If I could choose just one super-power, it would be the ability to see ahead to the future before it happens. I’m naturally a planner; a person who wants to know where we’re headed and how we’re going to get there. Optionality and the unknown are not comfortable friends for me.
My background is in delivery, where my drive for action and getting stuff done are perfectly suited. But, when I moved into a transformation role I really noticed how much of my inbuilt desire for planning and certainty needed to change.
Transformation is often as much a journey for the leader as it is for the organisation. As I’ve started to work with clients I’m aware that there is a personal cost to what we’re trying to achieve together. A long-range detailed plan is a false comfort blanket. Instead, it is adaptability that is the muscle we need to be building, in the organisation but also within ourselves.
Organisations often embark on a Transformation Programme. Big T, Big P. It’s multi-year, top-down and all-encompassing. And it’s destined to fail. The approach is driven by the organisational values that are so deeply embedded, in the system as a whole and in the individuals involved. Leaders who want to start with a full operating model design, or top down leadership training programme. Finance teams who need a granular 5 year case building before signing off an investment.
But, we need to approach the journey to get there with the same values we’re wanting to see endemic in the future organisation. These will likely fly in the face of organisational norms, and perhaps even to our own preferences and comfort zones as leaders. Change needs to be emergent and adapting. Just like the organisation we’re looking to build.
You cannot separate the changes the organisation will make, and the journey the leaders will need to go on too. Avoiding facing into this can lead to transformations having all the wrong hallmarks – top-down, long programmes, with big up-front design. The antithesis of what you’re looking for in your future organisation.
6 characteristics of the future organisation, your transformation approach and you
- A Learning Organisation – adopt a test and learn approach to how you transform. Try something in a small part, then iterate and build on it. As a leader, when was the last time you learnt something new? How can you create a safe environment where it’s ok for experiments to fail and learning to be gained?
- An Organisation where the people think for themselves – driven by those closest to customers and the actual work, with leaders that act as servants rather than commanders. Avoid top-down 360 organisational designs; instead draw influencers into the thinking and try things with the real people who will live it. As a leader, how comfortable are you with not being the one with all the answers?
- An Adaptable Organisation – set the expectation from the outset that change is here to stay. If we want adaptable teams that can pivot to priorities, then we have to break rigidity, where people feel more comfortable if change happens once and is done. As a leader, how do you feel about not having the fully designed solution from the start?
- A Continuously Improving Organisation – recognise that change will be a constant. Demonstrate and embed behaviours and processes that help teams continuously strive for better products and ways of working. As a leader, how do you feel about transformation being an ongoing journey?
- A Transparent Organisation – share the journey, warts and all. The wins and the mistakes. Role model failing as learning. Create a climate where people want to share because they know that’s how they get support. Where real work is demonstrated. Where we show, not tell. How comfortable are you at being vulnerable with your teams, and sharing lowlights as well as highlights?
- An Attractive Organisation – where change is pulled not pushed because people can see the better way on display. And where that pull goes beyond into the marketplace so that talent wants to jump on board. As a leader, how can you envision more than instructing? Visions go viral. Instructions rarely do.
Leading transformation is an uncomfortable space. It can be deeply unsettling and challenging to those like me who find comfort in knowing the plan, seeing the end result, and seeing things complete. I’ve found that it’s helpful to voice those challenges, as it gives permission for those around me to find it tough too. I’ve also found that plotting out near term goals helps me find a level of assurance in knowing at least what the next phase is looking to accomplish.
As a leader, you are likely to go on your own personal journey of change as the ups and downs and twists and turns shape you, your values and your leadership style. You’ll be stretched in many ways, so it’s good to ready yourself with the personal support you’ll need, and acknowledge up front what will be most challenging for you. It’s tough but hugely rewarding!