Learning and development consultants are often asked to help a business prepare its people for change. A typical response is, “What change is happening?” This question starts a conversation about transformation projects, the transformation agenda and many other iterations of the word “transformation.”

Let’s look at some definitions:

  • Change: to make or become different
  • Transformation: a marked change in form, nature or appearance
  • Evolution: the process by which living organisms are believed to have developed from earlier forms during the history of the earth

Could we argue that each of these definitions are actually quite similar? They share some common words and ideas, including “different,” “change” and “developed.”

I recently read a book on the Fourth Industrial Revolution that clearly identified each of the industrial revolutions throughout history and its connection to where we are today. As I read this book, it became clear to me that while we may be using new words to describe what’s happening to us and our organizations, the process is not new. It has been around for hundreds and even thousands of years. So, if the human race has dealt with change for so long, why does it still feel complicated, nebulous and difficult?

To help people understand the challenges around change and its implementation, it’s important for organizations to look at three important areas of the business: its people, its culture and its processes. Understanding each is often what makes a change (or transformation, or evolution, or whatever word you use) work.

Is it really that simple? Let’s generate some working definitions of change and transformation:

  • Change: small to medium, organizational or local iterations of processes, procedures, structures and operations
  • Transformation: wide, sweeping ideas that project the organization into a period of transition to allow it to pivot its position, both externally and internally

To help guide your thinking in this area, here are some questions to consider.

People

  • What are the best assets of your people?
  • How have your people worked through transformation/change in the past?
  • What successes do your people bring to your organization?
  • How have your people been developed over the last 12 months?
  • What challenges have your people brought to the organization, and how have you managed them?

Culture

  • How would you describe the culture of your organization?
  • What is it like to work there?
  • What are you proud of?
  • If you could let go of any part of your culture, what would it be, and why?
  • If money were no object, what would you change about your culture?

Processes

  • What processes support the future growth of your organization?
  • What processes hold you back?
  • What process changes have you made over the last 12 months? What benefits have they brought to your organization?
  • If you could implement just one new process, what would it be, and why?

The answers to these questions on their own do not drive about change, but the answers will begin to shape the transformation that your organization craves.

Now, what would a healthy blend of transformation and “business as usual” look like within your organization? To answer this question, leaders must look at the following three lenses of organizational development:

  • Value today: What value does our organization deliver today?
  • Value tomorrow: What value does our organization need to deliver in the future?
  • Aligning people and value: How do we take our people with us on the journey?

This process isn’t as simple as thinking, “What we do today will have an impact tomorrow.” The value your organization delivers is what people will interact with, customers will buy and competitors will admire. Only by keeping in mind the future value of your organization, and comparing it to your current culture, processes and people, will you truly be able to say that you are on a journey of transformation.

In our current VUCA world, where every day is different, challenges seem to come out of nowhere, and markets can go up and down in a heartbeat, it’s important to stay grounded: grounded in what your organization does well, grounded in what your people do well and grounded in the way that you do things.

But being grounded isn’t the whole answer. You must also put yourself in uncomfortable positions by challenging yourself to look ahead. Making a significant change isn’t about a series of tiny change projects. It’s about understanding the whole system of your organization and growing the areas that are going to secure its future.

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