delivered differently than a face-to-face, ‘sit in a conference room and work on a whiteboard together’ approach. Examples of a non-IT related project include a salesforce reorganization, development of a multi-year strategic plan, or the optimization of current supplier base. But not everyone understands the process for implementing virtual transformations. At FortéOne, our consultants have delivered global business transformation programs for decades—refined specifically for virtual success over the past 10 years.

Still not convinced? Consider education… many of us grew up with a teacher or professor standing in front of the class writing on chalkboard or whiteboard. Today, classes are being taught virtually from kindergarten through doctoral degree programs. Delivering an internet class successfully demands a new way of creating the curriculum content and changes the way the instructor and students interact while being educated. If you accept that the educational paradigm has shifted, is it possible to accept that the business consulting paradigm has shifted as well? Simply (though far from simple), it is just a different approach.

The most common mistake we see companies make with virtual business transformation projects is that they try to conduct the project the same way that they would if they are face-to-face in a conference room. Standing at a whiteboard with your back to the camera and participants connected via Teams or Zoom does not produce collaboration and agreement.  People get frustrated and tune out. At FortéOne, we instead lead with a pro forma example or model that is reviewed by participants before the session and then critiqued and modified online via a Teams or Zoom meeting. This is far more efficient and effective in reaching consensus and then ultimately moving forward with the project.

Are you a good candidate?

If you are a middle market executive considering a virtual transformation project, ask yourself and your fellow executives the following questions to determine if your organization is capable of using a virtual delivery approach:

Does your organization successfully conduct daily business activities, other than transformational projects, virtually? If yes, for example, how have you adapted to virtual interviewing and hiring where you have not met face-to-face with the candidate? Has your sales team been able to continue selling your products and services using a virtual approach? Are you comfortable using this approach? If no, it may be a stretch to undertake a significant virtual transformational project as your first virtual endeavor.

From a leadership and middle management perspective, are you willing to be led through a business transformation project by a consulting firm? If yes, then your organization is capable of reviewing and enhancing input and deliverables prepared by a consulting firm  — and then working with the consulting firm to reach consensus on the design and implementation of the solution. If no, your organization is likely most comfortable meeting face-to-face to create a group decision and approach with a consultant serving as a facilitator of these sessions. If you are a face-to-face, group consensus-based organization,  you will struggle with a virtual approach.

Do you have business data available to share with members of the Transformation Team? If yes, access to business data allows a consulting organization to analyze your business performance remotely prior to any virtual discussion on business performance with the Transformation Team. At FortéOne, we begin all transformation projects/programs, whether face-to-face or virtual, with a detailed data analysis to identify key areas of improvement. If no, it will be difficult to conduct the initial virtual sessions because the consulting team would have to rely solely on interviews and observations to understand how business is being conducted.

Can you provide remote access to enterprise systems (e.g., ERP) and documents (i.e., policies, contracts, and if available, customer scorecard, supplier scorecard, etc.) to the Transformation Team? If yes, then the Transformation Team can work virtually because they have the data and information access necessary to help design and create the Transformation solution. If only some data is available, then there will be up front work needed with virtual employee meetings prior to   the group discussing business challenges. And if no data is available, then the entire process is best conducted with your employees face-to face.

Does your internal team work well together? Do they already have a good rapport? Like all delivery approaches, there are positives and negatives to each approach. Although we have conducted transformation projects without face-to-face contact, we do believe there is real value in face-to-face team sharing—especially for team members who have never worked with each other. A virtual approach lacks the personal connections that fosters the development of ‘esprit de corps’ between team members. Team lunches, team outings, and follow-up information sharing does not occur as readily in a virtual world. When possible, we encourage our clients to have planned team building events (even virtually) that allow the client team and the FortéOne team to meet and get to know each other.

It is widely held that “culture trumps strategy” and team chemistry and trust is more of a challenge to build virtually, so it critical to make sure all participants understand the challenges and are committed to working hard at building understanding and team trust to deliver a successful business solution.

Summary

Starting a virtual transformation project is a significant decision for your company. In making your decision, it is important to evaluate the virtual approach and the team, both internal and external, to assess whether together the team can succeed with a virtual transformation paradigm. If you are committed to making sustainable improvements in your business, it is equally important to find a consulting group with proven virtual transformational expertise. FortéOne continually modifies both face-to-face and virtual delivery approaches based upon our learnings from client engagements and from our years of experience in delivering middle market transformation. We have adapted to the change in the marketplace, and we constantly challenge ourselves to use innovative methods to successfully implement  transformation projects for our clients.