Transformation – It’s Personal

Kaufman Global TransformationWhy do I love-hate this word so much? I ask myself this question a lot actually. Every time I use the word or see it or hear it, I love-hate it. It creates an itch inside my brain that’s impossible to scratch. I assume most people feel this way. Maybe I’m the only one? But I think not and I’m running with the idea that the term has some problems.

Why do I love it? Well, because it has such promise. It’s the ultimate metaphor for change. It implies that the end result will be something better than we have now. In my experience this is not always true, but it’s nice to imagine. We never say: “We’re going to transform to something that sucks.” Do we?

Why else do I love, or at least like, the idea of transformation? Because it sounds so much like we’re doing something, making progress. We are taking a shot at being better or maybe even the best! When we’re in the act of transformation it feels deliberate. You know… transformative. Or transformational. Or transcendent. Or any other multi-syllable word that’s difficult to explain. The point is, it’s filled with hope for a better future. See, now I’m getting all misty.

But there are some problems, right?

Deep inside, or maybe totally on the surface for some, we are skeptical about what transformation might bring. When we face change, we have a sense that if the change isn’t so great, maybe we’ll just switch back. In transformation there is no going back. It’s a metamorphosis. Like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. The butterfly never changes back to a worm. Sometimes though, a butterfly is not the result of transformation. Are you with me on this?

Transformation is seldom without pain. Anything that has ever really transformed me has visited significant pain. Sure it’s a learning experience, but boy can it hurt. The way the term transformation it is bandied about in business, you’d think it’s a walk in the park on a summer day. But we know better, don’t we? We should expect pain. The very notion of transformation should scare the hell out of us all.

Deliberate transformation in the workplace is rarely done well. After all the hype, problems emerge. The work might be poorly designed, poorly communicated or poorly executed. These attributes usually come bundled. When any of these things happen it’s impossible to not be disappointed with the results and ultimately the process and perpetrators. The important details of deliberate transformation – like how organizations and functions fit together, work together and will be measured are left undone and chaos – either a lot or a little – is the typical route. The resulting mess may take years to unravel and this isn’t even the real problem.

Transformation in our daily lives is either intentional, as in; I’m going to change my eating habits. Or, it happens because of influences beyond our control. Either way, it’s always personal. Yet when we are involved in transformation at work, it’s somehow and wrongly treated as impersonal. Transformation and its motive force – change – are always personal.

When transformation presents itself as poorly constructed to-do lists or org-chart modifications or processes designed in a vacuum – all without understanding or acting like its about human beings – there will be trouble. And that trouble comes not from the re-engineering and process difficulties, but from of the anger that unfolds out of confusion. This will not be forgotten or forgiven.

After thinking this through this a little, I can’t say I’m less conflicted about the notion or use of the term “transformation.” If you, (insert company name here), are bent on doing it with some intent, at least have the wherewithal to describe how things are now, what you are transforming to become and how it will happen with your people in mind. Do it with enough detail so that those affected know how they play in the sandbox and what transformation means to them. Because it’s personal.

Jerry Timpson is the co-founder and President of Kaufman Global. He is a top rated change agent with focus on implementation, leadership alignment and employee engagement. You can connect with Jerry on LinkedIn.