What’s the Difference?   

You would be right to wonder just what the difference is between ordinary change and something transformative. In my view it’s not just a matter of degree. There are several reasons but it’s mostly in the nature of what was intended.

Any change – whether in business processes or something else – is usually associated with an improvement. Sometimes it may be a necessity due to legislation or regulation, in which case you might wonder whether that’s an improvement at all!

On the other hand you may set out to completely change the situation. A paradigm shift in terms of what is done, where, when, how or by whom? That’s clearly a transformation from the status quo.

There is also the aspect of change management that fails to deliver transformation. This flaw can be the result of not putting the right change management in place in the first instance.

Where Does it Start?

It usually begins at the very top of the organisation. Leaders have to set direction and occasionally that is not just a slight deviation from the current course. On this basis alone it would be hard to see where else transformative change is going to come from. So you are looking at a positive decision – made in response to problems or other stimuli – to radically alter the way things are.

That means that the Leadership has also got to understand that they are, initially at least, also the change manager(s). You don’t instruct transformation – you have to manage and nurture it through the cycle.

What Aspects of Change Management are Transformative?

There are several – each of which has different transformative characteristics. In simple terms they are:

  1.    Managing the cultural aspects
  2.    Defining the problem accurately
  3.    Not closing down too soon on solution design (sometimes referred to as cycling often, closing late)
  4.    Using creativity all the way through the analysis and design phases
  5.    Holistic planning
  6.    Coherent communications
  7.    Transparent Governance procedures

Managing the Cultural Aspects

I’m often amazed at how little effort is put into understanding the importance of this. If this aspect of change management is going to transform then it will only do so if there is successful engagement with the people. You have to get them engage. They need to own the work that is being done to change the organisation.

Why can this be transformative? Simply because, done well, these aspects change the way people interact in the longer-term. The difference is going to make further change (of whatever degree) easier to handle. Humans are a lot less stressed when they have control over their environment. So they will have more control if the culture allows them to own things, challenge items they see as problematic and so on. De-stressing your organisation should be a fundamental of making change easier to implement.

Defining the Problem Accurately

You will never succeed in a long journey if you know neither where you are headed nor, importantly, where you are starting from.

It’s this latter piece that can really transform a change. Frequently we base our starting position on an assumption that we know where we are. I liken that to a poorly calibrated satnav and we all know what problems they can cause.

You really do have to work hard on getting the start point calibrated very accurately. This means really defining the underlying problems and issues that have given rise to the demand for change in the first place. Are they really what you think they are?


How do you know? That’s the real issue here. Knowing and assuming are never the same. So change management that insists on getting these things fully explored right from the outset is going to transform what comes thereafter.

It’s not just the case that this applies to change that is intended to transform the organisation – it applies universally to change programmes. If they are addressing the wrong problems or misinterpretations then they aren’t going to deliver a lot of benefit. Get it right and the costs in terms of wasted effort and rework will tumble. Moreover it will encourage people to be more diligent in their problem-solving in other areas. Overall it will transform the accuracy with which people go about their business.

Cycling Often, Closing Late

Rather like the preceding point about accuracy, this resistance to just charging ahead with the first idea or solution bears fruit. I frequently hear people proposing a solution to a problem and then immediately wanting to start talking about how that can be implemented. Yet stepping back and looking for alternatives usually ends up with better, more well-formed ideas coming to the fore.

You have to discern between prevarication and cycling often – the two might seem the same but they most definitely are not. It is the wise change manager who insists on surfacing a good number of options for a solution before starting to whittle them down.

Why? Simply because they are controlling the process of change and making sure that the team stays in the solution design phase long enough to get a good range of options out in the open. It’s only once they are there that the manager will then progress to the validation, taking account of constraints and preferences according to the situation.

Do this right and it stops the confusion of trying to deal with constraints while at the same time trying to come up with great ideas.

As I write this I reflect on a conversation with a client only this lunchtime about how they could change the supply chain process for their organisation. My advice was to spend time investigating the highest quality options and not even to worry about how feasible they are. Only once you have a good idea of what fabulous looks like can you work out how to get there with the resources available.

It’s such a common problem – every organisation seems to rush ahead. Get it into the culture of how you go about doing things and you will actually save a mass of time. As the saying goes, time spent in preparation and planning is seldom wasted.

Using Creativity Throughout

Creativity techniques, when managed and used appropriately, completely transform the way an organisation goes about its change. So use them in the initial problem analysis, the validation, the solution design (surfacing options) and in the validation of those options. You won’t regret it. They also have the added bonus from time to time of lightening the mood, which can otherwise get way too serious for the mental well-being of the participants.

Holistic Planning

What do I mean by this? Well planning has to be to deliver the solutions you have designed but at the same time take account of how you are going to track the progress, make sure you are heading to a certain destination, and also to cover the management of risk mitigation.

It’s a whole lot of things to tie together. Leave them in separate compartments and you are asking for trouble. Get it right and the path to the final destination will have fewer surprises. Oddly you will often find that one or more elements are either ignored (frequently the risk mitigation activities) and that there is no overarching plan that is cohesive. Not going to transform much if that’s what’s in store.

Give me a good clear view of the overall plan every time. For one thing it transforms the ease with which you can ask questions about what’s going on because everything ties together. I hate silos in projects – and so should you. The plans should sit above them, not in them. It gets everyone talking.

Coherent Communications

If you don’t manage the communications to ensure they are multi-channel, varied in their content and coherent with respect to the change that’s going on, then how do you expect people to know what to do?

Getting the communications right takes effort. Make them bottom-up, not top-down in their origins. People on the shop floor (whatever that actually translates to in your organisation) find top-down communication questionable and sometimes downright unbelievable. If they don’t believe the message then maybe it’s time to change the messenger. In truth this actually means focusing on how the messages are being understood and why that is. Then make sure the right forms of communication are put in their place.

It will transform the way that people understand what’s going on and also help them to feel better aligned. I’m telling you this – but don’t shoot this messenger! Make it your business to get this stuff right by appointing a responsible person to oversee it all.

Transparent Governance Procedures

I’ve seen lots of instances where the governance of change programmes has been all over the place. People resist because there’s too much bureaucracy. They miss things because they don’t understand the *rules* (whatever they may be). They fail to stop and consult before proceeding on activities that use precious resource because they don’t understand who needs to give the green light – and the list goes on.

Light touch governance works really well – provided the rules are very clear and easy to access. I hate bureaucracy as much as the next guy but you do need to have some controls and an audit trail for the activity that is going on. Get this right and things start to run like proverbial clockwork – and that’s a refreshing change.

Want to Know How to Bring This All to Life?

That’s where we can help. Get in touch and start the conversation. We’ll help you design a template for going forward as part of a free consultation. We look forward to helping you transform in ways that take account of where you are as well as what you do. If you’d like more information, then you can also follow this link.

Rob Wherrett can be contacted at https://robwherrett.com/contact/

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