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Being a wise reformer [Transformation explained]

BY: Frik Landman|25 June 2019
BLOG| Business leadership and strategy

Our Chief Marketing Officer, Brigitte Schwartz (BS) recently had a great conversation with our CEO, Frik Landman (FL) on change, reform and transformation. Here are some of our favourite moments.

 

Brigitte Schwartz: We have a new leader in our country and people are asking for change. That is not entirely new because in the corporate world there is a constant conversation on change or change management, on transformation, etc. How do we make sense of these words and the meaning they carry in our daily lives as leaders?

Frik Landman: As they say in the classics, if you want to read - you need to start with ABC and if you want to sing - you need to start with doh-ray-me. In the instance of reform, you need to start with two strongly related words: information and knowledge!

My colleague and friend, Dr Elisabeth Dostal, points out that the word information is derived from the Latin word informare which means to give form to. It can therefore create, maintain or destroy form. So, the word ‘reform’ implies all of these consequences i.e. there is a current form that can be destroyed, maintained or newly created. Information is a powerful shaper and influencer of things. Irrespective of whether we are aware of the information or not. Information is dependent for its understanding on the context, without which this information becomes mere data.

Regarding knowledge: This refers to that part of information we are aware of, understand or have experience of. Knowledge resides in the user who has connected parts of information.

We can think of it as knowledge upon which you can act (create, maintain, destroy) and not knowledge for the sake of knowledge.

Information vs knowledge; transformation; being a reformer

BS: You haven’t said anything, at least not directly, about transformation?

FL: Transformation is different from change i.e. it means a change of form (create) i.e. a second order change. Not a first order change where everything is as before, transformation is not ‘moving the furniture around’.

 

Allow me to use an example: if you take a caterpillar with 20 pairs of feet and one head with one set of antennas and you want it to be better, to move faster, to make more of the resources available, you could offer it some kind of incentive to achieve this. If it is not successful you could add another 10 pairs of feet, add an extra head on the other side with an extra pair of antennas and maybe you may see results. So, you have maintained some form and you have destroyed and added some form. If that that gives you what you needed, then this first order change (moving the furniture around) was all you needed. It, however, was not transformation. If the caterpillar needed to move from A to B in seconds, to cover distances that caterpillars could only dream about, to facilitate cross-pollination at great speed and efficiency, you may want to consider a second order change, a transformation of the worm into a butterfly. It then ends up in a newly created form that does not resemble in image or function the ‘state of caterpillar’ it once was.

First order change vs second order change; transformation; being a reformer

BS: If an individual wants to be a reformer in order to take their organisation or career to the next level, where do they start?

FL: If you want to be a ‘reformer’, someone that would lead a process to change (destroy, maintain, create) the current ‘form’ of anything (a habit, your appearance, house, department, business, country, etc.) you ought to understand (knowledge-insight-wisdom) the nature of things and the activity by which we came to this understanding of the nature of things.

 

The reformer ought to understand seven aspects of reform or change. I highly recommend you read about this in detail in Biomatrix, the book written by Elisabeth Dostal but I’ll highlight the overview in very brief terms:

  1. Firstly, you need to understand the environment that requires change. Your department or organisation exists in a particular environment which has a contextual dimension (mostly made up of things you cannot directly influence e.g. economy) and a transactional dimension, mostly those things that you may be able to influence.
  2. You need to understand the culture of your organisation and whether it is your ideal culture or not. Without trying to emphasise a hierarchy, this aspect is probably the most important aspect of all the things that a reformer will have to deal with. If you underestimate or mess this up, all the other aspects are at risk. In the context of our conversation: ethos informs every aspect of the organisation.
  3. You deal with your different aims including vision, mission and strategic objectives.
  4. You need to deal with current and required processes
  5. Structural elements follow processes and linked to your organisation.
  6. You need to consider the current and future governance of your organisation. This is important on all levels and all aspects and impacts all the previous aspects.
  7. Finally, you need to consider your current resources and that which you will need for the reform and thereafter.

seven aspects of reform or change

BS: How do reformers go about communicating their vision for reform to others and getting their recommendation adopted?

FL: Ask 10 people this and you will get 30 different answers! I would refrain from using communication of the vision as an announcement and would rather design and implement it as a weaving process (in other words, don’t preach it but rather live it). With that, I mean that you need to involve your people, those who have to implement and live the reform, in the research, design and implementation of the reform. In that way the vision gets built up in multiple minds as a normative future which we all are working towards and everything we do approximates this future.

 

BS: How can a prospective reformer make sure the implementation process is a success?

FL: There are no guarantees! You are working in a human system and what we all have in common is freedom of choice. Imagine how many choices people in an organisation make on a daily basis during the process of implementation. If we think we can control everything, then we as leaders are in for a rude awakening. If however, those choices are guided by a shared culture, a shared ethos and shared image of the future, then our reform stands a good chance of being a success. It is best to take a systemic view on reform and not see it as a linear solution to a problem. The French have a word, problématique, which suggests a system of problems. Identify and involve your stakeholders from the start.

 

Stellenbosch Graduate Institute offers a short course “Being a reformer” which can help you navigate the world of change. Visit https://www.sgi.co.za/courses/being-a-reformer for information.

 

Being a reformer

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