As market disruptions become more frequent and their impact intensifies, organisational transformation – the process of making major changes to improve performance and drive sustainable growth – has never been more important.

Research from EY and the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School has found that the most effective change programmes place people – and their emotions – at their heart. The survey of senior leaders and their workforces, from 23 countries and 16 industry sectors, compared the experiences of successful and underperforming transformations.

Positive and negative emotions

In a successful transformation, leaders will aim to support workers throughout the process, meaning that they are far more likely to emerge from the experience feeling positive.

The study found that 79% of workers experienced positive emotions (such as feeling calm, contented or excited) after a successful transformation – considerably higher than the 57% recorded before the process began. While 38% of workers reported negative emotions (such as feeling tense, stressed or depressed) during a successful transformation, the figure was significantly higher – at 66% – for those going through an underperforming one.

Six drivers for success

The survey identified six key drivers of change that put humans at the centre of the transformation process, and determined the percentage increase in the likelihood of a successful transformation from the above-average adoption of each key driver. To maximise the level of success, organisations need to excel at the following six drivers:

  • Build: using technology to drive visible action.
  • Empower: setting clear responsibilities and being prepared for change.
  • Collaborate: finding best ways to connect and co-create.
  • Lead: adapting and nurturing leadership skills.
  • Care: building a culture where people’s opinions are embraced and encouraged.
  • Inspire: creating a vision for all to believe in.

When implemented effectively, the drivers can make the difference between a successful or an underperforming transformation – making a positive outcome 2.6 times more likely.

With 67% of respondents experiencing at least one underperforming transformation in the past five years, the need to address failure and build the conditions for success are paramount.

‘The key to turning transformation failure into success relies on the ability of organisations to completely rethink and redesign transformations with humans at the centre,’ says Errol Gardner, vice chair of consulting at EY.

More information

Read EY and University of Oxford’s The future of transformation is human report