Catalysing Transformation In 7 Straight Steps

Catalysing Transformation In 7 Straight Steps

The word most closely associated with transformation is ‘journey’. This implies that in the case of best-case transformations, there possibly is no end state…

Our earliest memories of transformation are probably from the Chemistry laboratory in our school. Under the guidance of the teacher and the watchful gaze of the lab assistants, as we take on the role of budding ‘scientists’, suitably draped in our starched white cotton coats, we are exposed to a great deal more than a mere chemical reaction.


More often than not, we begin with the classic experiment – the one that enables the student to understand Chemistry at a fundamental level and to differentiate between an acid and an alkali. For the reference of those, who may have played hooky when that eponymous class was on, here’s a snappy reminder.


The test involves adding a few droplets of the provided solution onto a coated litmus paper. A neutral litmus paper (purplish in colour) turns red if the solution is acidic, and blue if it happens to be alkaline. The rush in seeing that strip of paper change colour in a matter of seconds is thrilling every time one experiences it. We look and gesture excitedly at the classmate closest to us. We make hurried notes in our journal to record this event for posterity. We compare the intensity of the colour change against the strips brandished by our classmates. After all, the deeper the colour change, the greater the transformation, isn’t it?


Scientifically, the greater assimilation of the solution, the more intense is the chemical reaction. Now, only if this understanding could be fluidly carried forward later into higher education, and thereon, into our work lives - the reality that the more we work on ourselves or our practices, the more transformation we are likely to see.


But one might wonder – why this urgent cry for transformation? In 2021, if someone is actually giving this question even a fleeting thought, the battle for that individual is irrevocably lost.


Transformation is the reason that Google has morphed from being a ‘search engine’ to a conglomerate that is rolling out ‘self-driving cars’ amongst countless other cutting-edge solutions. It is the reason that Amazon’s value today is derived more from its edge in the ‘web services’ business than its ‘e-commerce store’, the one that started with Jeff Bezos dispatching only books. One could go on and on, but I am confident that the point must have struck home. After all, these organisations represent everything that is desirable about today’s world – high-technology coupled with personalisation.


In a similar vein, if one wants to drive a culture of transformation in one’s community or organisation, where does one start and what are the steps that are entailed? Let us understand that here.


1. Identify the Raison d’etre: Transformation for transformation’s sake is a non-starter. Worse, it could start, but lead to a situation where the brakes need to be applied even on the current operations, impacting business viability. Therefore, the starting point for driving transformation must be the core reason for initiating it.


 • Is it to be future proof?


Is it to outgun the competition?


Is it to diversify and derisk the organisation?


The reason could be one or it could be a combination of reasons that necessitate the desire to change. It goes without saying that this raison d’etre must be bought into at the initial stage at least by the top management. If not, it will not get the required leadership support to drive through the changes that will be subsequently required to make the journey a success.


2. Define the Roadmap: Once the reason is known, it is also critical to define the desired roadmap that the organisation would follow to meet the end objective. Some of the questions that will be required to be answered objectively will include these –


 • Will the exercise be managed internally, or will external consultants be necessary?


 • Will technology play a more critical role in the transformation or will it be people?


 • Will the journey be undertaken in parts or will it be an overarching approach that will be taken?


Intense discussions and evaluations will be required to ensure that the organisation bites only as much as it can chew. Transformation journeys are not for the faint-hearted and it is best to play to one’s strengths while being covered as far as weaknesses are concerned.


3. Lay out the Drivers: To get a cracking reaction going to support your transformation, you have to ensure that you have the right ingredients in the mix. This includes the tools that are essential as well as the people who will run them. Do pay special attention to identify the ‘transformation anchor’- someone who will own and champion the programme and lead the transformation team.


The individual selected to play this role must be charismatic, suitably resilient and aggressive. Most of all, the anchor must believe wholeheartedly in the core need for the transformation. Without it, there is likely to be less than optimum effort and passion in driving the agenda; something that is not going to be helpful in the long run. Also, ensure that the transformation team gets required tools and budgets to enable them to rollout the plan effectively.


4. Design the Processes: Let the transformation team operate with a high level of independence even as you guide critical decisions and monitor progress at periodic intervals. The right balance between intense interference and a ‘hands-off’ approach must be found given the sensitive nature of transformation journeys. 


Allow the team to move from the guiding lodestar to the granular path that everyone must be walking on post the completion of the transformation journey. Empower them, but with oversight. While it would be incorrect to say that any of the steps mentioned here are more important or critical than the others, if one were to actually attempt to do that, it might be this one. After all, if the underlying processes that are changed to aid transformation themselves are ill-designed, the end result is not going to be desirable, by any standards.


5. Engage the Impacted: No transformation journey is likely to be successful without engaging and involving everyone, especially the ones that are directly impacted. Towards this, transparent and regular communication becomes the bedrock. This builds trust, reduces anxiety and encourages discussions that facilitate the clearing of doubts and apprehensions.


Hence, as soon as the transformation charter is officially signed off, in parallel, a communication and engagement strategy must be designed and deployed for maximum effectiveness. This communication should be run in tandem with the stage of the transformation programme rollout. For example, in the initial days the communication is likely to be generic - inviting the population to buy into the programme. In the subsequent days, the conversation is likely to get more specific – informing people about the changes lined up and defining the expected actions and behaviours.


6. Run the Systems: When the planning and design work is done, the next stage by default is ‘running the system’. This is where the rubber meets the roads, as they say. Journeys planned on Excel Sheets, PowerPoint Slideshows, Project Management Planning Software, et al, meet the real world with real actors putting them to the test. This is best done in a limited controlled environment, to begin with - possibly, a single team, location, business vertical or similar. It allows us to test pilot and coursecorrect as per early learnings. The larger the organisation’s footprint, the more important to break down the system rollout into smaller chunks.


7. Repeat: The last stage in the Transformation process is the ‘Repeat’ stage. After all, the word most closely associated with transformation as you would have caught even in this article, is ‘journey’. This implies that in the case of best-case transformations, there possibly is no end state; it is an ongoing process that seems to continually evolve into a better self.


I hope this illustrates the criticality of managing the transformation process smartly and efficiently. In the Chemistry lab of yore, we may have experienced a couple of missteps along the way. Perhaps, the incorrect mixing ratios of two solutions leading to the changing of colour to one that was not expected. Or, the overheating of a test tube leading to a mini-explosion of sorts, even resulting in a failed experiment and much embarrassment. While such gaps may have not counted for much in school and our relationship with the Professor even enabling us to progress to the next grade, at work such disasters are best avoided.


In the laboratory, assuming that there was time to re-do the experiment, the resilient ones amongst us would have re-initiated the experiment with additional caution. At the workplace, however, turning back the clock is difficult, if not impossible. The bad odour of a transformation project gone wrong can persist for a long time and taint many of those in the driver’s seat.


Hence, when desiring to bring about transformation in your organisation, keep in mind the bold lettered words printed on all packages containing hazardous goods such as chemicals – ‘ABUNDANT CAUTION ADVISED’!


Vikas Dua is an accomplished HR professional, an Author, a TEDx speaker, and a Vlogger and Blogger on HR practices. With over 18 years of high-quality experience in the corporate world, he has worked with both start-ups and large corporations like Wipro and Concentrix. Currently, he is heading the Human Resources function in India for IPG DXTRA, part of Interpublic Group. In his community building capacity, he plays multiple roles including that of Advisor to the BRICS Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Young Leaders Programme.


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