Organizational Transformation
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A Hidden Process
part one
This paper is not a study. It is not based on theory. It is not a compilation of “best practices.” There exists no best practices in this area. If someone tries to sell you the best practices of organizational transformation, fire them, save your money and talk to someone who has actually done it. It will cost you little because the conversation will be brief. Better yet, free your people and let them do the work they already know how to do.
I have been involved in things transformational for the greater extent of my 52 years of work and explicitly for the last 25. What I write here is based on experience. I want to warn you that almost everything that is promoted as truth about this subject is dubious stuff. I want to warn you about the idea that transformation can be planned, managed and “talked” into reality. One should be intelligent about the subject but it is not an intellectual exercise. It is not that reading is not useful. It is. Little of this reading, however, will be about organization or attempts to transform them. I do not believe that organizations can be transformed by traditional means nor do I take the position that organization transformation is random and the result of accident and chance. Transformation cannot be made to happen. The conditions that give rise to it can be understood and they can be made present in your enterprise. Transformation emerges as the consequence of many definable and fairly easily created circumstances. It is neither easy nor difficult. It does take a well designed and persistent effort over an extended period of time and this is something that few organizations are willing to sustain. There is no easy path to transformation and a group of consultants cannot come into your firm and do it for you.
Transformation is not something you do to an organization. It is a process that you go through yourself. Transform means to change form. Structure wins and that is the root of of the issue and the key to completing the journey successfully. Both you, and others, and the organization have to change together. This change will be punctuated evolution: long periods of linear change broken by moments of disruptive shifts that are death and rebirth experiences.
There is a paradox and a dilemma associated with this subject. There is no question that every organization, to survive and prosper in the future, has to transform its basic structure - this is the good news. The bad news is that few seem to be willing to actually do it. Instead they accept dressed up “change management” as a substitute for real work. Since organizational transformation cannot be accomplished without a requisite and deep personal process, this is not something that Management “does to” the rest of the organization nor is it something that can be done to an organization “from outside.” The transformation of an organization is a change in culture and change in habits and change in attitude and often a change in purpose. It is a reconceiving of the entire paradigm of the organization and its circumstance.
Not to transform in today’s ecological-social-economic circumstance will be to die as an organization. Many will be able to continue as they are for years - others will be forced by their immediate conditions to act early. The worst strategy is to fake transformation or stop in mid stream. This will ensure failure. Here is the warning: do not start the process until you are ready and be prepared to carry it through once you have started [link]. And, do not think that the timing in totally within your control.
link for reverences and examples
This Paper is divided into 12 subjects that answer a basic set of questions: WHY is organizational transformation necessary? WHAT distinguishes organizational transformation from organizational change? What is NOT TRANSFORMATION - and why not? Why it is about EMERGENCE not control? What kind of LEADERSHIP is required to facilitate transformation? What basic PROCESS is required to create and hold “the Zone of Emergence” [link: zone of emergence engine] necessary for transformation to happen? What TOOLS and ENVIORNMENTS are necessary? What are the RISKS and how can they be attenuated? Why is CRITICAL MASS so necessary? Why the technical issue is REQUSITE VARIETY and what does this require of a transformational strategy and design? HOW do you get started? Why there are NO SHORT CUTS.
I will cover the first six of these in part one and the rest in part two of this paper.
This piece is, by necessity, an overview. As will become clear, a great number of fields of thought and years of experience have to be synthesized in order to build a basic understanding of the issues involved [link: rebuilding the future reading index]. This does not mean that a lifetime of study is necessary in order to start - the root research has been done. It can be learned, but not by what has become to be called learning by our contemporary society. There is a process that balances the complexity inherent in transformation with the variety of taking necessary actions to achieve it. This balance can be maintained throughout the many iterations of work and levels of organizational recursion of the transformation process [link: iteration, recursion and feedback in the taylor method] - if it is lost the consequences can be catastrophic.
link for reverences and examples
The drivers of organizational Transformation are many. Two meta-drivers incorporates them all. The first is the change in the rate of change and complexity that make up the external and internal environments of all organizations today [link]. The second is human aspiration, itself. In terms of feedback, the first can be seen as negative feedback and the second as positive feedback. These terms do not mean “bad” or “good” as their common use would imply. Feedback is neither bad or good - it just is. Negative feedback tends to attenuate, positive feedback tends to amplify. Negative feedback informs an organization that circumstances exist that can prevent it from doing what is wants to accomplish. Positive feedback is the message that these ambitions can or must be or are being accomplished. The architecture of the modern organization, including the social/economy of which it is a part, is systemically unfit for the demands being placed upon it. The purpose of a system is its output. The response to Katrina, for example was the result of what we designed the entire system to do [link: unnatural disaster]. This response was not what we said we wanted, it was, however, what we actually wanted considering the sum of all the millions of decisions we made prior to the event. The same can be said for 9/11 or the results of the Iraq war. The same can be said for the creation of the Internet, going to the Moon, the elimination of many killer diseases and the many undisputable successes of our society. These are all examples of complex emergent systems. Some benign and life supporting and some not.
