Elephants and Transformational Change

You have likely heard the question, “How do you eat an elephant?” With the answer being, “One bite at a time.” Transformational change is often approached the same way…mistakenly.

From a content perspective, many transformational change efforts can and should be broken down into individual initiatives. Many of these sub-initiatives are developmental and transitional initiatives; other are transformational.

elephant and transformational changeFor example, let’s say you are a software company and historically you have been very product-centric. Your technology has been leading edge, and customers buy your stuff because it leads the market in innovation. Now, competitors are catching up and even surpassing your innovation, and your executives decide the company must become more customer-centric. This new business strategy requires many changes to your organization and culture, which will demand significant change in leader and workforce behavior and mindset. This requires an enterprise-wide transformational change effort.

But to manage the content changes, your change leaders wisely decide that they can run a bunch of change initiatives, e.g., re-structuring around customer segments, re-engineering the sales processes, altering the product design process, implementing new information management technology, including a new CRM platform, delivering customer service training to all customer facing roles, hiring a new marketing firm, and starting a social community around your key products to get customer input and involvement.

Will all these initiatives, even if well run and integrated, collectively deliver the transformation? Almost certainly not. What is missing?

In transformational change, you must eat the content elephant one bite at a time, but you must also faciliate the transformation of the whole elephant, in particular, its mindset. In other words, if you just break the content changes down to their individual parts, e.g., the trunk, tail and ears, you miss the essence of the elephant, the spirit of the enterprise that must transform. You might get the new content installed, but the culture of the organization will not have transformed as you need to bring that new content to life to produce the great results you have envisioned.

Transformational change requires more than simply managing a collective of individual content initiatives. Attention to the spirit and mindset of the elephant – the culture of the organization –  is also most critical, and that must be approached in an integrated, wholistic way.

There are many strategies for shifting culture, a key one being managing all those content changes in new culture ways. A few others include: 1) generating the definition of the new culture and communicating it in highly engaging ways, 2) creating a workforce ambassador network responsible for multi-directional communications with staff, 3) leaders sharing power and decision-making on a daily basis in ways that align to the new culture, 4) cross-boundary collaboration on highly visible projects, 5) staff being engaged in greater transparency about the business, 6) mindset and behavior “breakthrough” training for leaders and the workforce. These types of strategies, which attend to the mindset and spirit of the elephant / enterprise, when run in parallel and integrated with your content initiatives, can successfully deliver the transformational change results you seek.

Have you seen transformational change efforts that miss the mark by reducing the effort to a series of content initiatives without attending to the culture adequately?

How have you been able to keep a focus on the cultural aspects of transformational change?

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