Demystifying Change and Transformation…

We have heard it being quoted often that “Change is the only constant”, “Change is inevitable”, even that “Change is the law of nature”. Coupled with the word Transformation every organization today is talking about, the waters get muddied even further. But when we begin to say “Change is law of life”, it’s time to demystify it!

The epic “Tryst with Destiny” speech made by India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru on the 14th August 1947 the eve of India’s independence speech says “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends……..” This celebrated speech marked the start of journey of Change and Transformation for India and rest is history – political, economic and social.

When I type Change on the Google search bar – it throws up 1 Billion results and the word Transformation throws up 75 million. Golly, I thought to myself – what does one write about which has not been written before. Tough task indeed; but relatively easy when you are in the midst of mammoth scale of organisational Change and Transformation in the history of corporate India.

Unprecedented and non-stop Change is the norm for organizations now and “the future is already here” said William Gibson. Increasing competition, globalization, technological changes, financial upheaval, political uncertainty, changing workforce demographics, and other factors are forcing organizations to Change faster and differently than ever before.

Change and Transformation have become the new buzzwords. Be it politics, business, schools, economics, corporations both have gained enormous attention in the past few years. More often than not Transformation and Change are used interchangeably although there is a stark difference in the meaning. “Change is the consequence of Transformation

Change is defined as modifying the way things are done by altering the management structures and business processes. Change can be incremental or quantum in nature. The Changes could be of different types like, Social, Technology/digital and organisational Change. Organisational Change is more about changes in the structural, process, and people.

Transformation is what happens when you see the world through a new lens of knowledge and are able to create things, never before envisioned, for the future. Transformation is motivated by survival, by the realization that everything needs to Change or the organization will die; that a significant breakthrough in mind-set is needed in order to pursue new opportunities. It is a longer process, more internal and requires strong commitment and conviction by those involved in the process.

Let me paint a visual for you by taking few examples from the animal kingdom, organisations and people to exemplify what is Change & what is Transformation.

Examples Nature Companies People
Change Chameleon changes its colour Xerox from Photocopier to document to technology company Amitabh Bachchan evolved to medium of TV from Cinemas
Transformation Caterpillar transforms into a butterfly Apple – Transformed the way people used technology – literally reinvented the “reinvention business” Buddha – theory of Impermanence

As per Indian mythology every time the universe was in trouble or required social awakening numerous gods would take human form in order to bring about the necessary Transformation and set the world on the right path

If I were to share the global landscape, almost every organisation undergoes some form of Change or embarks on the journey of Transformation be it through restructuring, reengineering, rightsizing or right aging in order to keep pace with the competitive world. Transformation relates more to the culture, belief and the mind-set of the people, while technology or process changes are just the enablers to bring about the desired Change. Needless to mention that Transformation in the VUCA world is increasingly becoming more challenging given the transient nature of the Change itself. As you move towards your desired Transformed end state your expectation from the end state would have already evolved during your journey and again the end state seems like a failure. Hence an ability to foresee the desired Change 4 years ahead and then working backwards is what will bring about the desired output.

Coming closer home in India the last decade has been fraught with social, economic and technological changes. Organisations in India have very unique characteristics. They are more owner driven, have multi-generational workforce, and diverse political – socio environment. As humans we’re wired to be wary of Change. Neuroscience is showing that we experience potential threats to status, certainty, and autonomy as painful. Real Change puts all of these in flux. And for many of us these are a matter of pride. Hence more often than not large-scale organizational Transformation seems unpredictable, fickle, and irrational.

The only way to make change palatable is to ensure that that there is a common framework, set of words and language. It is important to have common definition, approach and process to be successful. It should be integral to overall plan of the company and not just an add-on event. Change needs to be driven, role modelled and reported.

Failed changes can be costly, demoralize employees, reduce competitiveness, and start an organization on the road to mediocrity or obsolescence. The problem exists because few people responsible for change understand how to manage change.

