Jan 28, 2022 | Leadership


A practical guide for Leadership Coaches, Consultants and Trainers

Do you have a system, process or methodology for getting your clients results? If you can earn a reputation for getting your clients real transformations – you will be in demand.

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What is transformation and why does it matter?

You don’t need me to tell you how fast the world of work is changing. The evidence is all around us. If we’re to stop climate change, lead healthier lives, have happier workplaces, more eco-friendly cities and a fairer society – we have to ditch out-dated ways of thinking and be willing to innovate. Transformation is not some academic pursuit. It is real for businesses, governments and every citizen on this planet. But changing behaviour, attitudes and mindset is fraught with difficulties. We are ‘creatures of habit’ and we don’t like change imposed on us. Perhaps it’s easier to talk sensibly about transformation if we look at this through three lenses.

Why do culture transformations fail?

Wherever you have a small band of people – you will have a subculture. From families to communities to our workplaces, we are heavily influenced by the prevailing culture. Culture evolves. It rarely stays static. But trying to consciously change a culture can often be met with resistance. Here are just some reasons why cultural transformations fail:

The culture change required is ill-defined.

  • It’s a classic. Everyone knows the current culture is not ‘fit for purpose’. But can’t reach collective agreement on what specifically we need to change and perhaps more importantly how to do so. Let’s take one example. A business that has been entrepreneurial, fleet of foot, with a loyal customer following, now agrees it is experiencing ‘growing up pains’. We need to have better disciplines. We need to have stronger processes and systems. The impact of this on culture is, we need better communication. More collective decision making. We need to think of the end-to-end customer experience, not just from one point of view.
  • Yet the conversation rarely gets beyond these broad statements. Different colleagues interpret this in different ways. There is no clear plan of what needs to change and how it needs to change. So the existing culture prevails.

A ‘top-down’ driven campaign

  • Another classic for what culture transformations fail – is it’s a top-down directive. Presentations are made. Posters are created. Launches are made. But there is no real engagement with teams on: do you understand the rationale for this change? Do you buy into it? Do you know what this means for you personally and as a team on a day-to-day basis?
  • The next result is colleagues nod in the right places, and know this initiative too will fail, just like every other one has.

People are content with the way things are

People resist what they don’t know or can not see. The clearer the picture of a brighter future and the path to get there, increases the likelihood of people embracing change.

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  • For a new culture to have a chance of taking hold, there has to be a collective agreement ‘we need something better’. Otherwise, colleagues just don’t have the emotional buy-in.
  • People generally (like nature) follow the path of least resistance. If the new culture is not compelling enough, poorly understood or people just like the way things are – it will wither on the vine.

Top transformational tips

For cultural transformation to succeed it needs:

  • A compelling story. What is currently broken or could be better? What is the better version – what does this look, sound and feel like at a practical level? From a behaviour point of view, what choices and decisions do we need to make ?
  • It needs to be carried by everyone. Culture change needs many hands to carry it. For this reason, everyone needs to have a say in not only shaping it. But also in making it live.
  • Daily reviews: one option is for every meeting to start with a cultural story. From a customer anecdote of the new culture in action. To a personal example of doing something fresh and different to reinforce the new culture.

Why do team transformations fail?

Teams become successful when they reinvent themselves, adapt and stay agile. This has to be the mantra of any team ‘what got us here, won’t get us there’.

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We live in an inter-connected, interdependent world. Teamwork is not just nice to have, it is critical for getting things done. Project teams, management teams, operational teams, cross-functional teams know the only way to stay ahead of the curve is to keep reinventing themselves. Sometimes tinkering and implementing incremental change is not enough. So why do team transformations fail to materialise? Here are a few explanations:

The team are too internally focused

  • Being internally focused comes with some heavy costs. A team doesn’t engage as much as they should with their customers. They only get an edited version of customer feedback. The feedback they may get is a rear view mirror perspective and does not flag-up the hairpin bends coming up.
  • An internally focused team can quickly be out of touch with changing market sentiments. They may not recognise their business model, products and services, which once served them so well, are now being overtaken by hungrier more agile competitors.
  • Internally focused teams risk living in the past. They’ve been successful and they assume this will continue. They’re more wedded to the past than the future. Call it naivety, arrogance, ‘head in the sand’ but teams that fail to adapt, are often the authors of their own demise.

They can’t agree on their North Star

  • What differentiates a team from a working group? A team pull together behind a cause they all believe in. This ‘North Star’ defines why the team exists, what their purpose is and what they’re striving for.
  • If the team falls short and knows they’re way off from achieving their big goal, they can make informed decisions. They may accept we need to change our structure, our ways of working, our personnel. Colleagues are willing to make bold decisions for the greater good. But in the absence of that North Star personal interest, power games and internal politics can sabotage their best efforts.

Top transformational tips

For team transformation to succeed, the following need to be in play:

  • An ‘outside-in’ lens. Where the team monitors how customer needs are changing. How market forces are adapting. How we need to respond and adapt. What this may mean for our ways of working, the way we are structured and organised.
  • This also means teams need to have honest conversations. Too often team members see the uncomfortable truth, but just don’t want to face it. Due to a lack of psychological safety, team members stay quiet and hope someone else will raise uncomfortable truths.
  • Teams also need regular feedback from employees, investors, suppliers and customers. This feedback-loop is crucial. See it as a team’s sat-nav system. They can take corrective action as the data, evidence, trends help them to course-correct in real-time.

Why do personal transformations fail?

Personal change can be messy at the start, difficult in the middle but worth it in the end.

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Leo Tolstoy put it well with his quote: ‘everyone wants to change the world, but no one wants to change themselves’. Personal transformations can take the form of quitting smoking. Making changes in your lifestyle. Even our life stages require personal transformation: when we become parents, change roles, get divorced, have a health scare, move countries……all require some degree of transformation. So why do personal transformations typically fall short?

We may not know how to change

  • Personal change requires effort. It requires both ‘skill’ and ‘will’. Take something familiar to many people – the need to lead healthier lives. The skill lies in creating an action plan. Knowing the calories in meals, the calories likely to be expended during exercise. How to stay hydrated. How to curb hunger pangs. How to adopt intermittent fasting or adopt exercise you enjoy into your lifestyle.

We doubt we have what it takes:

  • self-limiting beliefs can sabotage even the best and brightest. It’s our irrational fears or critical inner talk, which feeds our doubts. These doubts keep us stuck. We may accentuate our past failings……I’ve always been overweight….my family has a history of poor health….I’ve got the wrong genes…..we sell ourselves a narrative which diminishes the probability of a successful outcome.

Top personal transformational tips

The probability of success shifts when:

  • Individuals write down a few realistic goals. They work through not just what they need to do, but how they’ll do so.
  • They have a buddy or accountability partner, where they have their own support and encouragement team
  • Individuals keep a daily journal of their small wins and what they’re learning about themselves. Self-awareness is the key that opens the door to self-mastery.
  • Individuals stick with a plan vs chasing the next shiny new things. There are few genuine short-cuts. You have to put in the effort and work to break old patterns. You have to stick with things over a few months – not days. Sometimes individuals can not see any progress after a few days and ditch their plans
  • Changing a lifestyle is tough. But changing a few things can start the lifestyle change. For example, going to bed 30-minutes earlier so you can go for a morning walk is not a big change. Having your trainers ready by your bed, increases the probability of going for that walk. Pre-preparing your healthy lunch the night before, means you’re less likely to spontaneously buy an unhealthy snack.
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