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Why Transformations Fail & How They Can Be Successful: Event Recap

21 December 2023

At the REM Island, a panel of three experts engaged in a conversation, each bringing their own expertise: Richard Aznar Webster, CFO and acting CEO of Zuiver Groep; Marieke Saeij, former CPTO for FRISS; and Madelein Smit, CIO and COO with extensive executive experience in transformations. The discussion between the panel and the audience, consisting of various professionals, was moderated by Joris Molenaar. He opened the conversation with the central question: why do transformations fail, what can we learn from them, and how can we guarantee success?

Involve your entire organization and sharpen your pitch

Richard Aznar Webster led a successful digital transformation at Zuiver Groep, where over 90% of systems and processes were replaced. Essential to the success of this transformation was the fact that the leadership team stood united behind the plans. Madelein Smit agreed, stating, “The whole board must support the setup of the transformation, or you are doomed from the start.”

Even when the entire leadership team supports the transformation, resistance from within the organization is inevitable. However, this resistance should be seen as an opportunity to constantly strengthen your pitch and refine your processes. Richard emphasized, “When people express their doubts, you should engage in a conversation, sometimes 10 or 15 times. And each time, your pitch becomes sharper.”

Create your army of the willing

Madelein said, “I choose the army of the willing.” Change begins with attitude, ideally embodied by a group of motivated individuals within your organization. Marieke supported this idea but warned against excluding those who are naturally less inclined to change. Embrace these qualities within your organization.

It is important to actively involve high potentials in your organization in taking ownership of part of the change process. Marieke added, “If you search well within a company, you will always find people with the drive for change and optimization. Achieve sustainable change by finding people within the organization, rather than always hiring external consultants. I would rather hire a driven person in an existing role than a change consultant.”

Hire external advisors

According to Richard, the transformation of Zuiver would not have been as successful without external consultants. Zuiver spent months on contracting to enable customization. However, be cautious about wanting to detail everything at the C-level. Marieke advised, “Provide room for movement and let it be filled by enthusiastic, thinking employees. Clearly indicate where the room for discussion lies: do not become the owner of the details.”

Handle setbacks and emotions well

Marieke stated, “There are often 500 problems identified, but there is only room for 75 improvement points. At some point, you must dare to say: this is it, this is what we have.” Clear communication with your supplier is also important in this regard.

In essence, many transformation processes, especially for founders, involve an emotional aspect. Founders, in particular, often approach these processes with their hearts, leading to friction. Madelein remarked, “An emotional problem is often not solvable with rational arguments.” Richard added, “I work in a company where all four founders are still active, so I am often involved in connecting. Sometimes it’s about the heart, sometimes the head, and sometimes the processes.”


During the discussion, the three experts found common ground in many points based on their own experiences. Transformation processes are inherently complex, sometimes unpredictable, but of great importance for your organization. Ensure that the entire leadership team supports the transformation, avoid owning every detail, engage in conversations, and recognize that change is not only a rational matter but also an emotional challenge for both founders and employees. Perhaps it is for this reason that many transformations fail.

If you are interested in in-depth discussions on topics close to your heart, we organize monthly roundtables at the REM Island in collaboration with Newpeople to delve into current issues with like-minded individuals.



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