With this as a backdrop, today’s organizations need to ensure they are leading from the front to bring both mind-set and skill change in the leadership and overall workforce of the organization. There are 3 core pillars which have the potential to really change the game for the organization

  1. Learning – which has be at learner’s behest, bite sized aka Micro learning and available on need to know basis (JIT). The tools of learning that companies need to leverage are MOOC, Gamification, Wearable technology and Mobile Apps – the underlying concept being – “Go where the learners already are!”
  2. Leadership – has to change gears from being command & control, instructional & reviewer, hierarchical to collegial to being co-creating & empowering, “walk, indeed run the talk”, the underlying concept being – “There is huge value in minds of all, trigger it off”
  3. Performance – agile and progressive companies have to know that today people believe there is more to life than doing the job and getting paid for it. They have to provide meaning and purpose to its workforce – “Give them a dream and an opportunity to leave a legacy behind”

Developing champions who understand how to initiate, facilitate, and implement needed change is an alternative that offers considerable potential for addressing this important topic. Deploying psychology of change management can accelerate change too (Theory of cognitive dissonance – which talks about giving people purpose, theory of conditioning and positive reinforcement which clearly states that  reward, recognition and performance systems in the company must be aligned to desired outcome, theory of adult learning which details out the fact that we should let people absorb the change, allow them use it experimentally and then get them integrate in their current processes and finally the theory of adult behaviors which states that people need role models and leaders who “walk the talk”. If an organization can play the different instruments of music seamlessly, change is guaranteed almost magically!

Let me paint the picture for you using 2 illustrations.

Every company today has started to talk about their almost fanatical focus on employee engagement. In the corridors of HR leadership, there is constant chatter about how we need to empower and energize our employees, how should we make the company ecosystem and environment conducive and how to find innovative and real time ways to listen to what employees are saying! There are employee engagement surveys, employee satisfaction survey, pulse surveys, happiness surveys and whole host of other ways companies have started to “listen” to their workforce. Indeed some have deployed very innovative and technology enabled ways as well, such as “Click a Glad-Sad-Mad-Bad smiley button on a flat screen as they come in and go out of workplace to capture emotions real time or leave a message on company’s internal blog site sharing how they feel and what they want.

To my mind, unless done for dramatically different reasons, it is but mere entrapment’ that we are talking about for our people. By laying out long and complex roadmaps to actually increase organization productivity, advocacy and “win the eternal war for talent”, companies will only achieve incremental changes not long lasting transformation. Marginally making minor tweaks to processes, systems and policies hoping natural cycles of evolution over a period of time will make the change impactful, sustainable and meaningful, which it will, but only the landscape would have changed by then again and thus the eternal cycle of change will begin yet again!.

Or we could start with end in mind; work towards making quantum leaps, build a blue print to transform the workplace and then get into execution. There is enough knowledge out there to tell us, what’s changing both within the DNA of millennial employee as well in the technological world. We are truly at the “tipping point” with the meshing of workplace megatrends such as millennia’s, social, globalization, connectedness powered by technology, rise of gender diversity and innovation and more than ever before, the time is ripe for transformation.

Another big change that we have begun to see at the workplace is migration of talent from global MNC’s to Indian conglomerates. While earlier the MNC’s were considered mecca of learning and opportunities, place where a person learnt about structure, models and process there has recently being a rapid shift in the way employees have started to embrace the working ways of Indian companies. I attribute this change to 2 key reasons :

  1. The times are different, we are in a VUCA world already, so people have started to adapt to the volatility, uncertainties, complexities and ambiguous ways of working, something that Indian companies are intrinsically good at, in fact, an attribute they evaluate in a candidate while hiring them. The larger socio-economical-politically environment coupled with technology explosion has taught emerging talent the value of agility, manageability of their projects and careers and concept of “personalization” while operating in a world of “globalization”
  2. The other significant transformation that we have begun to see if the rise of entrepreneurship and start-ups. Its reasons are many, funding for start-ups is available easily with angel investors looking to put in the seed capital, spirit of risk taking is all time high, world is now flat so market place has grown hugely, social media has reduced set up and infrastructure cost and innovation is being funded by the both government and corporates. What Indian organizations do is get a person to think more “end to end”, inculcate ownership mind-set given the fact that both strategy and design as well as execution and implementation has to be done here in India compared to MNC where thought leadership comes from their HQ’s in US or Europe and SOP, template driven work gets done out of India.

Change involving movement of talent to Indian companies as well as transformation of workforce from being mere employees to becoming entrepreneurs are great examples which elucidate what Change and Transformation is playing out in the Indian workplace.

In conclusion, what I would say is that Change is a process of evolution while Transformation is disruptive and innovative. Change is inevitable and reversible, Transformation is internal and completely non-reversible. Change occurs with a desire to improve the past while Transformation is driven by future orientation, constrained only by the limit of our imagination, conviction and courage.

In organizational context, it is apt to say that “Transformation prescribes vision and Change subscribes to vision”!

 

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