Understanding the truth behind change and transformation

Understanding the truth behind change and transformation

Adjusting a few routines is one thing, adopting entirely new behaviour is quite another

The uncertainty we’re living through today has taught us that the most constant element in our world is change. Our world can change so quickly, with different degrees of impact, that we often get caught off guard. Our work, businesses and lives get affected in so many ways that we are forced to change or transform.

You may think that “change” and “transform” basically mean the same thing, right? In its most basic form, they are similar, in that we cannot remain the same because the world doesn’t remain the same. However, there are important differences to consider.

To change is to respond to the external influences around us, such as the economy and business landscape. But change only scratches the surface of individuals.

For example, when the pandemic last year brought the necessity for social distancing and the ever-evolving new normal, our restaurant experiences changed. Instead of dining out, many of us are cooking more at home or ordering in from our favourite eateries.

In the business world, change is seen in how we approach our daily tasks. For example, instead of meeting with colleagues or customers face-to-face, many of us have opted for virtual meetings instead. This is an example of a change necessitated by external factors.

When we are changing, we are adjusting and modifying our day-to-day routines to achieve desired results, whether that means ensuring business survival or scaling up business growth. Change can affect us in negative and positive ways, and it only refers to our actions.

But transformation is much deeper than change. To transform is to modify our core beliefs and our long-term behaviours. Unlike change, transformation goes deeper than the surface level of individuals.

For example, if people are not in the habit of reading books regularly, starting today can be difficult. It takes some time for this transformation to yield any clear results.

On a business level, let’s think about the context of the agile world. Agility has become an important concept in an increasingly uncertain world, and adopting agile practices requires businesses and their people to transform. For example, as business leaders aiming to create a more agile organisation, we may want to transform our approach to providing feedback.

Our usual way of providing feedback comes in the form of quarterly, half-yearly and even annual performance reviews. We are used to this process, but it may not be realistic or sufficient for an agile business. We may need to find ways to provide quick and immediate feedback so that our people can make the quick and immediate changes required to achieve agility in the organisation.

This can be difficult as it takes a while to develop this long-term behaviour. As business leaders, we are used to compiling feedback for specific set periods such as performance reviews. However, the agile leader does not need to wait to give feedback.

These are just some examples of change and transformation, both of which are important for businesses. But clarifying the differences is important, given all the turmoil our world has been through recently.

Many businesses still have not recovered from the repercussions of the pandemic, and our economy overall is still suffering. Consequently, many organisations have engaged in transformational change. But it goes much deeper than that.

In another article, we will delve deeper into this topic. But briefly, transformational change has been mistaken for simply making small changes in the organisation. That is, day-to-day actions rather than deeply rooted behaviour and core values. These relatively minor adjustments don’t sustain change for the long term.

Another mistake many organisations make because of this misunderstanding is in assessing the speed of transformational change. Unfortunately, many of us believe that transformational change touches only the surface, therefore it can be quick and easy. This is not entirely wrong, but it is only half the picture, as deeper transformation is required.

So, while change and transformation go hand in hand, it’s important to understand the differences. With this knowledge, strategy and planning become easier to define. This way, we can successfully and sustainably implement change and transformation in our organisations.


Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC – Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Center. She can be reached by email at arinya_t@seasiacenter.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/arinya-talerngsri-53b81aa. Explore and experience our lifelong learning ecosystem today at https://www.yournextu.com



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