Insights

Learning in the Transformation Process

Making Participants of All Stakeholders

Transformation is a continuous process whose success depends on the active participation of all stakeholders and, in particular, a willingness on their part to embrace a change of corporate culture. And how does one promote active participation and a willingness to embrace a new culture? Not by prescribing a set of behavioral rules, but by inspiring a change in attitude. And to achieve this, those responsible for change will need to create learning spaces – both at organizational levels and within personal environments.

Although the tool chests of so many consultants are full to the brim, the methods they apply typically generate no more than a brief sense of urgency and anticipation before losing their steam and failing to inspire a lasting sense of promise and commitment. The same applies to the superficial and ultimately faint-hearted strategies and frameworks that may satisfy the expectations of some management boards, but also wind up failing to bring about sustainable effects. A lack of courage and a failure to recognize the value of creative space lead many managers to apply their standard repertoire of solutions over and over again – this despite the fact that it is precisely courage and a willingness to experiment that are the wellspring of innovation.

More space instead of more control

It follows that those whose goal is not just a short-term trend, but real transformation in the form of a continuous process of adaptation to ever-changing market conditions would do well to begin by creating spaces for learning and innovation. This can take place in various contexts.

At the individual level, managers must develop a greater awareness of the nature and impact of their own EGOs. In doing so, they must be ready to leave their own comfort zones – as opposed to demanding this only of their employees.

For instance, at an organizational level, customer projects can serve as incubators enabling one to test new forms of cooperation and innovative methods in well-demarcated environments. This can be observed in the case of advertising companies whose core business is to be creative and to generate true novelties on behalf of clients who demand nothing less.

Many managers make the mistake of neglecting the intricate social context that links individual egos, camps and followers. This is regrettable because people are social creatures and social ties can play a decisive role in the establishment of trust. Business transformation is therefore not only a matter of new, visible structures on the enterprise landscape, but also of a new sense of a shared community and a shared conviction that can supplement traditional mechanisms of management – and even replace them in the long run.

Transformation as a matter of competence acquisition

What is important here is to create a safe environment in which the relevant stakeholders live the transformation process, learning from failure and developing new innovative concepts on the basis of what they’ve learned. It is not only a matter of acquiring propositional knowledge and of practicing certain behaviors. Indeed, learning in the transformation process involves acquiring a kind of competence that does not arise purely cognitively and is not always clearly measureable. Enterprises that embrace this process provide a foundation for lifelong learning. Change becomes the new stability and the commitment of all stakeholders becomes the new form of control.

Space and orientation as a basis for new content

Adopting a new attitude depends on having the space for new content. To some extent, old content needs to be unlearned. Those responsible for transformation projects should therefore begin by clarifying that it is a matter of new attitude-governing principles, and that new attitudes will give rise to a new way of perceiving. It warrants bearing in mind, however, that the task of relinquishing accustomed, safe forms of behavior and views can be very challenging, at times even painful. Change managers often neglect to give this aspect the attention it deserves, with the result that important opportunities are missed.

It is helpful in this context to be able to perceive yourself and your environment from a detached perspective and to avoid being caught by certain sensitivities, or the urgings of your own ego. This is important precisely in dynamic and emotionally charged change situations. When approaching this, enterprises often engage external transformation managers who have ample experience when it comes to setting the stage and establishing the parameters.

Conclusion

The acquisition of knowledge and compelling insights is not entirely controllable. It often happens when suitable internal and external circumstances arise as a result of a chance occurrence and are stabilized by trust and perseverance. True business transformation is a matter of shared learning at various levels.