According to Wikipedia “Business transformation is about making fundamental changes in how business is conducted in order to help cope with a shift in market environment…. such as an organisation’s products or services being out of date, funding or income streams being changed, new regulations coming into force or market competition becoming more intense”. In reality, Business transformation can also be triggered by internal changes such as new leadership and management, new team members, new IT systems and new processes.
Regardless of the trigger, the desired goal is simply to survive.
To paraphrase Darwin, it’s really not the biggest or the strongest or the oldest organisation that survives but the ones most adaptable to transforming itself and changing. I think we all get it. Google search “Business Transformation models”, and you get 15,100,000 results. Search “Business Change models” and you get 724,000,000 results and search “Organisation Change models” and you get 31,900,000 results!
So, the challenge is, what model should an organisation adopt to guarantee a successful change outcome?
For me, the answer is simple. Communication.
Naturally, there is no model which simply states communication. That would be too simple wouldn’t it? However communication is the single point of failure of any change activity because ultimately business transformation is identified by people, led by people, managed by people and the outputs are maintained and stuck to, by people. A shift in the market place, which is generally the trigger for change, is never identified by a stork bearing a sack in its beak with the logo “Shift in the market environment” but by people – either externally or internally to the organisation. This news is transmitted, received, processed, interpreted (i.e. communicated) and acted upon by leaders within the organisation whose role it is to steer said organisation through choppy waters to success. The problem is that this news about the impact of a shift in the market place rarely, if ever, filters down to everyone in the organisation real time as we have come to expect of other news worthy items (such as politics, bad news, disasters, and even major traffic disruptions) and sometimes unworthy items such as … (I leave you to fill the blanks). There are no news channels within organisations solely dedicated to communicating percieved impact of external and internal influences. In fact, the reverse is often the case, with an invisible permafrost layer between senior leaders and middle managers which expertly traps such pieces of news and prevents it from filtering down to the troops, for a variety of reasons – including selfish and altruistic ones. The result is that most people carry on with the status quo blissfully unaware of the change clouds gathering…until it is too late. And we wonder why change is difficult?
I am convinced that both business change challenges and business change models are firmly rooted in communication. We are all better at managing change when we truly anticipate it and have time to prepare. We do this every day in our personal lives, e.g. in the way that we manage the ageing process, the way that we successfully plan other routes for our daily commute to work when we have advance information (thanks Twitter) of disruptions to our normal journeys. Sometimes we are even pleasantly surprised to discover better alternatives to our routines, as I did recently when I found that an alternative route into work, though slightly longer, came with the added advantage of a guaranteed seat on the train, no station changeovers and an hour when I could immense myself in a book.
There is an absolute need for everyone in an organisation to receive, process and interpret change information in a manner that connects with them both logically and most especially, emotionally so as to persuade them to let go of a known and embrace an unknown. Many a good transformation intention has been derailed downstream by inadequate, incompetent or negligent communication practices including arrogant and insensitive communication. Communication for change takes time. It takes effort. It takes even more time and it detracts from “the day job”. However, if change is really the new constant, shouldn’t communication for change that is grounded in facilitating a never ending climate for change, engaging and enabling the organisation to proactively identify opportunities for change and providing the tools and motivation to implement and sustain the change, be the new normal and therefore the day job? I wonder, is it time we moved business transformation through business changes to a flexible and dynamic people standpoint that happens daily and incrementally, rather than a structured methodology standpoint that happens once in a while and inevitably comes with a huge dose of fear?