Transformative Change and Adaptation™

Change management practice is the methodical application of change management techniques and tools through common steps:

  • create acceptance conditions
  • get buy-in
  • deal with fear and resistance
  • >achieve small wins
  • keep communicating
  • ensure new behaviour is rooted...
  • Change management models and methods (e.g., Prosci, Kotter, etc.) demand attention to assessment of the (a) change itself and (b) organization being changed. Appropriate because all change is circumstantial. The best course of action always anticipates the specific circumstances.

    Transformations behave differently because, if changes are being implemented effectively, circumstances are persistently changing.

    Changes are tactical; transformations are strategic.

    Transformative Change

    Transformative change: when what comes after is wholly unlike what was before in meaningful ways. Transformations are delicate, unpredictable, and stress the system. Some transformative change is fast, whether planned or accidental: a building being instantly demolished with an explosive. Others take longer: an abandoned building slowly decaying to ruin. These very different transformation journeys have very different impacts on people affected.


    Adaptation augments the best of continuous improvement with the ambitions of innovation. It seeks to avoid the biggest hazards of leaps from one state to another: risk of failure and lack of will.

    The “cost” of Adaptation is persistent small adjustment.

    Behaviour change should be easy

    Behavioural adaptations ought to be easiest. Just do things differently. Unfortunately, behavioural adaptations are far and away the most difficult for organizations. It's the psychology of comfort, stability, habit, and denial at work. We, humans, don’t like to change—certainly not quickly—except under threat. And at that point our first inclination is to adapt.

    Because behaviour change is so hard, and persistent change wears on everyone, technology and system change looks relatively inviting. Technologies and systems don't resist and any change trauma is expected to be short-lived. No wonder so many leaders are biased toward one-and-done structural/physical change.

    Transformative Change™ model

    Our Transformative Change™ model helps diagnose transformation and change situations, make a prognosis for success, and determine the most appropriate strategic course of action. It gives a thorough and nuanced view of:

  • The organization's capacity to transform over time
  • The organization's resilience to change stress over time
  • The optional paths to transformation success in this situation
  • The optimal application of a change management model through the transformation
  • Any organization prepared to shift its behaviour faster than the others has a clear advantage.

    Persistence of Change (P)

    Some change is happening someplace—always. Where it happens affects how it will be accepted. The recency and regularity of any change at all is an important determinant of success or failure. This vertical dimension assesses organizational resilience and potential/willingness to be or to avoid being "disrupted."
    Predictably low (to the point of negligible) persistence of change is essential for efficiency and productivity. It’s the organization—and human, generally—comfort zone. It's also a trap, reducing resilience to imposed change.
    High change persistence accustoms an organization to inconsistency, even unpredictability. It creates organizations comfortable in a world of ambiguity, even chaos. The “cost” is that efficiency can’t be maximized.

    Discontinuity of Change (D)

    Changes are adjustments to prevailing conditions. A key aspect of change is not just its overall magnitude, but how discontinuous on a scale from negligible to extensive. Low D changes are familiar and often anticipated. Safe places remain where you remember them. High D shifts are disconcerting and may upend foundations. In the extreme, everything is unfamiliar and the sand shifts beneath your feet.

    Toward negligible discontinuity, tweaks are so slight as to be imperceptible. The closer the new is to the old, the more continuous. You are becoming the more "perfect" version of what you are now.
    Closer to the high discontinuity end ideas, perceptions, methods, and actions are altered. Breaks resulting from structural shifts (e.g., technological, legal, cultural, etc.) fall here.

    Overlaying these on a 2x2 matrix reveals four broad classes of Transformative Adaptation™.


    "Stable" layer

    Stable Perfection (Low D/Low P)
    The organization has a groove and disinclined to change. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Organizations settle here because in periods of equilibrium, it’s the right place to be. Sleepwalk through the comforting days of this bygone era.
    Stable Evolution (High D/Low P)
    The organization tends toward unchanging but rises to infrequent "renewal" before settling in to new stability and pursuing perfection again. Transformation is an urgent response to threat. IBM had Gerstner; Chrysler Iaccoca. These are heroic moments in time.

    "Adaptive" layer

    Adaptive Perfection (Low D/High P)
    The organization tweaks itself better and becomes skilled at low-risk, continuous improvement. This is the realm of Six Sigma and Kaizen. There is no transformation here per se.
    Adaptive Evolution (High D/High P)
    The organization encourages change experiments and becomes resilient. Its world is fleeting grab-and-capture opportunities typical of start-ups and those nimble and willing enough to “pivot.”
    Now more than ever we recommend organizations prepare to cope with the many evolutionary forces of the day (digitization, climate change, decarbonization, deglobalization…). Even if your industry and environment seem stable now, it’s only a matter of time before change and transformation are upon you.

    It is much more probable an organization will survive and thrive by Adaptation than a transformational leap. For every IBM, there is a Kodak.

    Those organizations already pursuing adaptations as they seek perfection (the continuous improvers) are most suited to achieve this. It requires only a slight shift in perspective toward the genuine unknown from the known unknown

    What about you and your transformation?

    What are you? What do you want to be? What do you need to be?

    You may or may not need to change now. You may or may not be a good candidate now.

    When you need to change and aren't a good candidate: you're in trouble.

    Every organization can find the will to change in the way that suits it.

    Every organization can adjust its culture to make the change it needs.

    Institute X can help you find that way and transform your business. Contact us now.

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