How can we manage a radical transformation towards livable, sustainable and creative organizations?

today2022.09.07. 259 5 5

Otti Vogt
Antoinette Weibel

Good organizations combine a vibrant and creative life energy with human values, social responsibility and efficient production. To do this, we must go beyond the purely profit-oriented and methodical-analytical “engineering” approach and develop new principles

There are many suggestions: Bigger visions! Greener Goals! Stronger leadership! Improved structures, technologies, cultures…

We believe: we must start by “rethinking” transformation! True change cannot simply mean ticking off Kotter’s famous “8 steps” of business transformation, or measuring success simply in terms of profit, competitive position and shareholder value. Rather, we must step back and ask the all-important question: what for and by what means do we intend to change?

For us, transformation means first and foremost: to consciously accept responsibility for our work and our world, and to always keep our focus on enabling the (good) life of people and environment. Good organizations are, above all:

  • a conscious and intentional part of our wider society and embody – as “mini societies” – our shared responsibility for the common good. Companies are “good” because they act honestly and take care of their environment, beyond simply maximizing stakeholder utility, customer satisfaction, or shareholder profits. Being good is their core business and not wannabe philanthropy on the side (Sorry, Mr. Gates!)
  • In addition, they represent the social center of life for many members of the organization. Therefore, its highest privilege is to further the mutual development of its members within the wider business and global community. By nurturing quality relationships, good organizations “create” good people.
  • Finally, a good organization is a trustee for the development of the individual, as it creates opportunities to deploy talents and creativity, with pride and dignity in one’s own role, whilst contributing to a greater purpose. Organizations enable the authentic striving for a good life.

Hence, “real” transformation is not about the selection of heroic leaders, better project management, agile methods, new structures, technologies, and organizational charts. Rather, initiating “real” change means empowering organizations to surpass themselves, to “cultivate” human and interpersonal excellence, and to contribute to the well-being of our community and society. Good organizations combine a vibrant and creative life energy with human values, social responsibility and efficient production. To do this, we must go beyond the purely profit-oriented and methodical-analytical “engineering” approach and develop new principles. Our research journey so far already provides first insights about this:

  1. Transformation is not just a “top priority”. Change processes cannot be tailor-made on the top management level, elegantly packaged (in PowerPoint slides) and quickly sent through the departments. Transformation packages put together in this way usually get stuck at the first distribution station. Rather, transformations should spring from a common “constitution” — a living promise of what we stand for, how we treat each other, how decisions are made, and how we deal with conflicts, changes, and the paradoxes of everyday organizational life. This does not mean that everyone always has a say everywhere. But it does mean that we all stand up for one another and for the “diverse whole” to dynamically combine inner diversity, organizational power and outer adaptability. We need all members of the organization, with their head, heart and hand invested in the transformation, more than a few clever heads in the headquarters!
  2. Transformation is never just “copy & paste”, but is strongly context-dependent: what leads to transformation success in one company may not work in another. The “best strategy” depends on the specific conditions — methods or tools need to be adapted accordingly. Or as Jeffrey Pfeffer once pointed out: “Best practices are always just inspirations. For example, “breathing” while commonly quite important, can quickly lead to unpleasant consequences underwater!”
  3. Transformation is never linear. Hardly any transformation follows a predictable, gradual, predetermined course. (Quick memo to the project planner: Life is not an Excel spreadsheet!) Instead, change is iterative, fluid, often unpredictable, and non-linear. New visions are just as important as the openness to be surprised and rethink from time to time.
  4. Transformation is synergetic, not just analytical, and often comes from “the outside of the system” and the “bridge builders” in the organization rather than just from the “top-down “. True transformation therefore cannot simply be broken down into functional individual parts but requires a dialogical reorientation of an organization’s human and technical capabilities in order to support the emergence of new and better behavior patterns and outcomes. This does not mean that transformations are spontaneous or random. Rather, what is needed is a return to a common “spirit”, an empowering inspiration and unifying values that give energy, identity, and character to the change efforts, while at the same time leave freedom for individual creativity, different opinions and commitment.
  5. Transformations are emotional. Change triggers fears. We find ourselves in new roles, new teams, new structures — and (supposedly) have to prove ourselves anew. Changing into the good organization that we desire also requires ownership, a love of learning, and a willingness to innovate. We must accept and embrace vulnerability (together we can conquer the unknown!). Good transformation requires that we take in fears, look at them, process them and learn to deal with them.
  6. Transformation is always achieved by people. And it is these people who connect dreams and their fulfillment. Therefore, the same applies at work as in the rest of life: real change is always something very personal. Basically, it’s about finding yourself and overcoming yourself, and approaching new and foreign things. Successful transformation is therefore not seen in an employee survey or a KPI on employee satisfaction but can be recognized mainly by the glow in the eyes of colleagues, when they really feel “seen” and recognized, when they get along with each other, get creative with each other, and can fill their work with meaning for themselves and others.
  7. Transformation is never complete. True transformations are not journeys to some distant destination but rather a return to the deep truth that the “good life” — and the good work — is happening right now, in this moment. And right here. True change is simply learning to work together to make something good out of every precious moment — to always live the moment fully, with full responsibility for our freedom. It sounds a lot easier than it is — in the frenzy of emails, phone calls, and constant meetings, and under constant time pressure. Transformation therefore requires common virtues such as a sense of proportion, discipline, compassion and wisdom in order to successfully balance the important with the necessary.
    This of course means that we can’t just buy the perfect transformation manual and implement it at our next stopover somewhere. Rather, we learn through practical experience, constant exchange with others, and the courage to continuously experiment and “grow up”. Yet where to find other, trustworthy pioneers of good companies and transformations? It’s not that easy!

We thought so too! That’s why we invited the most exciting transformation practitioners that we know to come to the 12.-16. September to discuss with us what such a «leading edge» change process could look like. To sum it up in the words of the world’s leading expert on Boundaryless Organizations, Emanuele Quintarelli: “This is a gathering of some of the most forward-thinking org designers in Europe and the US today”!

And that’s why we’re now inviting everyone who cares about “good organizations” to come along: Get involved! Join in! Because, in the end, every important change begins with ourselves. If not us, then who ? And if not now, then when?

You can learn more about the event here:

Written by: Mihaly Nagy

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