The birth of the change management movement began in the 1960s and 70s – when big consultancy began to see a vast new market – convincing organisations of the benefits of ‘transformation’.
Alongside this came the development of a distinctive, pseudo-scientific language of change which the consultants needed to pitch themselves to new clients.
It aimed to take advantage of a sort of corporate narcissism – hoping that senior executives and boards would swoon at the chance to ‘made over’ by slick looking outsiders.
They certainly did swoon, in fact they fell head over heels. As Jacob Dutton writes in a challenging piece – helping companies ‘do transformation’ is now very big business.
“The total size of the global transformation market is expected to grow from $445.4bn in 2017 to $2,279.4bn by 2025. The consulting component of a transformation programme alone is worth $44bn. As a result, the likes of PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY have all reacted and developed their transformation capabilities.”
The size of this market , and the riches on offer, arguably drive three key behaviours:
- A focus on agile solutions rather than contemplative problem definition.
- A subsequent focus on low hanging fruit – the easier problem to solve is often through tech, rather than the more complex wicked problems (thanks for this Steph Foster!)
- A focus on benefits realisation rather than value production – which often puts the emphasis squarely on efficiency. Humans are expensive right?
Which then leads to: The rush towards technological transformation – as if cheap tech is the only solution.
But what are we losing from our organisations, from our community, when we approach transformation as purely a means to be quicker, slicker and more convenient?
We could be seeing the digitsiation of the most important thing your organisation has – the relationship with your customer.
As Gerry McGovern has written, looking at technology as cost minimization results in the hollowing out of organizations into technological shells, in which staff spend far more time interacting with numbers, code, and content than they do with their customers.
These avoidance tactics presume the customer is a cost on your time rather than an opportunity. In our own work we have learned that our customers and communities have many skills, often untapped and completely underutilized by us and others like us.
This change evangelism and the hollowing out of relationships can make us embark on the worst kind of technological solutionism – that risks ignoring the skills, assets and sheer talent that exists in our communities.
Starting With a Clean Slate
At Bromford we’ve done a lot of work on the standardisation of our processes and service offerings. It’s not sexy, but some of the most innovative companies operate very standard operating models. It allows them move exponentially quicker.
Focusing purely on the relationship your customer wants, and the simpler processes that support it, helps resist the need to transform.
Jacob Dutton proposes that big companies abandon the idea of transformation programmes altogether and suggests some tips for kicking the habit. I agree and would also add:
- Let’s have more reflection and contemplation rather than lots of management activity.
- Let’s devolve resources and influence to those closest to the problem rather than outsource them.
- Let’s change little and often through small-scale experimentation.
- Let’s not roll anything out until we have evidence that it actually works.
As Neil Tamplin has said perhaps our organisations need to be more amenable to gentle iterative change rather than lurching forward intermittently to catch up?
Being a human organisation means resisting someone else’s idea of best practice.
Who is really winning from transformation?
- Is it the customer who now has a digital portal and a chatbot with a pre-determined series of options between them and the person they really need to deal with?
- Is it the organisation who were promised a bright new future but find they have the same fundamental problems they always had?
- Is it the employee who was told they shouldn’t resist change and that their job would be made easier, but found that their job would eliminated altogether?
The global transformation market will be worth $2,279.4bn by 2025.
Someone is winning and it’s not necessarily going to be you or your customer.