How do you define Transformation?

Definition of Transforation

This is a question that I often start the Inside Track podcast with, and the responses are illuminating and provide the context of our upcoming discussion.

We all have our own definition of the term and even if you search Google for a definition, it’s no clearer.

As a result, the word ‘transformation’ is a word that is widely used. However, across organisations and sometime within organisations, what people mean by transformation can differ significantly.

Over the last few years, this has become a much bigger issue as more and more articles are written about ‘transformation’ – a recent Google search on ‘transformation articles’ delivered 489m results!

Some of these talk about Transformation being a complete change – on one of the recent episodes of the podcast, the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly was used to describe how they interpret the word – “a transition from one form to another”.

However, many of these articles describe transformation as nothing more than a larger programme of change or managing a portfolio of projects.  Interestingly, I recently saw one role entitled “Head of Transformation” when the description really focused on running a series of business improvement activities!

So why is this important to you in managing and developing your career in change and transformation?

Let me explain with a recent story that I heard.

An organisation went into the market for a Chief Transformation Officer – the role would report to the Group CFO and commanded a reasonable package – in excess of a quarter of a million.

Throughout the process, the role was described as transformational, the successful candidate would lead the organisation through the most significant period of change in their history etc etc.

The person that was appointed was an exceptional leader, she had led transformations in organisations across multiple sectors, in global and regional structures and had an excellent track record.

However, within the first couple of weeks of starting in the role, she became concerned that her expectation of what Transformation for the organisation would mean and that of some of the senior directors across the business differed greatly. 

The appetite for transformation change was just not there although it was clear from her perspective that the organisation needed it. Indeed, without it, the future looked decidedly bleak as new entrants in the marketplace were systematically gobbling up their client base.

Whilst she was clear about what was needed, it quickly became clear that the mandate to deliver this major transformation was never going to be given and what the CEO at the time wanted was a ‘safe pair of hands’ to deliver and oversee a number of important programmes that were failing.  Given that he had made some commitments to the City about the success that these programmes would create, he had to be seen to deliver them.

I’m sure that you’re not going to be surprised to learn that the appointed CTO tendered her resignation within 6 months of joining and both her and the organisation were back to square one – a real lose : lose!

In retrospect, it is clear that the two parties had completely different interpretations of what Transformation was and this difference had significant impact on all parties – interestingly, the CEO was forced to resign quickly thereafter when it became clear that the strategic programmes were not going to deliver the level of transformation required to safeguard the future of the business!

The lesson is thus – you need to be absolutely clear yourself as to what your definition of transformation is, so that you can identify those organisations and roles that align with your vision.

Equally, during the selection process, don’t be afraid of asking searching questions and clarifying whether the organisational perception is aligned to yours.  In this way, you’ll save yourself a lot of heartache and potential frustration by avoiding those roles that are a mismatch, but more importantly, you’ll be able to attract those roles that are aligned.

Please share your experience and maybe even your definition of Transformation.

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