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Do you know what transformation is?

TRANSFORMATION — yes that buzz word everyone in organisations is talking about, reading about, pondering on and cannot get away from.

It is a hot topic. Much has been said about it, particularly about the rate of failure of transformation projects, which stands at a towering 70% plus.

Yet organisations continue in pursuit of transformation. Perhaps it is the promise of 3x growth at the end, the inspiring vision painted by the CEO of an innovative and fully digital organisation, a picture of success of a future-proof organisation with a differentiated customer experience making it ‘easy to do business with’.

There are many definitions for transformation but for now let us keep it simple and relate it to something we all know -- the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly.

Metamorphosis is rooted in Greek, meaning ‘be ‘transformed, transfigured’.

When we break down the word ‘meta’ meaning change and ‘morphe’ meaning shape/form we are effectively talking about transformation.

Metamorphosis: META (change/alter) + MORPHE (shape/form) = Transformation. (Credit:https://wisconsinpollinators.com).

When we then apply this to our organisation in describing transformation there must be two hallmarks, visible change in the shape/form of the organisation.

One should experience (feel), see, hear and smell the difference.

This refers to the key stakeholders in the organisation, such as customers, employees, suppliers, board members etc.

If they were asked “what is different here?” and you have delivered change of tangible value they should be able to articulate what has changed for the better.

Back to our analogy of metamorphosis, the butterfly starts out as an egg on a leaf from which the caterpillar ‘hatches’. The caterpillar eats enough to reach the desired size i.e. length and weight during which it outgrows and sheds its skin up to five times.

It then develops into a chrysalis, which hangs from a leaf or branch inconspicuously as it digests all the food that was consumed in the previous stage.

From the outside the chrysalis shows no change whatsoever but on the inside the process of metamorphosis is taking place.

The body of the caterpillar is slowly dissolving to create a brand-new being, a butterfly.

After six weeks + the butterfly breaks free from its chrysalis ready to take flight into the unknown.

Metamorphosis has been likened to transformation because of the parallels that can be useful in understanding the critical success factors for transformational change.

A clear end goal

We have often heard of ‘starting with the end in mind’ — we must have clarity on ‘the picture of success’, the end game. It may sound like a cliché when people talk of the importance of having a vision but the power of a clearly articulated, inspiring and dynamic vision should never be under-estimated.

Martin Luther King shared his vision in his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963 and it set hearts alight in black America to fight for equality.

Closer to home Mandela’s vision inspired black South Africans to be fearless telling the world about the ills of apartheid and fighting for independence at great personal cost.

The importance of this first and most important step set by the Leader of the organisation effectively sets the tone for the transformation.

It also creates an enabling environment in which change can be effected.

This must be written down, shared and widely communicated across the organisation to ensure every employee buys into it.

Tangible change/difference

The butterfly looks nothing like the caterpillar and sometimes transformations can be that radical. I posed a question earlier as a test of the success of the Transformation ‘what is different here?’

An example that springs to mind is the visible change within the Zimbabwean banking sector.

Today most transactions are carried out on banking platforms such as apps, online, WhatsApp and phone banking reducing the need for physical branches, which has led to branch closures.

Subsequently,customers are now interacting with and experiencing banking very differently from before.

Stages

There are four stages to the development of the butterfly and any transformation will go through multiple stages or phases.

A transformation is managed and delivered using project management methodology.

Each phase has a delivery milestone(s) which is something tangible for the organisation.

It demonstrates project progress and keeps the momentum of the transformation going.

At times, project fatigue sets in making it harder to stay on course.

This also highlights the need for project management competency and other skillsets which are discussed under resources.

Delivery timelines

It takes six to eight weeks to develop from an egg to a butterfly. This varies as it can be impacted by the environment. Similarly, just as you have a picture of success there must be a targeted end date for successful delivery.

It is included in the business case for the project and also strongly influences the required budget. This ensures momentum by applying pressure to deliver to the milestones detailed in the project plan.

Milestones also trigger billing for services and the disbursement of more funds for the project. There is no defined time limit for a transformation but the general rule of thumb is it should be delivered within one strategic cycle of three years.

Resources (food, leaves)

Embarking on a transformation journey requires investment not only financially but also people and infrastructure as examples. The competency of the project team and the organisation to deliver the transformation is critical to success.

Tools for the job are equally important as success enablers. Hence some organisations will hire specialist consultants to guide them on this journey and capacitate the organisation. Doing so accelerates the rate of change, minimises the rate of failure and builds in sustainability for the organisation long after the consultants have left.

In closing for the duration of this column we will delve deeper into successful transformations to gain an insight into the critical success factors and benefits it will deliver to any organisation.

It would be remiss if we did not study failed transformations as this is an opportunity to learn and identify pitfalls to be avoided. In any journey like this we must start with why and we will explore this in the following weeks and look forward to the lively discourse ahead.

  • Muguti is a strategy and transformation consultant, a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Practitioner.  — 0783533938 or LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/nyari-muguti-24998017.

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