The truth about transformation - a human perspective

leadership transformation Aug 24, 2020

Many of us are moving through some form of transformation at this time. Whether it is self-directed, because you finally have some space in your life to allocate to yourself, or it has been thrust upon you because of the global crisis we are all navigating together.

Transformation is often viewed as a massive undertaking, a really big deal. Organisations spend hundreds of millions of dollars on progressing toward a direction more sustainable or lucrative. The truth is, transformation doesn’t only happen to the organisation. Undoubtedly, there are changes made to systems, technology, process, organisational structure, business models and so on, though the enabler of the transformation in all circumstances is inevitably human. Even when technological automation may be the backbone of the transformation, it was a person who made the decision, a person who’s job changed as a result of that decision and people who needed to adapt their ways of working to accommodate the transformation.

In view of this, following are the two truths I have learnt about the human experience of navigating transformation.

1. Our tendency towards safety

As a species, we are physiologically and psychologically wired toward feeling safe. Our brains are wired to ensure we know when we are and when we aren’t. In our modern world, safety looks like order, familiarity and to a lesser extent, predictability. We will tend to ask questions, take actions and resist others to ensure we see a pathway back to safety.

Transformation and change represent chaos in our minds. If we are unclear about what this new world will be after this transformation we feel unsafe and will do what we can to bring order and predictability to our world. This can take on many different forms but the behaviours can be grouped as follows:

  • Asking questions to gain certainty and clarity.
  • Avoiding and denying the change.
  • Waiting until the majority has made the shift before the individual makes a change.
  • Knowing that this is instinctual behaviour informs how we might better design the experience of transformation to make it feel more safe for people.

2. Long-lasting change requires transformation of value.

Large scale transformation typically comes with a cultural component. Ways of working, values and behaviours are reviewed and updated to be in harmony with transformed reality. Updating the values of an organisation is not enough. Behaviour change happens when we change what we value.

For example, it is common to see an organisation decide to transform into a human-centred one. It promises to put the customer at the centre, creates an organisational structure reinforcing that commitment, sets up customer and employee experience teams, and trains everyone in human-centred design and leadership. What tends to be left out is what the board and senior leadership team prioritise while making decisions. These priorities reflect what they value. If what they value is not also transformed, similar priority calls will be made that inform decisions that slowly drift the organisation back to status quo. If the customer is valued with the same priority as growth and profit, then you have the right combination for authentic transformation.

For transformation to be possible from a human perspective, we first must believe that it is. We must commit to the transformation fully and we must be persistent and patient. We will always be in a struggle between order and chaos and the pathway through the struggle is personal transformation.



This article was first published over at Mary Henderson's digital Magazine Authority 5.0, check it out here:

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