Transformation and Change - Part 2

So let's return to this topic of transformation and change.

In the last blog post, I asked, If one is to truly transform one's self and one's life, where would you start? What changes could you begin to make now?

Let's step back and look at this term "transformation." Transformation is a type of change. It's change that moves you "beyond the current form" so to speak. The dictionary puts it this way: to transform is to change form, shape, appearance, structure, or character. Even to metamorphose (as a caterpiller into a butterfly) or to convert (as a believer to an atheist).

So in sum, transformation is a much more fundamental type of change than a new coat of paint or moving the deck chairs around.

Transformation, then, is something like alchemy. Alchemy comes from the Arabic al + kimiya meaning 'the transmutation.' The myth of the alchemist that we learned in Western Civilization class went like this: the alchemist was searching for the secret catalyst that would change lead into gold. Although the medieval alchemist never found this solution, we have been given a great metaphor.

To take a metaphorical leap, today's transformational leaders and change agent often work some alchemy in organizations. The catalyst however is not a secret sauce of some sort. Rather the catalyst is the change agent!

Consider Louis V. Gerstner, who was hired by IBM back in the early 1990's as CEO. IBM's once great prowess was failing and the board was looking for someone to turn the company around. Gerstner was the right choice.

He focused on IBM's people and culture, identifying it's strengths, but also pinpointing where change was needed. He is quoted saying:

"Reorganization to me is shuffling boxes, moving boxes around. Transformation means that you're really fundamentally changing the way the organization thinks, the way it responds, the way it leads. It's a lot more than just playing with boxes."

He didn't change the core business, computers. He went after its culture, the "wiring" of the people of IBM.

This is the job of the change agent, whether you are CEO or a concerned constituent. If the place needs to change, really change, you can't just move the boxes around and expect the result to be any different.

There is a crisis in the church right now. Luckily, the new pope of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, is a transformational leader. He is not changing the core business, leading people to salvation. But he is going after the culture. The culture of the Vatican bureaucracy, as well as the global culture of the faithful.

I wish him well. The church needs transformation badly. Millions of its members have stopped going to church regularly. Soon our churches will be mostly empty except for the gray-haired remnant. It is time, as Saint Francis once heard, "to repair my house."

What can be done? Gerstner and Pope Francis are showing the way to be effective alchemists of transformation. In particular:

Crisis - The awareness of the pressing need to change creates the sense of urgency and galvanizes the people.

Vision - The positive vision of the better tomorrow gives the people hope that it is possible to improve things.

Pathway - The plan of actions gets people mobilized and moving even if it's just baby steps for starters.

And one more:

Dive Deep - Don't be fooled into "moving the boxes around," as Gerstner warns. Reorganizing is seductive because you tell yourself that you have really changed things. While a fresh coat of paint can make a big difference sometimes, it is still only cosmetic change.

As Gerstner once said, Transformational change means fundamentally changing the way the organization thinks, the way it responds, and the way it leads.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Thursday October 24, 2013


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