The word transformation is used often in the business world. ‘We will transform our culture, or ‘we are currently undergoing a transformation process’. But what is transformation? How does it differ from a general change process? Such as changing our culture or changing our work, processes and structures?
What is the difference between change and transformation? And when would each apply?
Transformation in organisations
Change and transformation processes in business mirror the human change and transformation processes. This is because people make up businesses. And just like people, all businesses have a personality and a certain way of doing things. Personality in an individual is the same as a culture in a business, it is just a collective version of personality.
By looking at the difference between change and transformation in an individual, we can apply it to change and transformation in business.
What is change?
- Is a transactional process
- Requires a motive
- Is a shift in value
- New behaviour is the evidence of real change
- Results in new and different work, processes, structure, or products.
Behaviour change is behind most corporate and company change. If you change your behaviour, the business outcomes change.
Let’s consider an example. When new software is installed, people’s behaviour must alter, resulting in different work processes and structure. In order to change culture, the same applies.
If we want a more considerate culture, we must learn to slow down and listen to our colleagues and customers. In doing so, we shift the values of our business. Evidence of this is then seen in the increased considerate behaviour of employees.
This is the essence of culture change, it’s transactional and reactive. However it’s not transformation. It is change… and change is transactional.
Is transformation any different?
Transformation is fundamentally different. In a person, it involves the deconstruction of the personality. Deconstructing that which is inauthentic; resulting in a natural emergence of the more authentic, real person, sometimes referred to as the true self.
Change involves building, moving or altering what exists. Transformation is about discovering what already exists.
Change is directing a river on a new course. Transformation is removing obstructions so the river can flow freely.
In an individual, transformation could look like this:
You deconstruct your false self (the part of your personality that you have built over time to help you cope in your life) so that your true self can emerge. You felt like you had to keep track of the admin in the office because no one else was, but you really find it frustrating to be that detailed orientated and you would prefer to focus on the big picture.
The assumption in transformation is that by removing obstructions, that which already exists emerges.
For example when the eye is unobstructed the result is perfect sight. The perfect sight existed before, so there was nothing that needed to be done to achieve perfect sight.
In business, let’s presume there exists potential for a business to act in a manner that is perfect, honest and interconnected. The business is just like the most beautiful painting you have ever seen but has been painted over poorly by someone else. To truly transform, a business has to undergo a process of removing all the surface paint and rediscovering the beautiful painting underneath. Practically, this means deconstructing the work processes, structure and culture of your business so that something more authentic can emerge.
Time to deconstruct
How do you deconstruct? The short answer is surrender to the things that have helped with your success to this point, opening yourself up to new and different possibilities outside of your control.
Deconstruction is the sometimes costly act of letting go, surrendering and waiting, so that something bigger can emerge. Sometimes it looks like defeat and death. It enables you to remove the falsities, so that the true authentic and pre-existing can emerge. The phoenix rising out of the ashes is a common image of transformation.
Business transformation is rare. I know of few examples. Perhaps it is time to stop using that word in business and be honest that instead of transforming, we simply change.
Even though change and transformation are different, they can happen simultaneously. Yet its uncommon to see them at work together in business, simply because transformation requires a letting go of the transactional mindset which dominates most business, and instead, simply waiting. This may seem counterintuitive and unproductive. Practically, it means giving up “doing something to get something” and waiting in the process of deconstruction and emergence in the face of possible death. You have to risk it all for transformation. In change, you can analyze, assess the risk, and build motive to shift value so that the new and different begins. Transformation happens in the shadows and sometimes does not result in new or different tasks and behavior.
Sometimes the change is in your being, and not in the actual work that you do. For example you can have more peace and less stress at work and still be doing exactly the same work.
Right now, we need to change people’s state far more than we need a change in behaviour. So much of the disfunction in what we are doing in the world today is really due to disfunctional states of being.
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