Transformations: Crash Diets for the Business World?

Transformations: Crash Diets for the Business World

Are Businesses Getting What They Need from Transformation? 

There has been a lot of buzz about transformation over the years – entire industries have emerged as a result of the need for organizations to change in significant ways.    

Having experienced a plethora of new paradigms and ways of working being introduced to companies, we’ve learned a bit about this topic.  Foremost is the realization that most companies are very far from what we might envision as an agile (or lean, or product-oriented, or digital) organization. That said, even if some of our teams become more agile or lean, we will not have transformed until/unless we have changed the company more broadly, including its culture, leadership, processes, and more. Without doing this, the improvements tend to plateau, and eventually regress.  

Common results from transformations are frighteningly similar to the results people experience from a crash diet.  

Short-term results, or lasting impact? 

If you’ve ever tried a crash diet or get-fit-quick program, you may be familiar with the experience of using a non-holistic approach for significant short-term results that don’t last. You may lose a lot of weight initially and appear ‘transformed,’ but if you have not changed your lifestyle in general – priorities, nutrition and exercise as a normal part of your regimen, the results will be temporary.  While we might intend to become healthy and fit, we try what will get us apparent results fast like that fad diet. We will set short-term goals like ‘fit into the swimsuit for an upcoming pool party.’ This is done without much consideration for what will happen afterwards. Despite the rousing success at the party, it will not be long before the pounds come back. Some time later, another diet is needed, and there’s no shortage of new fad diets to come to the rescue. 

Why pretend that a series of crash diets is sustainable? 

Results are often brief. Improving your overall health means improving your complete lifestyle – what you value, how you make decisions, how you eat, how you exercise, and essentially, how you live. Improving your health is significant and takes time but offers lasting results. With this in mind, you will then be ready for all future pool parties and may even be able to take on more lofty goals. 

The same is true for many transformations in our companies. 

Transformation initiatives, like crash diets, are often started with long-term success in mind, but are often executed via non-holistic approaches with an emphasis only on short-term goals. Short-term goals tend to be easily measurable and focus on something that is within sight without considering what happens afterwards, or real outcomes, or what’s needed to sustain the changes.  For example, goals like maturity metrics or the number of teams or people that have been trained. 

Complicating matters, these initiatives are often focused on one group or functional area, but not the organization overall. Sometimes, they introduce one specific concept or paradigm only. They’re pretty fast, and they get visible results – teams get better, the new process gains buzz and the effort builds momentum (at least for a little while).   

Unfortunately, if the work hasn’t focused on other aspects of the organization that are needed to sustain the new ways (such as culture, leadership, governance, structure, other processes, and more), or there is insufficient focus on longer-term success, the eventual result will be the same as with the crash diet – initial excitement, followed by plateau and then, regression – the old ways complicate and consume the new over time. 

If your company has seen a number of transformation efforts over the years – each focusing on some new paradigm (e.g., ‘lean,’ ‘agile,’ ‘innovation,’ ‘digital,’ etc.), or in one specific group without significant lasting results, then you’ve experienced what we’re talking about.  Phrases like ‘we tried <insert management fad or paradigm name here>, but it didn’t work here’ are good indicators. 

Most businesses can’t transform without improving their adaptivity.

We’ve said it before, but adaptivity is, quite simply, the capacity to adapt. It’s like overall health in that it focuses on the whole organization and improves the organization’s ability to thrive in complex times. There’s no sign that change is going to be slowing down for anyone in the future, so successful businesses will learn to gracefully adapt. This will happen continuously as the world, business landscape, and technology continue to evolve.  

Businesses need better overall fitness, not crash diets.

Leaders need to learn how to develop the capacity for adaptation in their organizations. They need to create conditions under which improvement and those new ways can be identified and supported all the time. This requires work with culture, management, teams, governance, structure, other processes, and more. The shift to focusing on increasing adaptivity, though it may sound unfamiliar and broad, actually can allow for smaller, more achievable goals that set the stage for lasting change and can be done all the time, whereas focusing on big transformation encourages the quick fixes. 

In the future, we’ll explore related topics further – such as why many transformations don’t have lasting results, the need for an organization ecosystem, and what it means to be ‘trapped by more’. We’d love to hear your experiences and insights – feel free to share.