The Secret Sauce of Transformation, part Deux

Like I wrote about a while back,  we know there’s no secret sauce. Well, at least we know there’s no secret. But, we do know there is a sauce, listed in Part I (Jan 09), and I’m here to tell you that even though it is difficult to make, it is absolutely delicious when you serve it up with the three-course-meal of transformation: People, Process and Tools.

A dab, nay – a smothering, of humility, discipline and hard work on all three of those dishes will do wonders for not only how it tastes to the workforce its being served to, but for how it gets digested in the culture of the organizational stomach.

Concerning people, we’ve heard the terms plenty enough – almost iconically emblazoned in the vernacular of modern business imperatives: Get the Right people on the Bus. Which bus – isn’t our domain, but getting the right people may not be enough. Those folks have to do something, you know? And what they do, determines whether or not that bus goes to Buffalo or the Biltmore. What we need is for those people to DO the right things, which means to exemplify the behaviors we need for success in our organization or transformation effort.

We get the right behaviors using the right processes (again, there’s that ‘right’ word), which aren’t happenstance, but intentionally designed to get the results we’ve determined that we need to get. Then we give them the tools to follow the processes and do the work. Those tools might be an actual wrench and hammer or a mainframe or new knowledge and understanding.

But all the people, processes and tools are nothing to us if they are not ‘using’ the right behaviors, and that’s where we come back to our sauce. The sauce is what gets the big three to stick together, to have a similar taste and texture. Without the sauce, any one of our picky eaters out there may spit back the portion they don’t like and disengage from the table with that hunched-over, gagging, “I can’t believe you made me try and eat that” look that I get from my kids when I try to feed them something healthy. Only these aren’t green beans they’re rejecting; it’s change. Vital, business-essential change. (By the way, if its not vital, business-essential change, then why are you doing it? You wouldn’t force your kids to eat junk food, so don’t shove your latest whim and fancy down your workforce’s throat either. If it doesn’t build, revitalize and nourish your business, then its organizational junk-food).

I’ve recently witnessed a transformation project, a change project, where they didn’t apply the sauce. The change was so shockingly different from what they had been ‘eating’ before, that many of the frontline workers just couldn’t stomache it. When the consultants left, so did any hope of transformation. They forgot to look at what these great workers’ assumptions and norms were about getting work done before we decided to change their operational diets. They forgot to look at the culture, and begin with that culture, not the new one. 

Begin with where they are, NOT where we want them to be. Talk about the change pipe dream! No wishful thinking or organizational narcotic will mask the reality that if we don’t begin on the cultural level of what people are used to, they simply won’t cross the chasm. The sauce is what helps them blend the taste of the old and comfortable with the new and essential. The sauce is what makes it all palatable. The sauce is our leadership discipline and hard work. Without that, just write the consultants a check and send them on their way. It’ll save you a lot of heart-ache, and probably a lot of money.


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