Change Management

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The Seven Most Expensive Words in Business

By Martin Rowan December 19, 2016 by Kelly Kuhlman

by Martin Rowan

In our line of business, we often hear, “We are successful despite ourselves” – words that imply the organization is making money, growing and ensuring product is delivered to its customers in spite of the internal efforts, stress, anxiety, cost, frustration and manual intervention to achieve it.

The result of realizing this folly is typically a series of improvement projects that organizations often call “transformational projects.” But what exactly is a transformational effort?

Photo: Andy Reago and Chrissy McClarren.

To answer this question, let’s look to a well-known transformation in the animal kingdom: the caterpillar’s becoming a butterfly. The caterpillar’s metamorphosis is the ultimate transformation, as it literally transforms a wiggly worm into a beautiful butterfly. However, what is often overlooked is that the caterpillar is very successful at what all animals strive for – survival. With its skin coloring and sometimes hairy nature, a caterpillar often looks like a twig, thorn or the vegetation it eats – it employs very successful camouflage. When the time comes, the caterpillar begins its transformation, metamorphosing into a butterfly. This chrysalis process (metamorphosis) requires the caterpillar to attach itself to a twig and split its skin to reveal the pupa. The transformation happens inside the pupa as the caterpillar begins to change, with cells reorganizing into a butterfly. From adult caterpillar to adult butterfly.

Returning to the title of this article, what are those seven most expensive words in business? “We have always done it that way.” Organizations that live those most expensive words remain caterpillars: They survive more or less successfully, but they embody unrealized potential; they could have become much more.

The word “transformation” very specifically refers to a “thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance.” Transformation is not simply a series of small improvements, it involves a thorough, holistic change in entirety.

 Photo: Courtney Celley/USFWS.

Photo: Courtney Celley/USFWS.

In the business world, this kind of transformational change in an organization, requires top-down belief and leadership to accomplish holistic change. It also takes a cultural shift in how it does business. It also requires bottom-up belief in the vision for change and most importantly, complete follow-through to succeed. The organization will succeed only if change is occurring simultaneously from both directions. If the leadership’s commitment to the change amounts to hollow words, it very quickly will become visible to all involved. If the heavy cultural shift is not actively carried out, the company will remain the business equivalent of a caterpillar: surviving by staying in business, but never achieving the full potential of what it could be – never truly transforming.

Discover how some companies have truly transformed from within to become better versions of themselves. Watch videos and listen to some stories.

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