link for reverences and examples
Organizations may change for a variety of reasons: to regain product quality and market fitness; as a response to a failure; new technology requirements; the ambition to increase competency, the requirement of improved management and work processes - the list is endless. Some organizations are taken through massive re-organization and “transformation” simply because a few can use some excuse as a means to extract million of dollars from the organization for personal gain at great expense to the many and the long term viability of the enterprise. This is true, has always been true and will always be true. There is no question that the pace of this kind of change has been increasing for decades - even centuries. There are a variety of tools and processes by which organization go about this business of normal change. It is important, to survive and prosper, for every organization to do this kind of continuous improvement and to do it well. This kind of change is normal change. This may or not lead to transformational change as an unintended consequence - usually by a future management team - yet it is not deliberate transformational change.
link for reverences and examples
The normal change within a healthy system aimed at improving a viable organizational architecture, while important and critical, is not sufficient - nor, is it what I am addressing in this paper. There is a circumstance when the scale, scope and nature of change and complexity is such that the very structure of an organization is challenged and overwhelmed. The conditions that define this challenge can be “positive” or “negative” - it does not matter. They make a life threatening circumstance and a death and rebirth is the only path to survival and prosperity. This is TRANSFORMATION. An organization can be excellent in all the measures commonly employed to judge its health and fail under this circumstance. This is change of a different kind. It is overwhelming if misunderstood. The vast majority of organizations do not survive it. The in-place embedded processes of the modern organization are designed to resist the kind of changes required by this systemic transformation which has to be addressed on, at minimum, three recursion levels: the individual and team; the organization, itself; the “market” and greater environment in which the organization operates. In addition, the complexity inherent in this kind of change is such that it cannot be understood, controlled and made to happen. The result of a successful transformation is always EMERGENT. Any attempt at transformational (scale, scope, complexity) change that is not approached on at least these three recursion levels (and often more), and conducted through many iterations of disciplined work, while leaving the outcome open to an emergent result, will fail.
link for reverences and examples
Transformation means to change structure. Many “reorganizations” are merely replacing players within and/or rearranging components of what is essentially the same architecture. This is “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” These may - or not - be appropriate moves but they have nothing to do with the real systemic challenges the organization faces or the transformation that may be required to be equal to them.
link for reverences and examples
The System and Method developed by MG Taylor works equally well with both these kinds of change. It was designed, however, for large-scale, systemic transformation - what I call change of a complex kind. The reverse is not true. The common tool kit that is presently employed to conduct change in modern organizations will not only fail when faced with a transformational challenge it will often accelerate complexity leading to premature disaster.
link for reverences and examples
Not distinguishing between these two kinds of organizational change can lead to catastrophic results. In today’s world of hype and cliche, the word “transformation” has become a power point dandy employed by consulting organizations to repackage too simple methods that are touted to facilitate complex organizations through change. The results are often tragic. When not tragic, they certainly are expensive.
link for reverences and examples
link for reverences and examples
This Shift Paper was published by MG taylor in 1980. It was used to support a workshop that Gail and I taught in personal life planning. Its content was derived from the material I presented in my ReDesigning the Future Course which I gave in the mid 70s in Kansas City.
link for reverences and examples
It is not possible to define what organizational architecture will truly prove to be viable in the 21st Century. It is possible to identity certain characteristics that will make up some part - even a significant part - of this solution. The architecture will be network-based - more brain/mind-like. It will be more rule-driven - less capricious. It will be a re-creation economy - design will be the great value add. Development and restoration will be seen as the same thing - co-equal. The dichotomies of the recent few centuries will be discarded. The old distinctions between government, business and non-profit will be blurred. The political focus will shift to bio-economic regions. Many of the Nations States will be seen as “brands” and systems integrators not as the government they are today. ValueWebs that cut across traditional organizational, ethnic, cultural, economic, governmental and business categories, will proliferate. Many of these attributes can be seen in large complex global organizations today except the old habits of centuries still cling to the last few moments of tenuous control.
