Transformation is currently in progress in many organizations. Why does this topic teach even seasoned executives and CEOs to fear?

In our Transformation Lab 2018, together with our participants, each from a different organisation, we looked for answers and defined ways to approach a transformation process and to make friends with the situation that the current situation brings “ending success”, but the future may not yet be on the horizon.

The situation:

Some organisations – quite successful – have managed to develop and grow for decades, sometimes very quickly. A jubilant announcement about the “best year in the history of the company” replaces the next. The company seems unbeatable for a long time. Until the environment and context change so rapidly that the familiar paths to development and growth simply no longer work. One characteristic of this threshold is that the people in the organization are not able to see what lies behind this barrier. Some can’t even believe there’s anything behind this barrier. Organizations that have reached this threshold can be identified by the following patterns and symptoms:

  • Uncoordinated, chaotic actions:
    People in the organization are trying to somehow deal with the new situation.
  • The search for culprits:
    As long as there is no way out, it usually feels better to know who caused the dilemma. The others are always to blame, no matter who.
  • The previous patterns are intensifying:
    what has worked so far is being massively strengthened. For example: A top manager with a strong key figure management tries to make predictions about even more key figures in a situation that is not predictable. These figures provide a deceptive security in the short term.
  • Hiding and ignoring:
    People usually quickly realize their powerlessness in this situation.
  • Falling back into old patterns:
    Sometimes you start to think about your own roots and try to do everything on your own or to bring more and more control into your own area in order to keep the overview, so to speak back to the Stone Age.
    If these strategies are applied in an organization for too long, the feeling of hopelessness, powerlessness and loss of energy quickly arises. You just feel like you can’t do anything anymore. In our workshop the participants analysed their own organisation or organisational unit with the help of a few key questions and searched together in small groups for symptoms that indicate that the transformation threshold has been reached. It became apparent that the following aspects have a great influence on the success of a transformation project:
  • A new direction: Vision / Strategy
    Where do we as an organization see the future corporate purpose?
  • Structure:
    How must the organization position itself in order to become faster, to reduce complexity, to work better on the customer etc.? How much hierarchy does one need? How to prevent “silodenken”
  • Processes:
    How is it possible to try out new things, to work in the form of hypotheses, to set up experiments, to find out what works, what energy is available for and how one can pick up speed again together?
  • Management:
    Distributed management responsibilities? New cooperation models, virtual teams, self-organized teams…
  • HR:
    What role does HR play as a sparring partner for managers? How can you develop the competencies of your employees in such a way that they work together as successfully as possible in unclear circumstances and provide leadership with the best possible framework?
  • Culture
    How can you reenergize the organization? What rules are needed to stop the “loss of energy”? How can you use the complementary strengths of an organization, such as high innovation capability versus cost efficiency, to regain a common orientation? How can disruptive thinking and new forms of cooperation be promoted?

On the basis of these findings, each small team then considered with which ideas and possibilities they could either drive the transformation processes waiting for them in their sphere of influence or accompany them well?

Methodically, we resorted to effectuation, which, especially in situations where there are no clear goals, is a very good possibility to think very freely and to develop new solutions, which as experiments can sometimes also lead to very fast small “wins”. Most of the participants went home with very concrete ideas and implementation plans in their pockets.

The constellation of participants from different companies was due to the “open” mode. In this context, it was helpful to hear different perspectives. In our opinion, this is not a prerequisite for this workshop to be successful. The above questions can also be effectively addressed in-house within the framework of a Transformation Lab.