Right before a new project kickoff, our client pulled me aside and said, “Don’t call it a transformation, that will just freak everyone out and we won’t get anything done.” Of course, the work IS a transformation initiative, but I understand her desire to reframe the effort to focus on the foundation for success rather the buzzwordy desired outcome. Sometimes a label is all it takes to sabotage what could be a successful initiative.
Given the recent up-tick in reports of digital transformation failures, there is an opportunity to redefine this business inflection point so teams feel aligned and united rather than terrified and divided. It all comes down to how it’s framed within the organization. We talk a lot about transformation work needing to consider technology, process, and people, but the people part is often overlooked or underestimated and when people hear ‘transformation’ without also hearing how they will be considered, they will resist.
So, how to reframe transformation work without using that word? Should we use softer synonyms? How about:
Maybe a little dramatic. Take a bigger step back and change the lens itself through which teams perceive change.
Generally speaking, people don’t like change; organizations doubly so. The old ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is the first response when teams are confronted with the mandate for change and that’s the problem itself. Teams aren’t shown the receipts of what needs changing and why. They are typically only told how and when. Change is mandated, not championed. Sounds like basic change management, but that is exactly what’s needed to make the word ‘transformation’ something that is embraced instead of rejected. Reframing transformation into something that mobilizes and excites teams includes these basics:
- Present the business case. For wide consumption and understanding, this should NOT take the form of a spreadsheet and complicated ROI models. This should take the form of a story. There are many storytelling approaches, but to bring people along with you and allow them to see themselves in the narrative, check out The Quest story archetype. The Quest storyline is ALL ABOUT identifying a threat, setting a vision, conquering that threat, and getting a big payoff. With powerful storytelling, teams can put themselves in the hero’s shoes.
- Dig into the plan. The key to reviewing the plan is in the level of detail you share and making sure teams see themselves in the details. Take time to point out where they will be involved whether it is input, feedback, training, rollout, etc.Get detailed. Let your teams give input and take their input. Let them tell you what they think they need to be successful in their corner of the organizational world. Do not assume silence = agreement. More likely, silence = resignation.
- Show the money. In this case, it could be literal reporting of top and bottom line growth, but what this really means is communicating progress and proof points along the way. Remind your teams where they are in The Quest and where they need to go next. And when proof is positive, allow teams to celebrate. Encourage celebration. FUND the celebration. (Doesn’t have to be cold hard cash, either.)
Finally, recognize that the basics take time. As the word and synonyms imply, transformation is a process, not an overnight change. Allowing for the time it takes and staying true to the basics will not only get people on board and get past the ‘T’ word, but help avoid the fatigue longer initiatives can sometimes trigger in organizations.
Of course, many organizations have decided to take a ‘wait and see’ approach on digital transformation and don’t want to risk the disruption of change. See above. Start with the basics of change management and transformation won’t be such a dirty word. Consider the antonyms:
Words that just so happen to show up frequently in retrospectives of organizations that no longer exist.