ICF Next: How to avoid the biggest transformation mistakes

'We hear too much, 'I want to be like Netflix'… come back from all of that; let's work out who you are.'


ICF Next is the new marketing and engagement network from ICF Consulting. Launched in January 2019, it united dozens of offices around the world, to help organisations understand their stakeholders, collaborate across silos, and transform the way they work. Laurent Lejeune and James Wilkins are its joint managing partners; in this video they discuss the biggest mistakes that organisations make when it comes to transforming their organisation to optimise experience management and engagement. You can also watch the first half of this interview, where they explain how to get buy-in for transformation projects.

European CEO: This conversation around engagement is one that I keep having with organisations across industries; what would you say are the biggest mistakes that you see organisations make when it comes to experience management and engagement?

Laurent Lejeune: I would say that the biggest mistakes are that, first of all, you need to define objectives. I think sometimes the mistakes are because you haven’t defined proper objectives at the start of the project.

The second thing is to align those objectives, and to communicate these objectives across the organisations. It’s very important that we all know why we are rowing on a day-to-day basis, and why we are heading to somewhere. To me that is the definition of engaging: it’s making sure that we bring everybody together on the same boat, and that we define a way to succeed, a path to succeed, and that we have some rewarding experience at the end of the journey. That’s probably something that is key, and that many organisations probably underestimate at the start of a big transformation project.

James Wilkins: We’re lucky enough to do this all over the world, and when you do it in every sector, you do see some common themes of things that you would say to people, start here.

And so I think one of the first things I would say is, know where you are right now. Where is the business right now?

I think the second thing is, be really clear on the experience that you want to have. What I mean by that is, you’ve got to be completely granular where you can define and describe every element of the experience that you actually want to have.

That then requires you to link it to values, because people’s personal values, the company’s current values, and the future values therefore may need to be different, to help represent that experience.

I think the third bit is, recognise experience by its nature is personal, and we will all take something slightly different from it. So how do you create room inside something that allows for me to personalise the element that I care most about, and how do you really segment and think about your people, or the audience that you’re trying to target in that way, while also creating the right level of commonality to the whole thing, that it has the right train tracks or parameters.

And then the last bit is, people notice everything. So you have to be consistent. You know, if I had a hole in this jacket right now, you would know. You’d just decide if you’d tell me or not. It’s the same thing with experience. You know when something’s slightly off. And that’s that bit that comes back to those words of integrity and authenticity: this has to be an experience that’s right for you. Just because it’s not what Nike do, or it’s not what Apple do, or it isn’t what somebody else does that you admire in your sector, doesn’t mean that your experience isn’t good enough. You’ve just got to be honest enough and go there, to say: what is the right experience for us, as an organisation?

We hear too much, ‘I want to be like Netflix,’ or ‘I want to be like this.’ And we go: come back from all of that. Let’s work out who you are.

European CEO: Who is ICF Next, then? How are you walking the talk? You’ve been around for just over a year now, so what do the next few years have in store?

James Wilkins: Yeah, I think it’s a great question, because the good news is, we’ve had a very good first 12 months. So I think when the powers that be had the idea to create ICF Next, you’re coming into a crowded market, right? You’ve got the big consultancies, you’ve got the big agency networks, and we want to sit right in the middle of those two things. Why? Because we describe ourselves as a consulting agency. We do both the strategy, and we do the doing.

But these guys are good! So actually we’ve got to come in with a really clear proposition that actually says, this is why we’re better, and this is why we’re different.

So after 12 months, we’re building from a good place. You’ve got this sense of a business that is made up of a series of other businesses that have been put together. But I think what we’ve done very well is integrate that into one organisation very, very quickly. We’ve broken the silos. We’ve broken this idea of, local geographies is where the capabilities are, and we’re actually able to offer the true totality of ICF Next anywhere in the world, when you look at our footprint, and as one of 1,700 people.

The other thing we’ve done is to say, you have to talk about this stuff! You have to make it the thing that is the agenda for the leadership. You have to make it the thing that everybody in the business is connected and engaged on, and you have to make it the thing that everybody works to and talks to and is recognised for and rewarded for inside the organisation. Because we became ICF Next to do more impactful, more interesting things, in the world.

And that may sound slightly kinda trite, and slightly cliched. But that is truly I suppose the common denominator of everybody inside ICF Next, is: we do simply want to make the world a better place, and make it a more resilient place in the process. So we try to do important things that matter, and we try to do them at scale.

The benefit of ICF Next when you’ve got everybody believing the same thing is, how do you then design and mobilise the organisation fully, to realise that opportunity for the most interesting companies in the world? And that’s what we’re trying to do.

European CEO: Laurent, James, thank you very much.

Laurent Lejeune: Thank you.

James Wilkins: Thank you.