The New Normality of Transformation?

Transformation in a changed world

In case you haven´t noticed: the world has changed.

It has changed dramatically over the last few months. And most likely forever.

After having been hit by the Coronavirus and the accompanying changes to the way we work as addressed in previous blogs about starting up again and digitisation, the world has been confronting much of its own historical tensions in ways that are very profound.

The tensions introduced by the upcoming US presidential elections, the power games between the US and China, the ever-changing confusion caused by the Brexit reality and the search for new power dynamics in the European Union make it is easy to see that we are in the middle of a period of change never experienced before by most people currently alive.

It is very understandable that many businesses are looking at all this change with justified trepidation. And the initial reaction, often born out of necessity to be able to simply survive, has been to cut back to basics and drop all initiatives that had been started before 2020. The big paradox being that many of the business organisations I have worked with over the years on large scale change and transformation initiatives, have done this under labels like “Vision 2020”, aptly referring to the 20/20 vision analogy used for having perfect vision.

Reality has its own karma, so it seems.

Does 2020´s reality mean that businesses have to abandon their major transformation initiatives, since the world has demonstrated that much of the effort spent on this type of initiatives could be wasted?

Well, yes. And no.

Large scale change

I would like to suggest that if business embark now on large scale, multi-year transformation programmes, they must be tone deaf to the lessons that are being learned as we speak. You would be foolish to presume to know what will emerge out of 2020. And my experience is that starting long change journeys in an uncertain environment may not be a wise thing if change creates instability in even the most basic business capabilities.

Metaphorically, deciding to go on a mountaineering trip without even seeing any mountain top nearby, knowing that we might even start to climb an active volcano (or not), indeed is foolish at best and most likely grossly irresponsible.

This causes a conundrum.

Much of what we have learned over the last few months suggest that we need to renew or adjust our strategy to cope with what many now call The New Normality. And, new or updated strategies ask for new or updated operating models to effectuate these strategies.

And that is the realm of business transformation.

So, what then could be the New Normality of Transformation?

Changing without transformation

We are perhaps trying to live a wicked question: How can we change the organisation without transformation? And, is this the same as “change-free transformation”?

How can we build-in change in what we do? So transformation is happening organically as part of our business-as-usual ways of working? That seems to be the promise of DevOps and Agile ways of working and most businesses are already (pretending to be) familiar with that.

But can we take this one step further?

Can we make transforming our business capabilities an inherent part of these capabilities? How can we change all dimensions of our operating model in such a way that we don´t have to talk about major change initiatives anymore?

This may well about allowing our people to self-organise around initiatives that they believe will move the business forward. We can start small in areas where we see the most value add for this to happen. For instance, our finance and governance capabilities need to accommodate this view. Annual budget cycles, although necessary, already are mostly meaningless beyond recalibrating strategic priorities.

Similarly, the people priorities will need to focus on flexibility and collaboration, rather than goals and compliance.

So, understanding what our key capabilities are, identifying where we collectively believe we can make the biggest impact going forward, continuously aligning our ways of working, including the tools we need to an organically changing strategy.

If this resonates, this seems to indicate that the separation between strategy, tactics and operations becomes much more blurred, possibly even fundamentally meaningless.

By working in 30, 60 and 90 day continuously evolving plans for instance, with self-organising teams executing these plans. Where the teams themselves decide what and whom they need to be successful. Both from within the organisation and with our ever more trusted partners. 

What about trying to introduce this for a pilot capability first. Develop the tools and skills required to do this well. Then choose the next couple of capabilities. Developing our governance processes at the same time.

Until we work that way in all capabilities that we believe we can mobilise this as the New Normality

Would that be an option?

And, why not start this now instead of creating endless business cases for large scale transformation initiatives we know won´t succeed anyway since 20/20 vision appeared an illusion?