Transforming the culture of an organization or team is not easy. It is a long-term process. It doesn’t happen overnight. And, typically, it is not a smooth ride. There are ups and downs, moments of excitement, feelings of progress and success, as well as moments of frustration that things are not moving fast enough or not at all.
There are three typical phases in any transformational process: (1) creation and launch, (2) concentrated effort and execution, and (3) momentum and breakthrough.
The first phase of creation and launch is the easiest phase of the process and typically very energizing. In this phase, people envision and commit to a compelling future state for their organization and/or team, and everyone is excited and hopeful about achieving a great vision.
The second phase of concentrated effort and execution is the hardest and most challenging phase of any transformation journey. In this phase, people have to work hard to start achieving the objectives they took on in the creation and launch phase, while at the same time continue to run their day-to-day business. So, in this phase, people have to manage two jobs – creating the new future AND maintaining the existing. Juggling these two worlds requires foresight, vision and stance.
It actually becomes even more challenging – in the second phase people have to put their heads down and execute on what they took on in phase one, and it usually takes time before they can see the fruits of their labor. I often refer to it as putting in 10 units of effort in order to get 1 unit of progress/results. So, you can appreciate why people need to keep believing and operating with their future state in mind.
Think of it through the “caterpillar-to-butterfly” analogy. In phase one, the caterpillar gets excited about the prospect of being a butterfly who is free to roam with no restrictions. Then, in the second phase, the caterpillar finds himself inside the cocoon and suddenly life doesn’t look as exciting as it did in phase one. In fact, any normal caterpillar can become discouraged quite quickly about the whole butterfly idea. Suddenly, becoming a butterfly seems much less achievable and attractive than before.
This is exactly the emotional roller coaster organizations and teams go through in their transformation process – especially in the second phase.
Here is an example: I was working with a large service company on their transformation. They wanted to take their culture, performance and results to a new level. In phase one, they created a very powerful and exciting future vision and strategy that everyone felt genuinely excited about. Their strategy included initiatives that were designed to change the game in key areas that were important to them.
Then it was time to execute on these new initiatives and it wasn’t easy at all. Every time I would come to the organization for coaching sessions people would stop me in the hallways to brief me on how things were going.
I was getting two different types of reports from different people – some would pull me into their office to tell me how well things were going. Others stopped me to complain and tell me how badly things were going.
Many of the people who were complaining to me about the process seemed to be telling me that “my program wasn’t working.”
This mindset of reduced ownership for the change is very typical in phase two. The problem with thinking that the program is my program is that this is neither true nor empowering. This point of view reflects lack of ownership.
When I help an organization go to the next level, I facilitate programs to bring about change. However, I always make a point to remind people that they are not participating in my program. Rather, I am supporting them in their program. That paradigm of ownership is much more effective and empowering.
In fact, my ability to help the organization in its transformation is in direct correlation to the level of ownership the organization has toward their transformation process. So, I am constantly pushing on that aspect. The power and magic of transformation is in the ownership.
The big question of ownership for any team is: What future are you going to prove right?
It may seem an odd question at first. But, if you think about it – everyone is always proving something right, by default or by design. Either that their transformation will work and therefore is working OR that it won’t work, and therefore it isn’t working. That’s what the phrase – the game is over before it began – means.
When a team owns their process and they are out to prove that it works, they will go out of their way to figure it out. They won’t waste time complaining because that just doesn’t change anything. Think of it as “making lemonades from lemons” rather than complaining that “the lemons are so sour.”
Phase two takes time and a lot of perseverance. It’s not about perfection but about progress – continuing to drive progress and own the journey.
The third phase of momentum and breakthrough is the most rewarding phase of the transformation journey. But it only happens when the team stays the course in phase two. Unfortunately, so many teams fail in their transformational process because they simply don’t stay the course in phase two. They lack ownership, foresight and perseverance.
But, when they do, things start picking up and taking off, and in a hockey stick trend the team starts achieving momentum, results and breakthroughs beyond their expectation and imagination.
Photo by: Laura Bittner