Creating Transformational Change
Creating Transformational Change in a team, department or whole organization is not for the faint-hearted. It involves taking bold steps into an uncertain future. By “transformational change” here we mean that we are typically looking to overturn the existing order of things and create something that is innovative and almost revolutionary – a new paradigm, if you will. The process of transformation is essentially the same whether we are dramatically changing internal systems, getting people to radically adjust the nature of their work or we are completely changing the external customers or markets we are seeking to supply or serve.
We can gauge whether the change we want to make is truly transformational by simply noting if successful implementation will irrevocably alter our thinking or our world, with no practical chance of turning back. Change of this nature is rarely quick or easy and we will usually need to be passionate and committed to see things through. It will be much better for us not to start this process if we are at all likely to give up when the going gets tough. For this reason alone, we will need to be clear on our motivation for the change and then, ideally, take a very organized approach, such as the one described below. In summary terms, one way to bring about transformational change is to follow the ten steps shown here (which are just as applicable for an individual as they are for a team or an entire organization):
- Assess current strengths. Write them down.
- Assess weaknesses. Write them down too.
- Understand current system and processes and challenge the status quo and assumptions.
- Visualize the future in a changed world (and creatively conceive new possible options).
- Create mass around the vision.
- Add passion and commitment to the vision of the new order of things.
- Assess all risks that could potentially occur.
- Spend appropriate time refining the change to minimize the risk.
- Plan implementation of the transformational change -start at the end and work backwards.
- Protect changes from contamination from past practices and behaviors.
Let’s look at each of these in more detail:
Step 1: Analyze Existing Strengths
We are likely to have made the decision to seek a transformational change for one of two reasons. We see an opportunity or we see significant problems we wish to avoid in the future. The process of transformational change is often long, traumatic and risky so the motivation to make the change needs to be strong. At this step we analyze and list all of the real strengths we have (as individuals, as a team or as an organization) that we want to take with us, or capitalize upon, when we create or bring about the change. If the list appears to be insubstantial, we should reconsider carefully before further commitment as the chances of success will be slim.
Step 2: Clarify Weaknesses (or Roadblocks to Possible Success)
We now do the same with our currently perceived weaknesses and problems. We need to be clear that we can leave these behind when we make the change. If we take our bad baggage with us then we are bound to get the same result as we are getting currently. A transformational change is a real chance to do things differently and learn from past mistakes. These two steps, (strength and weakness appraisal) are critical and we should be prepared to spend considerable time here and be very realistic and brutally honest.
Step 3: Challenge the Status Quo
We can now turn our thinking to the environment or climate within which we are operating (again as an individual, a team or as an entire organization). What will happen when the current order of things is changed? What will need to change for us to get a different result? At this step we challenge the whole status quo or current paradigm of how things currently work and all of the assumptions we have made about it. Remember, we are looking for transformational rather than incremental change.
Step 4: Visualize the Future (Extrapolating From Current Trends or Patterns)
Our minds are very powerful tools that we can use to create a picture of the future. We need to have a powerful vision of the new order once we start to break out of or away from the status quo. Alternative visions will provide us with options but they will need rigorous evaluation for their potential to take us as far as we would like to get.
Step 5: Provide Mass around the Vision
We have been doing a lot of thinking and visualization in the process so far. We may well have identified several viable options for our transformational change. Now is the time to start the process of grounding the concepts in reality. It is unlikely that we will be able to test these concepts practically so we need to explore their robustness using creative thinking and brainstorming. Tools such as De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats can also be useful at this step. Remember we are looking here to give our concept mass and ground it in reality. This is where we need to focus on practical detail.
Step 6: Add Passion and Commitment
Achieving transformational change can be long and difficult. In making our choice of change it will be important for us to have passion for the cause and to seek as much commitment from people as we can muster. This may mean looking for individuals to be early pioneers or early adopters of the change, so that they can be role models to others who need to see passionate advocacy to follow.
Step 7: Assess All the Risks
Being passionate does not mean we should be irresponsible with the transition. Hand-in-glove with adding passion and commitment is the process of assessing the risks of the transformational change. Remember that we do not only assess the risks of the new change being considered but also the risks associated with not changing from the current path.
Step 8: Refine the Change Proposal
When we have our preferred vision of what the future will look like and added both tactical steps and some sound risk assessment, we can now spend time on refining the thinking at an even more detailed level. We should “scenario plan” at this stage to ensure that our proposed solution is robust in a range of different future environments. Include any refinements needed to preempt likely scenarios and reduce the risks we have identified in the previous step.
Step 9: Plan the Change
It will help us to plan or execute on our change plan if we start with the end in mind. In other words, we can now plan our implementation starting at the end (perhaps with end questions like “By what measures will we know we have been successful?” and then working back by asking the question “What needs to happen just before that step?” Once we have a logical and complete plan in place, we are almost ready for actual implementation (by assigning roles, assigning budget and creating deadlines).
Step 10: Create New Venture Vehicle
Most transformational change projects are best brought about by dedicated teams or people being formed to work alongside the embedded organizational individuals and teams. In other words, as the Italian writer, Machiavelli said “you cannot rely on the old order to bring in the new”. By doing this we ensure not only that special resources are allocated to the change initiative but that we can hold individuals accountable for success in parts of the overall change process.
The above steps are not the only way to bring about transformational change but will significantly increase success when followed as closely as possible.