Landing transformational change

01 September 2014
Published: September 2014
How do the OD, L&D and HR professionals with responsibility for initiating, advising on and facilitating transformation in their organisations know what works, where and why?
This report covers some of the latest thinking and innovative ideas in the field of change management that can help to land transformational change. Drawing on a comprehensive literature review on change management the report develops ten themes on transformational change practice to provide a platform of knowledge on designing, managing and embedding change essential for OD, L&D and HR professionals.
01 September 2014

The ten change transformation themes

Landing transformational change - figure 1
The report develops ten themes on transformational change practice to provide a platform of knowledge on designing, managing and embedding change essential for OD, L&D and HR professionals.
Reading and rewriting the context
Many organisations that wish to deliver transformation face aspects of context that make it difficult to do so. Leaders and designers of change need to be able to ‘read’ their context; evaluate it to identify aspects that hinder change. They then need to design change programmes which first put in place initiatives to rewrite or rewire their context in a way that overcomes the obstacles to enable the desired change.
Key action points:
  • Evaluate the organisation’s change context
  • Determine aspects of context that hinder desired change
  • Build interventions to reshape the context to remove barriers in the first phase of change
  • Build organisation change capacity
  • Role-model the change
Aligning strategy and culture
Many efforts of transformation require a shift in culture, yet are simultaneously thwarted by old culture. For transformation to succeed, designers of change need to align strategic and cultural aspirations. Using the new strategic goals of the organisation as a starting point, they need to identity a new supportive and goal-consistent culture in terms of beliefs and behaviours. They also need to embed interventions to deliver this into the change programme.
Key action points:
  • Recognise need for culture change in transformation
  • Design new culture to support new strategy and spell out new culture in tangible terms
  • Embed interventions to deliver culture change into execution plans
  • Focus interventions on formal but also informal aspects of organisation
Delivering radical change opportunistically
If, rather than expecting executives to demonstrate a shared mindset about the organisation and its marketplace, open discussion and debate is encouraged in the top team, this enables more proactive, opportunistic change to new business models as they become more relevant than old ones. Executives alert to opportunities for more fundamental change that flow from earlier smaller-scale changes can also exploit these opportunities to build these earlier initiatives into transformation.
Key action points:
  • Tolerate tensions, open debate and differences in the top team
  • Foster constructive challenge
  • Be willing to exploit happy accidents and opportunities
  • Grasp even incremental opportunities leading in the right direction, using them as a wedge to develop larger-scale change
Ambiguity and purposeful instability
Transformation can be facilitated if a change vision is ambitious yet also presented in ambiguous terms, with the deliberate intent of encouraging individuals to actively question and attempt to make sense of their situation. This may be associated with attempts by executives at ‘sensebreaking’, to challenge the status quo and create a break with the past, so creating a level of purposeful instability that encourages individuals to ask questions about what is needed to succeed in moving forward.
Key action points:
  • Build ambiguity and purposeful instability into the change initiation phase
  • Use ambiguity to allow for diverse engagement with the vision
  • Use ambiguity to encourage questioning and participation in defining the future state in meaningful ways
  • Ambiguity by design as a temporary state: establish clear goals rapidly
Narratives, storytelling and conversations
Narratives and stories can be used as devices to make the content and implications of new strategies easier to understand, enhancing individuals’ ability to translate change into meaningful actions for themselves. Storytelling may be extended by materials such as comics and cartoons, or theatrical performances to bring narratives to life. In addition, there are particular ways of structuring conversations about change that facilitate engagement.
Key action points:
  • In workshops develop shared change narratives which capture and develop a shared understanding of new strategies
  • Use narratives and storytelling to help others translate new strategies into specifics
  • Create storytelling materials such as story books, comics, cartoons and characters
  • Link to theatrical performance to bring change stories to life
Physical representation, metaphors and play
Use of objects, metaphors, symbols and pictures, maybe as part of playful design as an alternative to traditional and often rather dry change workshops, helps to engage individuals and to enable them to translate change rhetoric into meaningful change-related actions. Physical representations help people convert labels and slogans about the future organisation that often accompany transformation, such as high performance, authentic, collegiate, into new personally relevant attitudes and behaviours.
Key action points:
  • Continue to represent any new culture through symbols, stories, language and rituals
  • Use physical objects, such as drawings, objects and prototypes, to support conversations about the future organisation
  • Through techniques such as model-building and rich pictures, introduce serious play into strategy and change workshops
Relational leadership
Relationships are key to new forms of leadership. Rather than implementing change through authority and control, in new forms of leadership transformational change is achieved through negotiations and social interactions with organisational members. Since leadership styles set the scene for what counts in an organisation, individual leaders can achieve a lot by being a role model for others through their personal behaviours and attitudes. OD and L&D interventions can be designed to assist the development of such leaders.
Key action points:
  • See leadership as a practice and process based on establishing good relationships with all stakeholders
  • See leadership more as service to the business rather than as an exercise of individual power
  • Understand that people follow and trust leaders who they can relate to on a personal and human level, however senior or distant they might be
Building trust
High levels of trust will deliver the enabling conditions in which significant change can thrive. Change leaders need to emphasise their trustworthiness by demonstrating their competence to design change intelligently, and their benevolence and integrity in the way they attend to the needs of the business, the employees and the wider community. HR and L&D systems and processes designed and administered in a just and fair way help foster trustworthiness in the organisation.
Key action points:
  • Recognise trust as a valuable commodity in change management
  • Ensure that leaders demonstrate ability, benevolence, integrity and predictability in order to demonstrate their trustworthiness
  • Continuously monitor levels of trust through, for example, employee engagement surveys; invest in interventions to ensure that the ‘bank’ of trust is constantly renewed, such as HR and L&D practices that promote justice and fairness
Voice, dialogue and rethinking resistance
In our more democratic workplaces, the actions of employees who raise concerns about change should not be labelled as resistance, but instead reframed and reinterpreted in terms of legitimacy of employee voice. It is through HR processes that promote dialogue and open two-way communication with employees, such as town hall meetings, forums for staff representations, focus groups, and so on, that designers of change can hear new ideas about implementation, help employees to make better sense of the change around them and, therefore, enable greater commitment to change.
Key action points:
  • Understand greater expectations of democracy in workplaces: questions are legitimate, not ‘resistance’
  • Recognise the value of two-way dialogue alongside top–down communication to help employees make sense of the proposed change in their own jobs
  • Facilitate dialogue and legitimise questioning through processes such as town hall meetings, web forums and forms of staff representation such as works councils
Emotion, energy and momentum
Change is an emotional process. The emotions experienced affect the way individuals respond and may relate to the change content, but also the nature of relationships with those managing the change. Emotional awareness by those leading and designing change is required to recognise the emotive precursors to action. Since transformation is a long-term process, for it to be delivered, those managing the change must also maintain levels of energy and momentum in the change process.
Key action points:
  • Recognise emotional responses may relate not just to change content but also to nature of relationships with those managing change
  • Bring emotional responses into the open and acknowledge them
  • Choose individuals to lead change who will create a positive buzz
  • Design the change process to maintain energy and momentum
  • Monitor and map change momentum and energy levels
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