What is Transformational Change?
Transformation is a unique type of organizational change that often triggers significant human dynamics that, if not addressed, can become the cause of failure. Often, leaders do not know how to handle these human dynamics, but in transformational leadership, they become leverage points for success. Here’s how.
First, we must understand the unique dynamics of organization transformation. Transformational change is a radical shift in strategy, structure, systems, processes, or technology. A shift so significant it also requires a shift in culture, behavior, and mindset to implement successfully and sustain over time. The new state that results from an organizational transformation is largely uncertain at the beginning of a change process. Both the outcome of the change and the process to get there are often emergent; you discover things along the way that you could never have known without first initiating the journey. These discoveries often shift your desired outcomes of the transformation, and certainly alter your process plan to achieve them. Learning and course correcting are vital parts of succeeding at transformation. You must know how to work with emergent dynamics, which requires a very different way of being from simply following a pre-determined project plan.
Dealing with Transformational Change
Humans tend to be most confident when we know the direction of change and the way forward is clear. The more ambiguous our circumstances, the more fearful we become. The emotional transition can be extreme during transformational change. Failure in organizational transformation often results from personal insecurities, performance drops, and work relationships weakened by the stress of marching into the unknown. When there is no definite answer about where we are going and how to get there, fear and blame can run rampant.
Dealing with the chaos and the “emergent nature” of transformation creates some interesting and challenging human dynamics. Because the process of figuring out and creating the new state is not highly controllable, organization members must be able to operate effectively within a heightened state of uncertainty and confusion. This presents the ultimate challenge in leading organizational change: How can your people function effectively when they feel out of control and confused? Can they – executives, mid-managers, supervisors, and front-line employees – unite across boundaries and differences and stay connected as a cohesive team to meet this challenge? Or will uncertainty exacerbate their self-doubt, distrust, turf wars, and conflict?
Transformational Leadership: Leading into the Unknown
As a leader, you may be going through the same emotional turmoil other stakeholders are experiencing. And you carry the added burden of needing to effectively manage yourself as you lead others. You must be able to process your own fears and concerns to find a new level of internal centered-ness, confidence, and calm so you can effectively lead. This challenge cannot be taken lightly. Addressing it is a vital aspect of any comprehensive transformational change strategy.
When well led, transformational change can lead to extraordinary breakthrough results. When led poorly, it can lead to breakdown throughout your organization.
You cannot stamp out or negate the predictable human reactions to the unknown, nor can you manage around them. You can, and must, create processes to support people to deal effectively with the unknown and, by doing so, assist people to evolve as the organization determines its future. For this reason, organizational transformation strategies must include personal transformation strategies. The organization and the people in it, must transform together. People must learn to manage their interiors and the emotional complexities triggered within them, as well as their inter-personal relationships, as the organization learns how to navigate the complexities of its transformation.
Human Dynamics and Change Strategy
As a transformational leader, you must attend to people and their internal states as much as you attend to the content of your change (what is changing) and the process of your change. Attending to human dynamics includes addressing mindset, behavior, and skills, and the ways of being, working, and relating between individuals, among teams, and within the entire culture.
This attention is more than the typical change management approaches of increasing communications, trainings, and stakeholder engagement to overcome resistance. Instead, change leadership requires assisting people to evolve how they will think, feel, and collectively work – as a critical part of the transformation strategy – so they can co-create their positive future. Simply managing people’s reactions is insufficient. Rather, we want to support people to learn how to self-manage their interior to maintain an inner state of focus and calm amidst the chaos and unknowns of the organization’s transformation. This way human performance is increased during the transformation rather than being derailed.
Formulating the strategies and methods to help leaders and the workforce transform mindset, behavior, and culture are critical aspects of change leadership. Numerous high-leverage people strategies must be incorporated into the overall change strategy, often including the following:
- High stakeholder engagement, especially in the early stages of the process
- Leadership development, self-development, and personal growth training
- Listening sessions that model openness and authenticity
- Healing the past
- Communication strategies and plans that promote two-way authentic dialogue
- Team development that instills self-awareness and open discussions
- Interpersonal communication skill development, including self-disclosure, truth-telling, and active listening
- Visioning and understanding the case for change
- Conflict resolution and cross-functional relationship building
- Turning resistance into commitment by helping people resolve core human needs
- Repairing broken relationships and reestablishing trust
Incorporating these strategies will assist you in alleviating the fears and concerns of your stakeholders and allow you to navigate your organization’s transformational change process successfully.
For more information on building a successful change strategy, see Building a Transformation Strategy that Achieves Your Company Vision