The language of transformation has become commonplace in organisations. In our consulting work, we increasingly see and hear about attempts to transform organisations. Transformations are, however difficult and challenging endeavours and the available evidence indicates that success rates are low. A paper in the Sloan Management Review in 2018, for instance, estimates that only about 25% succeed.
The purpose of this research has been to investigate the practice of organisation transformation and to develop practical insights that are grounded in the experience of those who are leading or doing transformation work.
What do we mean by transformation?
For us, organisation transformation involves most or all of the following characteristics:
– Radical, discontinuous or fundamental in nature
– Change in the organisation’s form and / or function
– Comprehensive, affecting everyone and all parts of an organisation
– Enduring over time (i.e. not temporary)
A central finding from our research is that the term “transformation” has different and conflicting meanings.
This can lead to:– Ambiguities about expectations, processes and outcomes
– Different interpretations about what is necessary and what needs to be done
– Confusion and misunderstandings between stakeholders
– Unrealistic expectations or disappointments
– Resistance and opposition to the transformation.
The framing of the transformation and the narrative that describes its form and why it is necessary is critical to guiding and mobilizing action. As we heard more about transformation efforts we became convinced that Transformations happen because a critical mass of people care deeply about re-inventing the organisation. The level of emotional investment of employees therefore influences the likelihood that a transformation effort will achieve its aims.