An African proverb suggests: If you want a different dance, change the music. In other words: To see different moves and different actions, find the factors that drive the behavior and alter them.
When it comes to organizational change and transformation, however, companies often try diligently to change the dance, when they want to see a different dance. Therefore, transformation efforts commonly start with a relatively broad goal such as: We have to make this company profitable again and we want to be the leader in innovation or head customer satisfaction in our sector within the next two years.
Then, the priorities are clarified by management, commitment to and energy for the change is created and the new change vision along with new procedures, processes and objectives are rolled out top down. To “engage” the members of the organization in the transition process and support this very top down change initiative, the process, at best, includes a seemingly more bottom up initiative that trains people in the new skill or mindset and that aims to make a difference from “the people side”. Regular feedback loops are conducted and after some time, when better numbers and ratings kick in, it is officially announced that the organization has a new dance. The PR machinery starts rolling and the success gets announced all over the media, while the hidden discord within the organization, may remain unheard.
Maybe it really worked this time. Maybe there truly is a different dance with new procedures and technical ways of doing things. Maybe this time you even achieved better results. If only you didn’t have that creepy feeling that the new dance is being performed to exactly the same old music.
What is transformation?
Peter Drucker once posited that management consists of leadership, entrepreneurship and business administration. In this three-fold meaning, he ascribed management a vital and fundamental social function that has not only the chance but also the obligation to transform the way organizations act and interact with each other and the world. He believed the outcome of such a transformation to be an added value to the members of the organization, to the market and the entire society – one that leads to prosperity and a noticeable on-going vitality. When we measure organizational transformation initiatives against Drucker’s understanding of transformation, the track record of transformed and transforming organizations is extremely poor. Most organizations are far from understanding or dealing with the increased interconnectedness and complexity of our time and practically all organizational change initiatives operate from a purely business administrative side. From that perspective it becomes painfully clear that an initiative conducted in an exclusively operational mode often does not add value nor produce the much-needed vitality for the organization, the market or our society. Instead, what is often called transformation, frequently produces unforeseen and undesired side effects that call for the next transformation effort, and often times the next CEO, to fix it.
What is music?
Music – as I’m sure we have all experienced more than once – adds value to everything we do. Music energizes people and produces an almost inexplicable vitality. Music inspires an almost instantaneous specific individual or coordinated creative and innovative new behavior. To find that motor that stimulates such vitalized actions in people and organizations, is the key to a successful transformation process – the power to consistently and naturally produce a new dance and revitalize the organization to make use of their space in our interconnected world and markets.
How can you change the music in your organization?
True organizational transformation does not come with a best practices prescription. Finding the music – that driving, revitalizing, and value adding factor that helps transform the dance in your organization – is a unique and collective process. This process turns the entire organization into the orchestra of its own affairs, making each member an active part of the threefold management Drucker proposes.
Initiators for such a process could be:
1. Utilize the collective intelligence in your organization: Not only do your people know what drives them, they also know precisely what drives the market and all other business affairs that truly matter.
2. Find creative ways of collecting data and valuable ideas: No change process can do without input from the true key stakeholders: your people, your customers, your suppliers and competitors, etc. Gathering this valuable input does not have to be the typical one-way street method of survey or analysis. The more creative this part is, the more people will exchange ideas, and give input – insuring that the drive for change or innovation comes from the heart of your organization.
3. Start from truly wishing to renew and revitalize the entire organization. Explore the question: How would we set up this change process if we wanted to add value to this organization as a collective? See how your thoughts around ways of doing this already start changing?
4. Forget about linear approaches and thinking – at least for a while: Notice how often you employ linear thought processes when you think of about leading your change and transformation initiative. Go out of your way to counter-balance this very natural tendency. This can be a very challenging task, but it is well worthwhile. Remember, your organization functions in an extremely interconnected and complex world. Addressing your future from a complex and interconnected perspective does the situation justice.
5. Tackle your initiatives and the thought processes around them as a group and in groups. Peter Senge once said: “Change is not a solitary job.” And it is not only the task of the management. Strategize and innovate around your transformation initiative in varying groups of varying sizes and with varying people. Ask them what issues and the solutions they see. Discover what energizes them, what adds value to their day and experience. The beauty of these initiating procedures lies in the process as well as the energy and the hard-core data they produce. An organization that dares to try these things out and provides a safe environment for processes like these to take place, may well find out that they may have already changed the music before they even started to work on the dance.
About the author: Erika Jacobi is the Head Innovation and Business Transformation specialist at LC GLOBAL®, a consulting firm with presences in New York City and Munich Germany. Her Ph.D. research focuses on the role of narratives in organizational change. For more information, log on to www.lc-global-us.com or follow us on YouTube.