Breaking Through: A Mindset for Business Transformation

A privately-held, 75-year old business that owns more than 80% market share in their segment of food processing equipment was facing a bleak future. Their industry was being automated, their patents were expiring and their products were becoming commoditized with little opportunity for performance differentiation. The head of the business recognized the need for something transformational.

What does it take to break the bonds of company orthodoxy and embark on a journey that will transform your company? This case points to one of the most important factors that is contributing to the company’s strategic transformation – the importance of the right mindset.

The first objective that leadership needed to accomplish even before embarking on its journey was to instill the right mindset. The business leader worked to establish an interesting combination of two factors that can be used as a model for any company desiring transformation.

  • Existential mindset – Whatever we do must affect our existence in a big way. We will either transform ourselves or cease to exist.
  • Permissive mindset – We have the permission to reinvent ourselves, to look at and consider things that will require us to change as a company.

This new mindset was difficult to instill in this successful 75-year old company despite the broad acknowledgement that change was necessary for long-term survival. Really feeling that your existence is at stake and being permissive about what it is possible to do are not things that come easily to established companies that are doing well in the moment.

The solution to how to successfully instill this mindset turned out to be a combination of leadership behaviors (not just talk) and the intentional design of the people, the governance, the operation (i.e. the processes) and the structure of the organization and the team charged with identifying and pursuing the new, transformational opportunity.

The right mindset is necessary, but it is not sufficient. Even with the right mindset, the company faced critical issues such as finding THE ONE breakthrough opportunity to pursue out of dozens of real possibilities. This involved using new processes and analytic tools for discovery and validation that gave them the confidence to pursue a single strategic opportunity, one with a relatively high probability of success, not just within the market, but within their company as well.

After identifying over 75 potential opportunities, one emerged that generated both excitement and concern. It was transformational, boundary-pushing, big and uncertain. Being successful will result in a radically different company.

This journey of strategic transformation has not yet ended. There are still obstacles and innumerable ways to stumble. But there is much to learn from how this journey got started and is unfolding. Will it succeed? The jury is still out. Will it put the company at some risk? Most certainly. Is the right mindset necessary? Absolutely.


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