People & Transformation

Change & Transformation with Darius Johnson

Darius Johnson joined FTI Consulting in November 2020 as a Managing Director in the Strategic Communication segment’s People and Transformation practice. A veteran of the space, Darius is an expert in helping companies achieve optimal business outcomes, not simply by choosing the right frameworks and models, but through the effective orchestration of people, technology and strategy. A dynamic change leader with a diverse experience narrative, ranging from IT systems and data analytics to program leadership, organizational development and change management, Darius has worked in many industries, including energy, manufacturing, public sector, engineering and healthcare.

Darius, welcome, tell us about your path to FTI.

People and Transformation seemed like the perfect fit for me, not just because of the incredible team, with its diversity, expertise and capabilities, but also how it works so well with other FTI teams to advance business objectives and make an impact for our clients.

The first part of my career was spent in a very technical environment, in the energy industry, working with a lot of engineering and technical data. I always imagined that I would continue along a very technical path. I had studied computer engineering and envisioned a career designing microchips and circuits, but eventually I realized that my strengths lay more in team sports and being closer to people, so I eventually landed in an executive communications role and later built a change management practice in consulting.

My thinking started to change while I was at British Telecom doing cost transformation, where everything we did needed a ROI. It was challenging, at first, reconciling the language of transformation. I wanted to talk about adoption, engagement, capability. My CFO wanted to talk about NPV, throughput and capital efficiency.

I began to realize that we were thinking and wanting the same things, but we were leaving value on the table because of our different language and perceptions around transformation. I learned that the best way to drive organizational change is to meet organizations where they are, speak their language and partner with them to make meaningful impact.

I try to bring more focus and capability around organizational change and wholesale business transformation, and a lot of that touches on the people side of these transformations. When companies face crises, we tend to get caught up in the transactions, we focus on the processes or even the technologies, while the people side of change is often an afterthought. That’s exactly where value is being left on the table.

And so, bringing the combination of my experiences in the technical project side with the human capital side and the organizational change side of things, I try to reconcile that and get the most value for my clients.

Tell us more about the value clients sometimes leave on the table?

In general, when you decide that you are going to take on some sort of transformation, you decide that there is some value – some return – in it for you as an organization. You will estimate that, and then you go about executing and trying to get to that value. When the people issues are left to chance, you are likely to run into issues that can erode value. Consider a delayed launch where the time value of money comes into play. When a company is planning to go live with an initiative in March, but doesn’t go live until September, that has a financial impact. When you start to encounter resistance from organizational politics or from people not having the skills and capabilities that are needed to run a new process or adopt a new technology, this also translates into errors or decreases in quality, which can lead to further value destruction.

It has become an almost cliched phrase to hear organizations say that their people are their greatest asset. Many of them say it while investing heavily in processes and technology, hoping that their people are going to just fall in line. True organizational change, however, only comes from helping people to adopt processes and technology efficiently and effectively, ensuring they have the capabilities, and are able to navigate some of the political landscapes and governance. That’s how those anticipated returns on investment can be fully realized.

When people hear about organizational transformation in terms of people and change, most would immediately jump to headcount reduction. Is that necessarily always the case?

That’s right, for many, talk of company transformation tends to come with a tinge of negativity, and sometimes we are involved in headcount reductions or carrying out some sort of personnel restructuring, but these are usually part of some larger strategy that the majority of people at the company should be able to get excited about. Transformation is also about introducing new technologies, or implementing a growth strategy, or bringing a new organization on board, or providing a wider range of opportunities for people.

The responsibility is on leaders to frame transformation and change in the right light so people can really understand the larger goal and get excited about it. In that way you can take some of the more negatively perceived aspects of change out of the forefront and really see things in the much larger positive ambitions that most organizations have.

Today transformation is a perpetual leadership activity. You’re doing it all the time, or you’re becoming irrelevant. That being the case, your organization is in trouble if “doing another transformation” is dreaded.

How should we be talking about transformation to maximize success?

Transformation should be aspirational and future focused. All too often we are focusing on a myopic problem and a remedy to that problem which people might not necessarily believe in.

I often talk about Cisco’s transformation ambitions over a decade ago now, where the company had a very simple and unifying ambition it put forward;  “50% in 10 years” – meaning half of their profits and revenues would come from digital sources within the next decade. Everyone in the company knew this and had to get on board and it was a huge digital transformation. It did indeed involve things like headcount reductions, reorganization and closing down parts of the business, but there were a lot of other things that were happening as well that were part of that bigger aspirational message which helped everyone to understand the vision and get behind it. We should be talking about transformation with simple language, make it aspirational and future focused. This way, the organization’s transformation ambition will resonate with the majority of the people impacted.

What are you most looking forward to into 2021?

The new normal or the next normal is completely up to us to create. Despite all the challenges that have arisen from COVID, there have also been a lot of learnings and a lot of positive opportunities, a lot of resets across the board, whether we talk about some environmental benefits from decreased mobility, reconnections with family, and positive habit changes to sustain a healthy lifestyle.

Overall, we have seen people and businesses that have thrived by focusing on innovation. Many have been quite resilient. When we think about the opportunity that presents for 2021, innovation and resilience in particular are key ingredients to success in any sort of ambitious transformation.

I think that’s a good leading indicator for a really nice turnaround and a successful year. I am very much looking forward to working with the FTI team and our clients to build that new normal that is by our design and our creation.

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