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What does Transformation mean to you?

‘Transformation’ must be near the top of the list of most overused business language.

Transformation sounds so grandiose, so important, so necessary and yet at the same time has no universal meaning. Could the hype hitched to this bandwagon even devalue the work of people actually changing the world for the better?

Everything ch-ch-changes. We might be trying to change a Thing. Things are changing around us. If the states of changed ‘Things’ now look very different, they’re transformed. Very Hungry Caterpillars turn into Beautiful Butterflies. Customers now enjoy contacting their bank or broadband provider. People well enough to leave a hospital bed do so, pronto. These are Things in a specific, different state.

‘Transformation’ is vague. Its rarely qualified with a definition of the ‘Thing’ being changed or what the new state would look like. That vagueness only obscures the relative priorities of Things and the evidence of their states.

Is the Thing an organisation chart, new value propositions, the flow of work? And why? To grow revenues, cut headcount, appease shareholders? Such uncertainty surely does its own damage; ‘Yeah, the last transformation [insert fear]’.

It might have been W Edwards Deming who said: ‘There is no such thing as improvement in general’. Can there ever be transformation in general? Something very specific has to change at a process behaviour level to shift an important outcome. What is the cause-effect logic of that hoped-for chain reaction?

Is investing in a big, bold transformation programme the best way to make our most important ‘Things’ better? Can we be so confident until we understand what matters, and what works? Does changing too much dilute the focus, create new systemic shocks? Is change really an initiative, a project, or is ‘getting better’ more of a daily mindset?

So, what does Transformation really mean?

The beauty of a Causal Decision Canvas is that we can take a vague word – like Transformation – and articulate it in an entirely visual way. Whether the material comes from existing words or a workshop of stakeholders, we can distill what ‘Transformation’ really means in each situation. This reveals the strategic hypotheses, the priorities, the decisions and the evidence needed to describe the Thing and its result state.

Now we can see the Thing, why changing it matters and whether it will fly.

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