There are times when all the tweaking and adjusting in the world will not be enough to position a company or government agency to keep pace with its rapidly changing environment. Sometimes radical, transformational change is necessary for an organization to be able to capitalize on future opportunities and avoid impending risk. In short, dramatic change is sometimes needed in order for a company to thrive.
But transformational change in any organization – whether it be a multi-million dollar commercial business, a government agency, a small privately-held corporation, or anything in between – naturally leaves behind a wake of upheaval. By its very nature, transformation is disruptive. It is messy and chaotic and can render an organization’s environment unstable, albeit temporarily. The sooner stability can be returned, the sooner the organization can move forward toward increased productivity.
Unfortunately, major, transformative change typically inflicts considerable collateral damage on one of an organization’s most valuable resources: its people.
Corporate and government leaders involved in planning for widespread organizational change can – and do – devote countless resources on the front end toward carefully laying out new organization charts, workflow diagrams, policy manuals, etc.
But any transformation process that fails to address the human aspect of radical change is doomed to ultimate failure.
It is human nature for people to feel worried, fearful, frustrated, unsure – even angry – when a once-familiar environment is turned on its side. But the reason companies and agencies must tend to the human aspect of change is bigger than the noble goal of helping colleagues manage unpleasant feelings. The truth is, the success of a newly transformed organization depends on it.
After all, a workforce whose questions and insecurities are not addressed, whose feelings are left to fester, and for whom new expectations are not clearly defined will not be able to perform at peak levels. Transformative change means employees will be expected to learn new skills or competencies; in some cases it may be assumed (often wrongly so) that these skills and competencies already exist. Many employees will be fearful or embarrassed to ask for the training and development they need to become competent in their new roles. Employee productivity is known to plummet when such turmoil exists in the workplace.
Senior leaders must therefore stay ahead of and manage the human aspect of transformational change. In effect, employees must be nurtured and developed through the transition, and sometimes a neutral, outside organization or party must be brought in to make this happen. Transformation coaching involves helping an organization regain a stable work environment by:
Providing a confidential, trusted sounding board through which employees can vent their feelings and voice their concerns and fears
Introducing innovative techniques designed to increase collaboration, improve team dynamics, and encourage open communication
Chartering new roles and defining learning and development initiatives to ensure employees perform to expected competencies
Defining performance metrics and measurements for a transformed organization as well as a transformed workforce
Meeting each employee’s needs, on an individual basis, to ultimately build a cohesive workforce aligned with corporate or agency goals
Succinctly speaking, it is critical for leadership to maintain a finger on the pulse of how transformation is impacting the workforce. If the human aspect is ignored, morale will be low and the result will be frustration, resistance, poor performance, lack of results, and – in the long run, higher costs.
On the other hand, if individuals’ feelings, hopes, fears, worries, development, etc. are addressed, morale will be high and the result will be agility, reception, high performance, sustained results, and lower costs.
Deborah Westphal is a passionate humanist who has guided our era’s top minds and leaders to challenge biases, ignite ideas, and build connections and resilience for a secure and sound future. Her career spans more than 30 years in government agencies and Fortune 100 companies, and on virtually every continent. In 1999, Alvin Toffler tapped her as one of the founding members of his eponymous consulting firm, Toffler Associates. From 2007 through 2018, she served as the firm’s CEO and has since contributed her experience and knowledge as a member of the board. Through her work, she has guided notable organizations including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Marriott, U.S. Air Force, Baxter International, Bayer, Heinz, Microsoft, Koppers, PPG, DARPA, National Security Agency, Loral Space Systems, NASA, Qwest, Verizon, and Westinghouse. Deborah’s empathetic and thought-provoking style helps readers spot patterns that signify future risks and opportunities. She’s a sought-after speaker and writer who provided the Foreword to After Shock. Her book, Convergence: Technology, Business, and the Human-Centric Future, was published in May 2021 by Unnamed Press. Find her at deborahwestphal.com.
Toffler Associates is a future-focused strategic advisory firm. Our Future Proof® business consulting approach helps global leaders understand how future shifts impact current decisions so they can take advantage of opportunity, manage risk, and create future value.
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