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© 2024 N. Dean Meyer and Associates Inc.
Excerpt from www.NDMA.COM, © 2024 N. Dean Meyer and Associates Inc.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Organizational Strategy and Transformation Planning

organizational strategy (distinct from business strategy) and transformation processes.

  1. How do you define the word "transformation"?

  2. Should an organizational strategy be based on a business strategy?

  3. How long does it typically take to implement an organizational strategy (a transformation)?

  4. What can I do if my situation isn't conducive to a big vision or a long-term strategy?

  5. How can I learn to identify the root causes of performance problems?

  6. What are the steps involved in planning a transformation?

  7. Should an organizational transformation be led by Human Resources (HR)?

  8. What is the proper role for a consultant in an organizational transformation process?

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  1. How do you define the word "transformation"?
  2. The word "transformation" means a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance [Oxford] or a change in form, appearance, nature, or character [Dictionary.com].

    The word might be applied to organizations in at least two different contexts:

    • Business strategies: a materially different business strategy that sends the organization in a different direction (the "what").

    • Organization: a qualitatively different way of operating (the "how").

    We use "transformation" to refer to organizational changes.

    To be called a transformation, the changes have to be more lasting than a big project, some new technologies, or replacing some executives.

    And the changes must be more significant than adding a function or new service to the organization's catalog.

    A real transformation fundamentally changes how an organization operates. A real transformation leaves the legacy of an organization designed from the ground up to succeed at its myriad missions. It's efficient, reliable, innovative, strategic, customer focused, empowered, and more.

    In short, it's the supplier of choice to its internal and external customers, and the employer of choice to its staff.

    At NDMA, we help executives transform organizations from the traditional paradigm of managers controlling resources and processes to internal entrepreneurs running businesses within a business. That change has profound impacts on every aspect of an organization's operations, and augments every aspect of its performance. It's truly transformational.

  3. Should an organizational strategy be based on a business strategy?
  4. Absolutely not!

    Business strategies are not simple, stable, and long term. Strategies are multi-faceted (plural, not singular), and can (indeed, should) shift rapidly due to competitive threats, new business opportunities, a volatile economy, new regulations, technology innovations, changes in your customers' industries, etc.

    You can't afford to rethink the way an organization operates every time strategies change. But if you don't, a structure tuned to today's strategies is likely to perform poorly at tomorrow's strategies.

    Perhaps worse, an organization designed around today's strategies may fail to discover tomorrow's strategies.

    A well-designed organization continually generates its own business strategies. And it continually assesses its customers' strategies and identifies high-payoff opportunities for its products and services.

    An organizational strategy has to assume a volatile world, and develop an organization that's agile, responsive, and capable of pursuing any strategies the future might bring.

  5. How long does it typically take to implement an organizational strategy (a transformation)?
  6. You won't like this answer. But the truth is, a real organizational transformation requires four to five years, followed by a period of stability to institutionalize the changes.

    That doesn't mean you won't see any payoff for five years. Each step in the strategy -- be it structure, the internal economy, culture, or another organizational system -- brings benefits. And each step builds on prior steps, amplifying prior benefits.

    "Keep your eyes on the stars,
    and your feet on the ground."
    Theodore Roosevelt

    Consider Teddy Roosevelt's admonition, "Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground." A great leader has an ambitious vision of the future -- the stretch assignment. But that vision is implemented in practical steps, each of which is justifiable on its own.

    The vision inspires people, and it guides each step toward a consistent end-state. (A vision that can be attained quickly probably isn't very visionary!)

    Meanwhile, the step-by-step approach is pragmatic. It works within the limits of the organization's affordability and climate for change.

  7. What can I do if my situation isn't conducive to a big vision or a long-term strategy?
  8. Not every enterprise welcomes a visionary, transformational leader -- even one who's pragmatic about implementing the vision in a step-by-step manner.

    But that doesn't mean that a leader shouldn't bother to develop a vision and a multi-year organizational strategy.

    You know the saying, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will do." A vision guides each small change toward a consistent end-state.

