“By innovate, I mean doing things differently, so I always encourage the team and ask them what and how they’re doing, and have they considered a different way of delivering,” he says. “It’s also about trying to have as much diversity in hiring as well, so getting people in from different industries. We’ve created cross functional teams, resulting in collaboration and great cross pollination of ideas. And to a certain extent, a celebration of small failures. After all, if everything is going right, you’re probably not innovating or trying enough.”
Fagan recently spoke with O’Sullivan about pushing the innovation envelope, keeping the customer central, and the value of a good mentor. Here are some edited excerpts of that conversation. Watch the full video below for more insights.
On the approach to transformation: It’s about large pieces of change rather than continuous improvement, where you’re trying to get those one percenters every day. Transformation is about big breakthroughs, and today’s breakthroughs become tomorrow’s standard. So what we do is try and figure out a massive, chunky problem that can become a day-to-day, business as usual operation. Change is hard. Even good change can be tough for lots of people. There are plenty of people within organizations who are agitating for change and significant transformation. And if you appoint a chief transformation officer, and that change doesn’t happen, you risk alienating the people who want to change, as well as the people who don’t. So it’s tough. It can be a lonely role when there’s not many chief transformation officers as well. I think the main characteristic of this type of role is resilience, that you need to be able to push through roadblocks. And that’s something that can be difficult within organizations. It’s a continuous improvement roll.
On new ownership: We came under private equity ownership from BGH Capital in 2020, but we didn’t just have the need to transform, or a platform to transform. We had new owners who wanted things to run a certain way with a very short horizon for seeing significant change. So you pretty much took the P&L and went from top to bottom, and looked at every piece of the business. So we we’ve had significant personnel change. We’re a much smaller and leaner organization from a head office or central office point of view, as we’re about half the size of what we were three years ago. We’ve completely changed our partnership structure, too, so we have about 40% fewer partners we work with. So we’re much more meaningful to them and they’re more meaningful to us, and that has flow on impacts and the value we can extract from those partnerships, and what it costs us to extract that value. So the biggest thing is about speed, which is very important in a transformation role.
On delivering value: Barriers vary depending on the organization. Then you have different strategies for each company or the types of resistance you come up against. The biggest thing is actually delivering. When you start to deliver, you get a reputation for it and greater trust, particularly if it’s done quickly. Then it’s less scary. So getting people to believe in change and deliver quickly is the best thing in your toolkit. It builds goodwill with company owners, and trust with the leadership team that things can and will change. It also gives an example or a new paradigm for the people in the organization. So speed and then transparency, communication, and bringing the rest of the leadership team along for that journey. If you’re stuck sitting around debating whether there’s actually value to be had, or finding ways to extract that value, then that’s not a good place to be.
On simplifying: The concept of kill your darlings is about saying no to good ideas. You can say yes to great ideas, and there’s an infinite amount of work to do in any organization if you look at the big list of things that could be done — a list that’s bigger than what your resources can deliver on. So you need to be able to say no to certain things. That’s the concept, so you can do a smaller number of really important things. And even within organizations, there’s the Pareto rule where there’s a small number of things we do to deliver an outsize benefit. What gets in the way is all the noise that prevents us from focusing on and delivering those important things for our customers. I can think of plenty of examples like this, but in every IT team I’ve worked in the last 10 years, when I walk in, I ask what are we working on. And I’ve helped coach many different business where there are more projects than people. So it’s just not possible to deliver on all that stuff.