What to do when you are confronted with transformation

Transformation and change! These days we hear these words used a lot in the news, and for good reason. According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR) 86% of organizations are in the midst of business transformation or have recently completed one. Those are big numbers.

Transformation and change sound exciting as it is related to a new shape of the future. But let’s be honest here, most of us don’t get involved in shaping those cool strategies. Most of us are touched by transformation programs in the execution phase and often without the full understanding of why.

Since I have been in various transformation kitchens for a while, I thought it would be useful to give you a few tips and tricks on how to be a successful professional when transformation hits your department.

What is transformation?

First things first, let’s understand the transformation notion and, I would especially like to differentiate it from change management, which is often mixed up.

Transformation is something BIG and unpredictable. It is about doing something NEW which was not done before thus predicting its success is often hard. Those who say they have developed a winning transformation vision are lying because there is no riskless strategy. Typically in corporations we can see a portfolio of initiatives underpinning the BIG objective of the transformation programme.

Male hand changing gear in the car
We need to understand the difference between change management and transformation.

An important point of transformation that it is about reinventing rather than improving yourself based on a desired future state. It usually involves lots of experimentation and patience.

Now change management. Usually it’s about well defined initiatives with clear goals to implement new ways of working. It is often a part of the transformation program which means that even though the change initiatives were successful, the overall transformation could still not succeed.

For example, Netflix started their business as a DVD rental company in 1997. In the early 2000 they decided to embark on a transformation journey to move into streaming technology. This meant they needed to completely reinvent their business model which was unknown, risky and hard.

In order to achieve their transformation goals, they also developed various change initiatives. For example, Netflix launched a change initiative on increased pricing for many customers with a clear goal to convert those customers to the streaming business.

Success of transformation depends on you

While transformation programmes are so exciting, unfortunately we don’t have that many Netflix like examples. Around 70% of transformation programs fail. There is lots of research and studies done on how to fall into the 30% but it is mainly addressed to those who are setting those strategies.

What is worth mentioning here is that across all the sources we can see, the importance of YOUR support is huge. Without your trust, organizations efforts to transform are hopeless.

Little hero in studio
Never ever forget that you are a very important factor in driving successful transformations.

While senior management and executives have a huge impact to win your hearts and minds, there is a lot what you can by yourself too. If you take the lead to embrace instead of resist a new transformation journey of your organization, I truly believe it will benefit you and your career substantially.

Always be the first one to be EXCITED

It is natural that for most of us change is scary due to its unknown and unpaved ways. You don’t understand why this is happening to you, why now and why so often are there so many changes. And they always come from the top – the shiny headquarter buildings with people who don’t understand you. Not only that they don’t understand you, but they have barely seen your work or have seen it many years ago, that they cannot relate anymore.

You are completely right to think this way. However, I would advise to be pragmatic here. You can either resist, ignore or give a helping hand. In order to choose the best position for the upcoming change programme, I would advise to analyse what is within your control and what is not. If you can impact the change initiative, go for it but if not, then resisting or ignoring is not the best idea.

Concept of choices, decisions, ambitions and balance
You always have a choice whether to embrace new change or resist it.

It’s good to know that most of the change programmes will often have change managers. You will meet them quite early and they will explain you about the objectives of transformation and expectations from you. Afterwards, they will create a stakeholder group matrix with these categories:

  • “Champions” who are immediately excited about the new initiative.
  • “Go with the flow” who wait to see what happens.
  • “Terrorists” who never embrace the change.

Usually nobody questions a matter of personal taste. However in this case, I would, if you choose to be in the second or third category. Why would you go there?

I guess I know the answer from my own experience. A lack of the magical WHY. You don’t understand, lack of context and a simple explanation of how it will impact you and not the shareholders whom you have never met.

Even though this whole situation is frustrating for you, I would still choose to be immediately in the Champions league. Just sign up and don’t be afraid to ask questions buzzing around in your head and heart. Don’t be a silent champion, because it is fake and not useful to anyone. Ask those questions until you have all your answers. This will be a huge gift to the top management as it will trigger them to better understand you and adjust where needed.

American baseball champion
Why do not YOU become the next champion of your organization?

And remember, champions are not like everyone else, they differ in their courage to speak up to make a difference.

Change always means a new opportunity, so grab it

Often it is hard to initially be excited about the change, mostly because you know it will impact you directly. It can happen that your department is downsized or your team is split up into other teams. This isn’t fun for anyone. Sometimes you don’t know what is going to happen and that’s even worse, as you are waiting for the big announcement. In many cases those don’t turn out to be too positive.

Whether it is positive or negative, unfortunately, in most cases, you cannot influence the decisions anymore. At this point in time I would advise you to realize that in most cases it is only a shuffle. What do I mean by shuffle? Something that is taken out on one side, will always be added on the other side. This always means there is a new opportunity for you.

We will see more and more jobs becoming redundant due to recently heavily increased successful application of artificial intelligence. Yes, many types of jobs will disappear, but many new ones will emerge. Why don’t you go there?

Man jumping into the water
Do not be afraid to jump and test out new waters.

Organizations urgently need people who are excited to jump into the unknown, learn new skills and still hold a great business experience. But there is one clause. You need to promise to forget the old and completely embrace the new journey.

So always keep it in your head that there are new opportunities out there, do your research and see where you can fit the most.

Don’t forget how important you are in the organizational transformation programmes. They really need you! Play in the champions league and always stay like bamboo – strong but flexible.

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