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  • Writer's pictureJeanette Peterson

Why your change strategy could be killing your transformation

There are literally hundreds of change management strategies in the transformation marketplace, with organisations far too readily hanging their hats on what some like to call the tried and tested.


Yet, what we all should be asking ourselves is, who is deciding this ridiculous claim?


In my career of over 30 years, I have explored many industries, roles and transformation engagements. Through this, I have learned about more models, frameworks and systems than you could poke a stick at. Therefore, it is no surprise to me at all, that there is so much confusion in the transformation space. In reflection, I have come to a clear understanding that a single approach to change, has and will never, get your organisation over the line, particularly when going through a significant transformation program.


The global digitisation of organisations is running at high speed everywhere causing a shortage of talent, time and money, needed to achieve what often seems like the impossible. Couple this with the fact that many organisations are either playing catch-up or, even worse, being left behind completely, things are beginning to look quite dire indeed. The signs of transformational burnout are well and truly showing en masse. It is alarming, not only for workers but also for the viability of organisations all around the world long-term.


This hustle mentality has created a change monster burning through organisations, like some kind of crazed dragon out of a mystical fantasy novel, and we are burning people everywhere.


We are burning the customers, our citizens, and our employees. This pain is being felt far and wide in almost every place that the theoretical digitisation dragon is venturing. It then overflows into all our lives through stress, anxiety and depression. Yet, the sad part is that it does not have to be this way.


Have we become machines? Have we forgotten that people change organisations, not the other way around? Why are we pushing change, instead of empowering our people to lead change?


Change is not a thing. It is a fundamental necessity of life, including being human. Everything is in a constant flux of change. From the minuscule molecules that make up everything, including us, to the entire solar system. There is no escaping it.


To avoid change is simply impossible, and therefore a figment of our imagination.


Now we’ve gotten the elephant in the room, out in the open. Let’s talk about why the way we approach change, in general, is not working, and therefore it stands to reason why, when we implement change this way in business, it is not bearing fruit that is sustainable.


The first thing we need to understand is, that in the majority of cases, we force change on our people. Instead, of taking the collaborative approach of empowering and trusting them to lead us through change collectively.


Have we lost sight of our ability to trust? To enable transformation in a business, people themselves first need to embrace their own transformation.


If you are a leader in an organisation and are not supporting, both your own, and other's individual transformation journeys through the process, you are missing the point. Untransformed people can't transform organisations. It's a recipe for failure. Transformation is uncomfortable. Think of the process a butterfly has to go through. Embracing the discomfort takes both an individual and team effort approach. In developing and fostering the skills in volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, transformation becomes both personal and organisationally enlightening if you embrace it fully.


Understanding this will help you to see why forced change does not stick.


Forced change


Let’s start at the beginning. We all understand the concept, that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink, right?


So why are we telling citizens, customers and employees, what to drink, how to drink, where to drink and even who to drink with?


The adoption of servant leadership for leaders in your organisation can be an absolute game changer to escape the need to force change. Forced change simply comes from the need to control, which is an outdated leadership quality. However, when you empower the people who work for you, you elevate them to partake in the transformation with you, instead of for you. Just this mindset shift alone has significant power in business transformation potential.


Short term viewing


You can’t force change. You might think you can in the short term, but inevitably it all comes back to bite you in the end.


People will change when they see the value and feel valued. It really is not rocket science. Some people may have a lot to gain from you when you think this way. That is a whole other topic right there though, for another day. However, in reality, embracing transformation is far more simplistic than the majority of us have been led to believe.


Manipulation, coercion, and pressure may look like they are bearing fruit on the surface. However, in reality, it’s like the iceberg effect. What you see on the surface, is likely less than one-tenth of what is actually below the surface.


What does the forced approach look like short-term in the workplace, below the surface?


Here are just some of the most common problems I have seen with forced approaches to transformation over the last 30 years:-


  • A surface-level appearance of yes, whilst continuing to do things the old way behind the scenes.

  • An underground group undermining the change, out of sight, rallying support to overturn the change when nobody is looking, or when the external change team has moved on.

  • A disconnect that makes people check out, unseen can manifest in things like quiet quitting. They don’t call it quiet for nothing.

  • Staff turnover, that conceals itself as pursuing other opportunities, where, even when leaving, people are not prepared to give truthful, constructive feedback, resulting in the detrimental undermining of the organisation's brand and reputation in the marketplace.


These are extremely dangerous problems to have in your organisation if left unattended. To be clear, they are going unchecked en masse, hidden in plain sight right under our noses.


When you put in the time on your own personal transformation journey, these behaviours become obvious repeating patterns that are disturbingly not rare at all. We are talking about conditioning here, so we are not always talking about deliberate undermining. Most often, in my personal experience, these problems arise from a lack of self-awareness, which then masks your ability to see clearly what is going on around you.


