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Are Organizations Finally Ready for Transformation?

Since the eighties, transformational thinking and radical change has been propounded as the solution for businesses to adopt for reason of battling survival and raising competitive barriers. I remember attending a Dr. Michael Hammer’s seminar in the US in the mid-1990’s advocating the concept of overhauling the organization through re-engineering its core business processes. Many companies purportedly tried his bold idea and failed. The call for transformation either tended to strike fear or provoke scepticism in the boardroom rather than offered hope at that time. Judging from recent expressed interest and the number of transformation initiatives, the question is: “Are organizations finally ready for transformation?”. Before we proceed, let’s clarify what it means and entails.

Transformation is about radical change that directs an organization towards a new direction, business model and/or modus operandi, and takes it to a significantly higher level of business performance.”

Today, technological innovations, ingenious business models and social diversities spawn irresistible forces that disrupt businesses.  Both massive revolutionary and abstruse evolutionary changes underpin powerful dynamic tensions in business management.  Transformation process is often a strategic response to one or more of these disruptive forces under 3 broad contextual types, viz:  

  1. Back against the wall – desperate for business survival
  2. Narrow the business performance gap with the industry leader
  3. Forge ahead of business competition

To innovate breakthrough or transformation ideas, one key quality that has often been mentioned is Perceptive Acuity.  It is the ability to figure out potent variables or factors that will significantly alter industry competition when they are exploited. It implies more than trend forecasting and prediction.  The process typically involves spotting obscure emerging variables and then embarking on the search for new ideas to create a totally new product or service that is capable of disrupting the industry.  Based on empirical evidence, digital transformation seems to form the bedrock of many transformational initiatives.

One common contentious point is whether Perceptive Acuity is an innate quality or a skill that can be developed.  For transformational changes to be successful, surely Perceptual Acuity is only one of the several vital qualities of a senior executive that has to be complemented by other critical qualities such as risk-taking, energy or drive, persistence and customer centricity.

Transformational changes often cut deep into an organization’s core competencies, finances, human resources and even core values.  They are likely to reshape organizational structures and displace people from their jobs.  It is explicitly costly and implicitly unsettling to people.  The change strategy to bring about transformation is often contextual, and it has to be carefully thought through and executed.