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Six ways to make organisational transformation happen

By pa360, Feb 28 2015 08:03AM

We have all heard the word 'transformation'. To transform something is to make it unrecognisable compared to whatever it was before. Think of a business, on the brink of going bust at the beginning of the financial year, recovering to become the market leader by the end of the financial year. That's transformation! For some organisations the key to their structural transformation relies on a similar seismic change in circumstance. But whilst transformation implies something dramatic and life changing, the key to transformation does not always have to be so dramatic. Set out below are six keys to make organisational transformation happen.

1. Realisation

I am sure, like me, you have walked into a dark room to look for something and instead of fumbling around in the darkness, your immediate impulse has been to switch on the light. That very act of turning on the light will have a transformational effect on your surroundings. Suddenly you will be able to see clearly and your spatial awareness will be immeasurably increased. As a consequence, you will be more confident and better able to find whatever you are looking for and avoid tripping over things. Strange isn't it that an effect so transformational as illuminating a dark room, can be brought about by an act so simple as switching on a light. The key learning tip for organisations is that to get to a point of realisation, you need to unclutter your thinking. Informed speculation and reasoned logic can often provide enough 'light' to enable you know what is important, see what you need to prioritise and understand what you need to do next.

2. Beliefs

The act of belief always follows realisation and has exactly the same transformational effect on the way in which an organisation functions. Much like flicking a switch, belief is an act of faith that illuminates the organisational thinking space and enables it to see possibilities and opportunities that may have been hidden beforehand. Belief asks the question, without which the answer will always be no. I often remind myself of the great deeds of celebrated achievers in sports, business, technology, politics and science and without exception it would have been impossible for them to achieve their goals without first believing that such things were even possible. The key learning tip here is that belief doesn't just help an organisation to have a positive leaning state of mind, it also shapes its decision-making posture.

3. Behaviours and routines

Depending on an organisation's circumstances, making transformation happen may require a significant change to behaviours, habits and routines. These changes may be necessary to overcome significant obstacles that impede progress and competitiveness. However, its is important to re-emphasise that the process of transformation doesn't just end with change, it starts with change as well. At the beginning, a change in perception, creates a change in attitude, a change in attitude informs changed behaviours and changed behaviours can deliver a change in outcomes. The key learning point here is that: as much as transformation describes an outcome, it also defines a process and that process requires activity. Realising that transformation can happen and believing that it will happen will by themselves not make it happen. You need to act.

4. Disciplined risk-taking

Much as it may sound a bit like an oxymoron risk-taking can be disciplined and has to be to deliver the best effects and most meaningful outcomes. The essence of risk-taking is recognising that learning and discovery sometimes comes at a cost. The point about discipline is to ensure that such costs are acceptable in the context of broader organisational objectives. It is also predicated on the clear understanding that organisational, like individuals, cannot learn or discover things until they test things and they won't meaningfully test things until they are willing to risk things. Remember, in the introduction to this blog, we highlighted the fact that transformation represents a seismic and unrecognisable shift from what was to what is. Seismic shifts are rarely the products of over-cautious thinking and effort. By contrast, undisciplined risk-taking amounts to recklessness and it is difficult to learn anything that is useful from that.

5. Realism

Does this seem obvious? Well it should do, but is none-the-less worth stressing. There are absolutely no shortcut to transformation. On the contrary, it takes time and to experience it, organisation's need to be realistic about their expectations. Short-cut processes often produce short-lived results. This is because so-called 'over-night transformations' seldom have the roots and anchoring to make them sustainable. The key learning point here is that realism often means being ready to do the hard miles, make the sacrifices and be willing to accept arithmetical progress in the short-term to see geometric progression in the longer-term. It also means accepting the 'pain' that comes with realism. Yes, realism can be painful! It may not make you friends, but it will make you better.

6. Abandon the nostalgia

Probably the biggest barrier to transformation is the penchant for nostalgia. The sentimental or sometimes almost romantic attachment that organisation's have to the very things that hold them back. Attempting to combine a love of nostalgia into a desire to for something new is a bit like moving away from an old neighbourhood, where you fell into bad company only to invite the same bad company to visit you in the new neighbourhood in the hope that things will be different. In such a situation, transformation cannot happen and it won't work. The key learning point here is that the only thing worse than unconsciously deceiving yourself, is when you unwittingly deceive others.

In conclusion, at a very basic level, organisational transformation is not complicated, but it does require a clear-eyed focus, determined effort and hard work. Ultimately therefore, whether you're ready to work for it, is entirely dependent on whether you think it's worth it.

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