Transformational” change is becoming widely used and promoted as the new buzz phrase. Everywhere we look we see cities and communities wanting to ‘transform’ and have their economies revitalised or organisations trying to solve complex social and environmental issues through transformational change.
But what do we really mean by transformational change? Why is it so necessary today? And how can we achieve this type of change?
When reviewing the definition of transformational change we see words such as ‘make a marked change in the form, nature, or appearance of’; ‘radical or dramatic change’; ‘profound, fundamental and irreversible’ and ‘the creation of a whole new form function or structure’.
So with transformational change we are seeking dramatic change. Large-scale radical changes that will solve critical issues or completely change the way our organisation operates. It is not about ‘business as usual’, with some small tweaking around the edges, but significant change that alters entire systems and how we work within them.
If we look at the major issues facing us today we can see that many will not be solved by incremental change. Our world is becoming more complex and the dramatic rise in technology with many new disruptive business models emerging is producing even greater challenges. We cannot project manage change in steady small steps – we will need to make some giant leaps if we are to adapt and prosper in the future.
When looking at various change initiatives many start out by seeking transformation only to end up struggling for incremental change. Time and time again we see high hopes for large-scale systemic change that never eventuates. Instead our current systems, power structures and ways of working with each other get in the way and limit what we can achieve.
So how can we do it differently? What does it take to achieve large-scale transformational change?
While every initiative is context specific and we should avoid using a one size fits all approach, there are some characteristics emerging from successful initiatives that can provide some guidance, such as:
- Developing a clear vision of the desired future state that engages and motivates people to strive for change
- Enabling a change in mindset and culture that results in new behaviours
- The ability to take risks – to let go and to take a leap of faith
- Engaging champions as sponsors and catalysts for action
- Designing a platform and process that enables collaboration and collective leadership to develop and thrive
- Allowing the change to emerge rather than project manage it
- Being grounded in the present – modelling the change you want to see
- Creating the space and time for the conversations needed and the necessary changes to take place
- Lifting your eyes and being aware of the larger system and how all the parts interact
- Promoting breakthrough thinking and being able to turn obstacles into opportunities
- Focussing on what we want to create and building on what is working now
These are just some of the potential enablers that you could consider when embarking on a major transformational change initiative. But change isn’t easy, especially dramatic and radical change. We need to be realistic about how hard it is and how long it may take but there is no doubt that we need to get better at it and fast.