Transformation can be thought of as a dramatic change in form or appearance. Sound about right? So if we are talking about a dramatic change in form or appearance of an organization, where would we start? Given that an organization is composed of a group of people focused on a particular purpose or set of purposes, then it makes sense that as well as with systems, processes, etc., that the transformation of the actual individuals within the organization is also necessary.
The most common transformation question that I am asked by senior leaders is “where should we start?”. Over the years, my “answer” has evolved into a single question: “Where are you with your personal transformation?”. The responses vary. Some smile and nod and share their stories. Some look quizzically at me as if I did not understand the question. Some respond with slight shrug and a look of mild defeat.
Like it or not, the organizational transformation is a very personal and difficult path. I frequently hear that “we are on this journey” or “I’m on this journey”. Interesting to note that one definition of journey is “a long and often difficult process of personal change and development”. As soon as an executive tells me that the self-reflection, asking questions, listening intently behaviors that they are practicing is really hard work, then I know that they are on the right track.
Frankly, personal transformation is a long and difficult discontinuous process.
Why does it take so long? We are talking about changes in the habits and actions that have been with us for many years. Habits and actions that have gotten us promoted into higher, more challenging positions with broad swaths of responsibilities. We have been heavily rewarded for the endless firefighting, the heroics, and the long hours. It takes a long time to break from these habits and actions that have served us so well over the many years.
Why difficult? Because as leaders, the expectations from above, below and sideways require that we are the experts with the answers. In reality, we often don’t have the right answers for the given situations. When we do believe that we have the right answer, it is just simpler, easier and faster to tell whomever what they should do. Why burn up the precious little time that you have today to sit down and talk through the problem, ask questions, etc?
Why discontinuous? The demands of your current role and responsibilities result in double and triple booked schedules, deliverables with appetites that exceed the hours in a day, frequent crisis situations. Given this, it is extremely challenging to stay in a continuous mode of self-reflection, regular interaction with front line teams, keeping a high quotient of pure inquiry questions, listening with the intent of truly understanding and maintaining the self-discipline to be consistently practicing all of the above.
In my next posts, I’ll highlight the behaviors that you want to be practicing in this transformational journey. In the meantime, here is a great pre-read to get you prepped: http://catalyst.nejm.org/five-changes-great-leaders-improvement-culture/