The Survey – Sustaining transformation

Preamble to our survey

David McAra

What I think

I have seen a number of such transformations and even helped to bring some about.  It’s ‘transformation’ because the underlying thinking of an influential person or group changed significantly and the whole organisation changed in response.  

They didn’t just try harder and look for 10% improvement.  They started to see differently, notice different things, make fresh, more accurate interpretations and so, respond differently.  They started acting in new ways and created results which far exceeded their previous capacity.  

Such transformation is ‘benign’ because everyone wins.  In the new reality, created by the new thinking, previously conflicted parties started to find their expectations exceeded in unexpected consensus, without the need for compromise, 

There are countless varieties of new thinking, originating from completely different schools of thought – secular, philosophical, spiritual, psychological. technological, social – yet the new reality on which they shed their light is similar.  In particular, it is too complex for hierarchical decision-making.  For transformation to succeed and endure, the prevailing power structure has to change.  Those accustomed to being in control have to find ways to enable others, with quicker access to better information, to take important decisions.  

Yet here lies the difficulty.  In the prevailing mindset, our long term interests might be aligned but I fear my short term interests are in conflict with yours.  I don’t trust you with my short term interests and I don’t know how to handle conflict.  So where I have control, I like to keep it.  

We seem to lack established models for flatter organisations so hierarchy creeps back in, along with compromise, hidden conflict and mediocre performance. 

What do you think?  

What are your thoughts?  I hope you will feel free to contradict me and tell me your stories of enduring transformation.  Or to confirm my hypothesis and suggest why transformation is so hard to sustain and how we might overcome the barriers. 

Survey questions

1.  Do you recognise this pattern from your own observation or experience?

2.  How were you involved … ?

2.1  … internal or

2.2  … external change agent,

2.3  … affected employee or

2.4  … observer

3.  Which approaches were used in the change programme?

Action Learning, Appreciative Inquiry, Coaching, Improvisation, Lean / Six Sigma, Management by Objectives, Marginal improvement (e.g. Sky cycling team), Mindfulness, Organisation Development, Quality circles, Storytelling, Sustainable Development, Systems Thinking, Theory of Constraints, Viable Systems Model. 

4.  What was the impact of the programme?

4.1  Most people found their expectations exceeded

4.2  Mixed results.  Hard to say

4.3  Most people were disappointed

5.  Where the impact of the programme was significant, how long did it last?

5.1  Forever, years. 

5.2  For a while, months.

5.3  Until a new management team took over

6.  What have you learned?

7.  How do you keep smiling?  🙂

8.  In which country did the programme take place?

Survey responses

Fourteen people responded to the survey and two more e-mailed to say they didn’t find it helpful and entered into correspondence which has been included elsewhere in this edition. 

Tony Miller has conducted some analysis and his summary follows (here).

Share this article