Transforming, self-aware people transform organisations.


Better ways of working


Yet the reality is these problems can all be effectively eradicated, by adopting better ways of working in the transformation space.


These are just some of the many ways of working that will return greater transformational results, that have a greater capacity to stick in the short term, but most importantly imbed in the long term, ensuring ongoing success:-


  • Work from a place of complete transparency when dealing with transformation and change, by being prepared to admit that you don't yet have all the answers.

  • Be inclusive in stakeholder engagement in the building of a transformation strategy.

  • Understand the importance of people capability modelling as opposed to only considering business capability modelling.

  • Create a collective vision through collaboration, trust, learning and empowerment.

  • Work on transformation preparedness by understanding the right kind of structure to take your organisation forward, to bring transformation to light, considering that your current structure may very well not be the one your organisation needs.

  • Build a transformation culture by supporting personal transformation within the organisation through a model of learning, risk-taking and innovation.

  • Develop a solid and vibrant practice to embed change within your organisation instead of bringing in an external change team to push your change agenda. This empowers your people to buy in, grow personally and pull your organisation forward.

  • Prepare your managers to become servant leaders through empowering leadership development, that fosters trust, empowerment, personal growth and an ability to be comfortably uncomfortable.



Pace is important


In the ever-changing world, we live in, it is easy for people to become change fatigued. We are often under-resourced, overworked and feel undervalued.


Why?


Because it often seems like change is happening everywhere, which can be quite overwhelming, leaving people feeling like the foundation under their feet is not solid enough to support them.


Therefore, it is incredibly important to understand how to build a solid foundation under your people, and to set the right pace in your organisation. Whilst monitoring and pivoting quickly, if and when, you inevitably get it wrong. Because you will get it wrong. Good change cultures embrace effective risk-taking, mistakes, and learning to grow from them.


When you get your organisation's pace right, sometimes change looks like transformation, sometimes change looks like continuous improvement, and sometimes it looks like a reflective practice. Which in action is more like checking in and tweaking the process.


Moving through these cycles will continue to foster a healthy learning environment, where you all learn, grow and change together in a supportive and engaging way. The results are both measurable and helpful markers, in the identification of a great organisation, that is on the move to becoming self-aware.


No one shoe fits all


There can be no one shoe fits all approach to change. Do your organisation one of the greatest favours of all, by not aligning with anyone who subscribes to a single-pronged approach to change management. This failed, rinse-and-repeat style of a one methodology approach, is a dead certainty to produce failure, which can leave enduring scares across your organisation. I cannot overstate this point enough. I have experienced this style of change management first-hand, along with the fatal results that ensue. This approach is often expensive, falsely misleading your organisation to part with unnecessary and significant amounts of money. The results are not pretty. They create unnecessary and endless loops of re-work, frustration and confusion, often undermining any of the ground you had already made prior, setting you back further than you were, to begin with.


You can overcome these scares of the past by taking responsibility and accountability for the errors previously made. Then, seek forgiveness from your people and agree to forge a path forward together, bound in trust, respect, integrity and transparency.


As you take the transformation journey together, learn collectively as an organisation what works and what does not, whilst being prepared to utilise as many frameworks, methodologies and tools as you can to leave no man behind.


When you work collaboratively this way. You get to tap into the valuable diversity of varying perspectives, which are all too frequently, concealed at the depths of your organisation. These perspectives allow your organisation to shine a wider and brighter light on the overall potential collectively. One that you would not have seen, should you have developed a transformation strategy in silo, with only your executive leadership team.


Your people hold the torches that can shine a light far below the surface of that iceberg than the executive team ever could. Therefore, successfully illuminating the deep root causes of problems within your organisation, bringing forth worthwhile ideas that could almost make finding solutions feel effortless.


When we begin to work in organisations this way, efforts become highly productive, and time becomes well spent. With time and productivity highly valued in business, these gains become invaluable.


So, instead of using a tiny single match to attempt to light the way through the next phase of your transformation. Try tapping into the immense resources you already have within your organisation, your people, through better ways of working. The path then becomes much clearer, as will the tools your people discover on the way, to foster and imbed a learning environment deep within your organisation. Here, in lies a change culture that becomes the norm, just as it should be.


The infinite game


When you can adopt these new ways of working within your organisation, your people, customers and citizens may do a far better job than your executive could have alone, pulling your organisation forward in ways you may never have imagined possible.


Then you will have tipped the finite rule book on its head, and the Infinite Game will have already begun.


Does your organisation want to play the Infinite Game?


Reach out for a conversation today to see how we can help you begin your infinite journey in your organisation without completely blowing the budget.



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