A 4-ingredient approach to organizational transformation


Published on: July 2021

Written by: Alfred Maeso Aztarain

Transformation in troubled times

In a world already defined by constant change, the pandemic acted as an accelerant for the adaptation of technology. In a matter of months, companies advanced their digitization by the equivalent of several years, according to previous plans. Technological advancements aside, people were also forced to work in new ways, incorporating a greater focus on agility, remote work, and the need to find and adopt new business models. Regardless of size and industry, almost all businesses faced these common challenges – but unfortunately, none were easy to overcome.

A leaders’ approach to managing change must evolve to fit the company’s pace and needs. Knowing that the traditional separation between managing day-to-day activity and managing change is non-existent, leaders must learn at forced speeds, and acknowledge that no normal activity is immune to change.

As a result, it’s critical for leaders to rethink how they drive and manage change in organizations. The idea of change as a period of transition amid stability clashes with reality on a daily basis, as traditional investment-based transformation schemes and long-term planning are overcome by the uncertainty and complexity of the current environment. The world is, and will remain, in a state of constant change and adaption.

Rather than managing organizational change, shouldn’t we change organizational management to enable this rapid and continuous adaptation? It’s time to move on to organizational transformation.

Basic rules for a new approach to transformation

When it comes to making the best transformation cocktail, it depends on the specific tastes of each company. Knowing that there’s no single magic recipe, there are some basic rules that can help companies determine the best approach:

  1. Replace long-term plans with vision
    What’s the point of drawing up long-term plans when you know that you can’t follow through? Instead, start by agreeing on a vision or image of where you would like to be in a few months, a year, or two years. Use this vision as the compass that points all of your daily efforts towards true North. Reinforce this vision among all people, customers, and suppliers, so they feel like they are a part of it too.
  2. Provide certainty in the process
    This communication rule can help provide structure in any uncertain context. When an outcome is uncertain, create a clear structure around the responsibilities and stages of the journey. “Work out loud”: let everyone know what is being worked on, by whom and around which dates. The basic techniques for achieving this are:

    • Timeboxing: specific and short periods of time, during which a task needs to be completed
    • Prioritization: only doing tasks that will make it possible to make effective decisions and learn
  3. Include everyone
    There is no single change or transformation; there are as many changes as there are people enduring them.

    Each person lives their own version of change, as levels of focus, interest, and motivation vary by each level of the organization. Therefore, a change, which from the point of view of someone at a strategic level is urgent, may be viewed by someone at the team-level as a loss of quality. Much inevitable resistance will arise from these differences in perception.

    Therefore, listen. Play an active role for all people in change, ensuring that problems receive solutions. Combine everyone’s view into the best solution, without losing sight of your true North – the vision that you want to achieve – and collaborate so that the solution is adapted to all levels of need. Seek ways to create an environment in which such collaboration and diversity of though is possible; generate a continuous conversation around the vision to keep everyone on the same page.

  4. Go from time to market to time to learn
    Time is the most precious resource in periods of accelerated change, and how you spend what little you have on will determine your ability to adapt. Invest in your efforts to maximize learning, and in the process, apply the law of minimum effort to building the best solution, step-by-step.

    Experiment with the hypotheses you are proposing, and look for ways to confirm or reject them with minimal impact to the organization.

Finally, dare to change! Organizational change and transformation, for each and every member of the team, begins with you.

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