Welcome transformation!

By Joachim Van den Bergh, Senior Research Associate at Vlerick Business School

In management, not least in management schools, several trends and hypes are constantly struggling for our attention. One such a hype term is ‘transformation’. Preceded by digital, business, business model, IT-enabled, etc. transformation has conquered the management world in speed. As a barometer for management trend success I propose to look at the growth in the number of functions that refer to it. You’ll find directors business transformation, business transformation groups or offices, digital transformation strategists, and entire consultancies built around the concept of transformation. Most of them have only emerged over the last 1.5 year.

How can something as vague as transformation be a hot topic? It’s not even an acronym! It certainly isn’t completely new, but our renewed attention can be explained. As our businesses are still suffering or at least recovering from a global crisis, they have understood that traditional business is dead or slowly dying. And I believe that the same is true for public institutions and not-for-profit organisations. Things are different, the management techniques to deal with them are not necessarily different. Turbulence is indeed upon us, and it has been for the last two decades at least. If anything, the pace is increasing. Regardless of the source of turbulence – customers, regulation, competition, … - the capability to transform is key in the heated battleground called business. If organisations believe that real transformation will come from scrutinising costs and traditional process improvement they will find themselves wrong and doomed to become irrelevant. Transformation efforts have to be decisive and correctly timed. At the same time it can still be a well-managed and considered initiative. So who manages it and how?

Organisations have a tendency to invent staff functions for these purposes. As I mentioned earlier, business transformation offices have sprouted. But they are not the complete answer to the transformation challenge. Transformation can only be realised if an organisation actively looks out for people who drive transformation from within the organisation, transformation champions, and subsequently empowers them. The issue is that they could be anywhere in your organisation, and most likely heavily involved in daily operations. It would be a mistake to pull them out of the frontline and place them inside a transformation office. Rather, transformation offices should look for these champions and support them with budget, mandate, change methodology and possibly adequate technology. Furthermore the office should ensure that different transformation efforts are aligned and strategically embedded. But they must never pretend to be the sole owners of transformation! Even then, business transformation is a strenuous endeavour.

So please don’t be a victim of transformation, but instead be a master at transformation, by taking it on proactively. After all, what is more interesting than change? That is why I say welcome to yet another management trend, welcome transformation!

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