link for reverences and examples
I have said the transformation is literally a change in the structure of an individual’s mind and the linkages and protocols of an organization. I am not speaking metaphorically here. This “rewiring” is accomplished by practicing the creative habits which result in strong memory. In an individual, in an organization, in a region, or humanity on a planetary scale, this is absolute, physical and permanent change. This is not a phenomenon of mere intellectual change - it is a change in hardware as well as software.
link for reverences and examples
Mere change - even necessary and good change - is not transformation nor will it inevitably lead to it. This is a place where distinctions are important. “Change Management” is useful and necessary. It should be an embedded in the day-to-day process of every organization and it should be practiced throughout every part of the organization. It can be a tool of continuous improvement and it is what goes on in times of relaitive calm between the periods of discontinuity and deep organizational transformation. Transformation happen periodically. It should occur no more and no less than necessary. It can be driven by external or internal circumstances or some combination of both.
link for reverences and examples
Transformation, by definition, is an emergent phenomena - it, therefore, is not predictable nor can it be controlled. The conditions that will best facilitate it can be created [link: 7 Domains Audit - the next generation taylor environment and system]. The emergent transformation is by definition extraordinarily complex relative to the system in transition. The conditions that determine the transformational process are far more simple and are subject to design and dynamic, feedback driven, project management. An obsessive focus on the what of the outcome of a transformation effort is futile; it is too complex. There is no possibility to achieve achieve requisite variety with something so much larger and complex than you are. The means necessary to facilitate a transformation are a much simpler set. No one transforms a complex system - particularly a social system. Living systems transform themselves. The Transition Manager designs and facilitates this process. It is not possible to know or control the outcome. The transformation of very complex systems are beyond simple knowledge, design, command and control. It is possible to facilitate such an activity. It is possible through a recursive, iterative, feedback process to accomplish a result of the kind desired as long as you remember that the ones who plan the journey will not be the ones who will complete it.
Transformation is also a personal risk. Transform an organization and it may turn out not to be the best place for you.
All organizations are emergent, of course. What we are facing now is, however, a scale issue. We are entering a period of radically emergent organizations because of their architecture (network-based), their reach (global), their complexity (mind-like), their size (millions, perhaps billions of nodes), and their many different kinds of interactions with other organizations.We call these kinds of human organizations ValueWeb architectures. They are made up of many components and protocols [link: components of a valueweb]. Like any organization they are governed by rules. The rules of a ValueWeb are different and yet, for all the variety and complexity of a network, simpler than the organizations we make use of today.
link for reverences and examples
The role of the Transition Manager is key if a transformational effort is not to get derailed. In large organizations many transition managers are required. They will not all be in positions of authority as recognized by the organizational structure which is being transformed. In fact, many elements of the system-in-place will act to kill of these dissonant nodes as a simple act of self-defense. The Transition Manager’s Creed is instructive in this context.
The Transition Manager’s Creed by Gail and matt Taylor, 1983, is actually a set of instructions for the proper conduct of this role. Not everyone is required to do this in order for there to be a successful transformation of an organization - some must practice this discipline, however, or their will be failure. This role is like, although broader, what Gifford Pinchott describes in Intrapreneuring. He says that the intraprenur, to be successful, must have a corporate sponsor who guides and protects this disruptive personality.
In the case of corporate transformation it is the transformation process, itself, which has to be guided and protected. If this is done correctly, everyone - change agent or not - will also be protected. Not protected in the sense that any action is accepted. Protected in the sense that non attribution is required if the organization is to be transformed. A neutral ground has to be establishes and kept.
In concerts with this neutral Transition Management function, proper project management is critical to a successful outcome.
link for reverences and examples
In fact, the worst way to try a transformation is to directly act on an existing, large, complex structure. Because it will get distracted and have to go down its present fitness peak before it can climb another, the effectiveness of the organization will decline. This can be costly if not deadly. The best way is to create new initiatives with a new structure and purpose. These must be protected form the existing, not bound by the old rules yet supportive and complimentary. They can be seen as experiments with a bounded risk profile. As they prove viable, two things can happen. They will attract more resources and members form the old organization. The new will influence the old which will adapt from it what it finds useful. This way, the integrity of each is preserved and each has freedom. They are not put in conflict with one another.
link for reverences and examples
GoTo: part two
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Matt Taylor
Boca Raton to Davos
January 22, 2005


SolutionBox voice of this document:



posted: January 22, 2005

revised: February 18, 2006
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(note: this document is about 55% finished)

Copyright© Matt Taylor 2005, 2006, 2008



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