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Nine Secrets I Learned from My Six Months in Transformation

Key insights from a Change Manager who has just spent six months setting up a program of change to support a deep and complex Organizational Transformation.

Janine Ellison

As a change practitioner, over the years I have worked on projects big and small, from technology to culture, digital to behavioral. My skills set has served me well and I've honed my 'resistance radar' and developed creative influencing strategies and delivery techniques.

Why then did my leap into the torrents of Organizational Transformation feel like such a shock? Why did the waters seem so murky? After six months of struggles, deep conversations and help from wiser souls, I have learned nine key lessons that I’m happy to share.

1. Organizational Transformation is different to Change Management

Before we jump in I thought I would share this metaphor to describe the difference between change’ and Transformation; ‘a butterfly is a transformation, not a better caterpillar’, or in simple English change fixes the past, while Transformation creates the future (this may already be raising some alarm bells to the good solid Change practitioners reading this article).


Transformational change is often experienced as a cycle of continuous improvements, rather than a ‘release’. There is nothing linear and planned about cycles!

2. Change methodologies aren’t enough

Sadly our traditional methodologies, models and approaches to delivering successful change do not work in times of Transformation. Quite simply; deep thinking, ongoing dialogue, conversations with no agendas, honesty and lots of creativity should be the guide.

3. Transformation involves an uncertain end state

Transformation is by its nature evolutionary and characterized by an uncertain end state. Often the change journey begins before the end state is understood, and complex layers need to unravel before clarity can be gained. This process requires a strategy that engages, enables and sets the organization free to assess and address the ongoing change needs. This can only be done in the organization, and by the organization, maximizing the ownership and adoption of the changes as they emerge. This is like renovating a very old home – until you pull down some walls and lift a few carpets you can’t anticipate what the completed home may look like. A strong purpose, strategic guidelines and design principles will guide the process of Transformation, but not determine the future from the outset.


4. Do Just Enough to Succeed

Doing too much during Transformation distracts people from the main game and dilutes the focus and effort required to deliver a change that is based on conscious awareness and insights. So rather than plan for a multi-pronged and ‘comprehensive’ approach that adds information and noise to an already confusing environment, we should focus on the levers that will deliver the greatest shifts – simplifying the change rather than contributing to its complexity.

To do this, leaders should be conscious of what’s on the slate – rather stop activities that are only marginally completed or are of no real value than try do it all. Combine and package activities, or run changes in parallel. Where possible, minimize the volume of activity by leveraging what is already happening rather than creating new initiatives.

5. Identify and amplify symbols of the desired state

Even evolutionary change can benefit from anchors that reflect the future and demonstrate the desired state. Throughout the program of change we should seek to identify opportunities that will anchor the change, and leverage elements that will symbolically and significantly align to and reflect the new world. This should include identifying and removing resistors and obstacles to the creation of the new, so the change can create its own momentum.

6. Transformation leadership is a tough job

Leaders of transformation must have a broad set of qualities. They are required to own the process as much as the outcome. They need to empower and release decision-making, sit with uncertainty’ and be able to answer questions with ‘I don’t know’. These leaders need to be change agents who facilitate the emerging end state by providing direction, coaching and supporting others all whilst collaboratively designing the process that will make this happen. They need to be change agents that facilitate the emerging (and uncertain) end state and collaboratively design the process to make this happen. Only leaders that are skilled, confident and committed will deliver success.

7. Get people aside from Leaders involved for better results

No matter how skilled an organization’s Transformation leaders are, they can’t do it alone. The process of discovery and co-creation cannot be done in isolation from the people in the organization. So leaders need to role model the future and create a partnership approach, allowing people to participate in meaningful activities where engagement is authentic and honest. This inclusive approach will create more connection, ownership and thereby commitment to the success of the new.

Social network analysis also offers us great opportunities to identify and tap into the informal network of Connectors, Brokers, Influencers and Pulse-Takers. Access to how people make sense of their work and environment, and connect beyond lines and boxes, opens up a new way of driving ownership and commitment to the new vision.

8. Make sure you have enough people keeping things running

In organizations, people are already under pressure to maintain the internal balance of keeping systems working and servicing customers. Transformational change adds additional factors of shifting structures, culture, ways of working, systems and technology. Thus it is important to consider whether the organization has enough subject matter experts, business leaders and owners to support Transformation change and keep the business running.


Without understanding and considering the time and effort Transformation requires of our subject matter experts, people leaders and critical resources, we run the risk of burning out the key people integral to success. Sadly, retention of talent during Transformation is a challenge that must be actively supported and planned for.

9. Keep an eye on what’s happening with your people

Monitor the change and look out for warning signals by keeping on top of how your people are ‘feeling’. Whether it be surveys, focus groups or monitoring information shared in social network channels, signs of fatigue, disengagement or general confusion need to be looked out for.

Feedback loops are essential. Often the people in the organization have valuable insights that need to be communicated to decision makers and influencers. Creating channels and opportunities to do this is a worthwhile investment that recognizes the value of contributors at all levels.

Heatmaps or a single view of the Transformation should be collated, reported and shared at both executive and business levels. Understanding ‘what Transformation is doing to the people’ often leads to valuable trade-off conversations and exploration of opportunities to bundle, cancel or promote changes. This critical information should also be used to inform the roadmap for delivery.

My Conclusions:

As a Change Manager who has worked in Organizational Transformation for six months, my advice is to trust your gut and let go of your models and frameworks. Transformation is anything but linear! Models have a place, but only to encourage thinking and awareness of all the dynamics and relationships between organizational elements and systems. Sensing when to plan, trust, direct and facilitate is the art of Transformational change.


What are your experiences with organizational transformation?
Tell us in the comments section below!