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Truths About Transformation – Part I Is it Really Transformation?

After chipping away to bring out clarity of purpose and a unified effort to transform for years, many organizations are getting little yield for money spent as the clock of a consumer-enabled, agility-driven marketplace ticks faster and faster.

First, it’s important to say that almost no one is doing business transformation well.  Many organizations have looked to IT and the CIO for wisdom on how to innovate and when to duck and weave through the minefield of such radical change. And, the IT folks I know are saying the truths as they see it by…

  • coaching their business peers in how to shift their thinking to ‘innovation’
  • suggesting how to apply best practices and methodologies to speed change,
  • advising their business peers techniques to carve a straighter line from ‘as-is’ to ‘to-be, and
  • making efforts to express what they know about reinventing every 3, 6 and 12 months.

But, despite best efforts, the new enlightenments lose integrity the moment they confront the deeply entrenched Industrial Age mindset that pervades or underpins most organizational culture. Instead, and regardless of how different the transformed state is, business-side leaders are reaching for tactics and techniques they used to succeed in the past and apply these to transformation work only to find that they have painfully reverse effects.

This first of three articles on the ‘truths of transformation’ will offer clarity on how transformation work is different than the kind of change that leaders have been driving over their career.  The second article describes why transformation should not be approached the same way as any other kind of project work, and sheds light on a new way of looking at how to achieve transformation objectives. The third article projects your initiative into the future and offers a line of inquiry that helps you discern whether the organization is or is not transforming as you go along.

I can also say that it’s become increasingly apparent that most leaders, managers, and staff in IT and in other business functions are not entirely clear what ‘transformation’ is even though most can recite the strategic goals and objectives and even the vision of the transformation.  Folks are working away at projects, applying themselves as much as they can but shrug or express frustration when talking about what the point of the work is.

For the record, here is my definition of what point of most transformation is…

Transformation work is conducted to meet the challenge of an emerging New Millennium business environment or ‘era’.  Meeting the new demands requires the organization to depart along a new trajectory which is very different than the direction it had been going to grow and evolve previously. The New Millennium Era is characterised by a humanistic approach in how business adapts to new and greater consumer intelligence and power, the raising of marketplace minimum entry requirements for technology connectedness, and the necessity for compression of complex systems and processes into simple accessibility. This achievement demands a re-balancing of the development of technical aspects and social aspects to achieve optimum internal collaboration and maximum response; a consideration of the organization as system of interacting, mutually dependent parts, and a reliance on synchronous communication among and between those parts. And, a moving forward at all costs along relationships that are genuinely based in intrinsic motivation and intrinsic wisdom, where work is conducted under dispersed transformational leadership and participative management of innovation to realize business objectives.

This definition might not be that helpful, so I have shaped the primary characteristics of transformation in to the test below…


Transformative change has universal, distinct and predictable characteristics; all transformation is change but not all change is transformation. Put a check mark beside the statements that are true. More than one check mark means the work is a transformation:

  1. The main outcome of the work represents a break with the past and you can see there will be breakdowns and breakthroughs over the course of the work.
  2. The changes are far-reaching in impact, and the scope, scale, and complexity are staggering and comprised mainly of unknowns.
  3. The work is driven by competitiveness and keeping pace/doing more with less, regulatory or sweeping changes that are consumer oriented – i.e. protect the consumer’s time and money.
  4. The changes transcend work automation and leverage the ascendancy of corporate information to intelligence and wisdom.

If your initiative tests negative as transformation, it’s safe to apply the tried and true practices and methods for leading and managing regular change – they will work well.  If your initiative tests positive as transformation then a new and different approach to leading and managing the change is needed – one that unpicks the deeply embedded Industrial Age paradigm to some degree before time and money is spent rather than working to clear these kinds of barriers while you are running the project.

See Article in Government CIO Magazine… LINK