    And putting some effort into planning a multi-year strategy ensures that each small step you take is the right one. It addresses your most pressing needs. But knowing what else is to come later in your plan, today's small step doesn't attempt to address problems whose root cause is some other organizational system, which always creates new problems.

    And an organizational strategy helps you get those small steps into the right sequence. A change can fail if prerequisites aren't in place -- that is, if a step in your plan is done prematurely, before you've built the necessary foundations.

    A great leader in any environment has a vision and a long-term plan. The only difference in a conservative, risk-averse enterprise is that you may not want to advertise them. Communications can focus on just the next step and all the benefits it alone will bring.

    By the way, in such an environment, it may be best to develop your vision and plan privately, perhaps with the help of an executive coach, but without the widespread involvement of your leadership team.

  9. How can I learn to identify the root causes of performance problems?
  10. Nobody likes to solve the same problem again and again. A great leader focuses on root causes, not symptoms, and fixes problems once and for all.

    Root causes are found in the system of influences (the organizational ecosystem) that cause good people to perform poorly or do the wrong things.

    How can you learn to examine a symptom (a problem) and identify its root causes?

    First, study the five organizational systems that comprise the organizational ecosystem. You can get executive overviews on this web site, or read the book, RoadMap: how to understand, diagnose, and fix your organization.

    Next, you can get some practice (and perhaps some useful insights into your own concerns) by playing with a free interactive tool -- an expert system that translates symptoms into root causes in those five organizational systems.

    Of course, the best way to learn is to do it.

    List your top concerns. Then, arrange a conversation with an organizational expert to discuss why these issues are arising. And listen carefully to his/her thought process as together you drill down to the root cause of your concerns.

    In doing so, you'll solve some problems while learning the thought process behind root-cause analysis.

  11. What are the steps involved in planning a transformation?
  12. Your first step is to decide whether you'll engage your leadership team in a participative planning process, or develop the plan yourself (and then communicate it, of course).

    This taps their knowledge of the organization's problems and opportunities, and builds their understanding of, and commitment to, the plan. But it takes time.

    The next step is to establish the three essential elements of a conducive climate for change: a burning platform, the vision, and the plan.

    In the planning process, you'll identify the problems, diagnose their root causes, and determine a sequence of organizational changes that will solve those problems and build your vision of a high-performing organization.

    And as you sequence those root causes into a plan, remember to consider not only your sense of urgency, but also the interdependencies among the five organizational systems.

    Resources that can help you include:

  13. Should an organizational transformation be led by Human Resources (HR)?
  14. The mission of a Human Resources function is to facilitate every aspect of the employment relationship, from hiring to end-of-employment.

    In itself, this mission does not include expertise in engineering the five organizational systems.

    Of course HR must be involved in organizational restructurings, at a minimum to ensure compliance with HR policies and to facilitate changes in the employment relationship such as job descriptions, job grades and titles, and the HR information system.

    Beyond that, many HR departments include an Organizational Development (OD) function that develops people's supervisory and teaming skills. OD can help facilitate the change-management aspects of a transformation. But these professionals are not trained to teach and facilitate design processes. OD isn't the same as Organizational Engineering (OE).

    Rarely, an HR department includes an "OE" function. But most interpret this as "organizational effectiveness" (not organizational engineering), and its staff are trained to facilitate traditional process engineering. Few have studied the broader scope of engineering all five organizational systems.

    An HR department could establish a true Organizational Engineering function. But it's not necessarily the right place in the enterprise to put it.

    HR is an internal service provider that, by its nature, prefers stability.

    Organizational Engineering is a transformation function, the antithesis of stability. If placed under HR, it tends to be more conservative, avoiding major changes that disrupt traditional HR policies.

    If you're starting up a new OE function, unless you have an exceptional HR leader, a better place to put it is alongside transformation-oriented functions like business planning or business development.

  15. What is the proper role for a consultant in an organizational transformation process?
  16. Our approach to consulting is facilitative. We "teach and facilitate" rather than the traditional "study and prescribe." This not only saves you money. More importantly, it taps the institutional knowledge in your leadership team, and builds a deep understanding of, and commitment to, the change.


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