KingChapman Blog

Elements that Improve Success of Organizational Transformation

Posted by Bob Chapman on May 15, 2018 11:44:22 AM


Begin with Value

Laying the foundation for successful transformation begins with stark clarity on how the organization creates value. Then an assessment is made of the level of value which meets or exceeds expectations of key stakeholders. Growth is the secret for sustaining outstanding levels of value creation. Outstanding success in delivering value will lead to the desired branding, competitive position and reputation for the organization. The reasons for transforming an organization should be obvious to those who are looking with “open eyes”. It should be well understood that success in this current transformation will require changing the mindset of frontline employees, which in turn will translate into their actions on what may initially seem like “fuzzy little things” but can turn into big things. 

Elements for Achieving Success in Transformation

We assert that achieving success in transformation requires:

  1. Dynamic, strong leadership. The word leadership is used here to have meaning very different from management
  2. Clarity on the Invented Future which the transformation is designed to achieve
  3. Clarity of the architecture or design for the transformation
  4. Comprehensive use of change elements known to be effective in transforming organizations
  5. Engaging the hearts and minds of people to the point that they drive change


A robust discussion is needed regarding leadership and the importance of leaders influencing and inspiring others. This discussion often begins with clarifying that leadership and management are both important but are not the same. The evidence for the collapsing distinction between the two can be seen when the two words are used interchangeably. Most organizations have at least adequate levels of management, but are woefully short of leaders. Further, some of the best leaders will not be in management or supervisory positions. This calls for the mindset that leadership can come from all levels of the organization. In the highly successful transformations, there is an assertion that every employee can be a leader.

When executives begin planning a transformation, there is frequently an assumption that leadership will begin at the top of the organization and cascade down through management levels into the heart of the organization. This seems logical given the belief that management and leadership are the same, and that managers at each level will inspire people as part of their management responsibilities. However, while this may seem reasonable, it rarely works. Getting each level of management to be leaders and create the needed leadership at their level so that it is passed on down to the next level is unlikely. In large, complex organizations the transformation efforts tend to die in the middle of the organization. The cascading either stops or becomes so muddled that it loses its effectiveness, so that little of value reaches the frontline.

The assumption of managers being leaders and creating leadership down through the management hierarchy is flawed. The need to have leaders at each level to continually generating the needed leadership influence and inspiration is not met.

Given our experience of the low probability of success in cascading leadership down in the organization, we strongly recommend that the design of a transformation involve the senior leaders directly reaching out to the frontline. This avoids the blockages which occur when the design counts on cascading of leadership down through the management ranks. When the engagement of the frontline is combined with developing leadership capabilities of the frontline, magic happens. This then leads to the frontline becoming involved with actions to implement the transformation, e.g., leadership experiments and initiatives.

Among the most important roles of leaders is creating urgency for the transformation. Urgency is crucial to gaining momentum in the organization for the transformation. Further, we find that urgency is seen as a register for effectiveness of leadership. Urgency translates into action, with particular attention to interrupting people and processes which stand in the way. If there is no action, but a passive response, the transformation will be diminished.

Invented Future

Every organization has a Default Future which is based on today and what will happen in the future absent an intervention. It is continuation of the status quo. This Default Future is fine when the organization is the top performer and is in an environment with little to no change. However, given the overall rate of change many organizations find the need for large scale change or transformation. This then requires a new future, because to attempt change while moving toward the default future is example of “Doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result”. You likely recognize that as “the definition of insanity”.

Executives create a new future which is much more attractive and in line with stakeholder expectations. Since the future has not happened yet, it is unknowable and ultimately unpredictable in rapidly changing environments. At the end of the day, executives invent the future which is most compelling for the organization. This Invented Future becomes a destination from which to think and indicates the level of contextual changes which will be required for the success of transformation.

Architecture or Design of Transformation

Successful transformations are designed based on experience and research findings. Some of the most important factors in this design often seem counterintuitive. The architecture is ideally created at the beginning of a transformation yet is effective whenever it is developed.

Often transformations begin in an ad hoc manner as executives begin planning a transformation based on a current presenting problem. A solution to that problem is developed and is considered the basis for a transformation. The effort then has an overlay of “common sense” and good management. While this seems logical, it is not the best approach because the “solution” developed is from inside of the same context. That is, the context which produced the problem makes the solution appear to be the right approach when in fact this solution will only perpetuate the problem. The solution ends up complicating matters and often becomes the source of the next problem.

An example of the importance of architecture can be seen in the common experience of previous change efforts where some number of areas were identified, and teams created. These teams begin with enthusiasm but then momentum fades. An example of how this slowdown can occur is the team was making good progress until its recommendations were not approved due to financial concerns. This is a classic example of a change initiative which in hindsight could have benefited from having a clear Charter. A Charter creates the project, states the purpose, identifies outcomes to be achieved and describes scope and constraints. One such constraint would be that the recommendations from the team cannot depend on additional funding. Creating Charters and accountability structures are two important elements of architecture for transformation.

Transformations in High Reliability Organizing and Resilience usually require clear, nuanced architecture since the perceived problem is not a crisis per se. Ironically, this observation applies even in those organizations where it should be seen as a crisis. Even in post crisis organizations there remains a strong reliance on existing processes and functional groups. There is a strong tendency to blame the victims while defending the existing processes and functional groups, even in the face of compelling evidence. Driving transformational change in processes and functional groups benefits from clear architecture and inclusion of those change elements which have proved to be successful. We call these elements the Transformational Thumbprint.

Transformational Thumbprint

We have identified twenty-two design elements which, if included in the architecture, dramatically increase the effectiveness of the transformation. To learn what those are see our whitepaper by the same name below.

Winning the Hearts & Minds

Organizations with successful transformations spend more than half their energy and time working on emotions and feelings, as a way of “winning the heart”. This is counterintuitive to many of us who think that if we give data and facts in a logical manner that it will compel people to act. While this is “logical”, it’s not what produces change in people’s behavior.


Today there is much known about how to achieve success in organizational transformations. However, unless this knowledge is translated into practice, the probability of success is low. KingChapman has been guiding organizations to successful transformations for over thirty years.



Just as police investigators search for fingerprints at a crime scene, we were interested in identifying the “fingerprints” left behind by a successful organizational transformation.

Download our whitepaper: "Transformational Thumbprint" and learn the 22 critical success factors for implementing organizational transformation.

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