Building Capability with Transformation Design – an interview with Clemens Frowein

Transformation-DesignOrganizational change is changing – finally. After years of approaching change with models and methods which are certainly well developed and understood, the feeling can’t be neglected, however, that we are working with tools not fully abreast of current times and the change requirements business face today.

Thus, we propose a new approach to change management and we call it Transformation Design building on what we could learn from recent conceptual and methodological developments in strategy and innovation such as Design Thinking, Customer Experience Management, Gamification and Business Model Innovation.

A recent book by Jason Little and colleagues – Lean Change Management – takes the same line and proposes to merge Change Management and Agile through a method called Lean Change. Building on the Lean Startup thinking, the authors propose to rethink change management and move it from a dire, consulting experts based effort to a lean effort run by the people of the organization under change.

Clemens Frowein (partner at UPGRADE) recently had the chance to talk to Jason Little about our new approach Transformation Design.

1) Thanks for taking the time to meet with me Clemens, tell me a bit about your background.
For more than 15 years I’m dedicated to help and support corporations and organizations in their ability to orientate, to enhance performance, to innovate and to change. I would call myself an OD professional with passion for lively interaction with my clients.  Two years ago I founded UPGRADE together with 8 partners. Our dream and vision is a new model for consulting, bringing senior professional expertise in search for high impact interventions. We don’t sell consulting services and we don’t rely on juniors; we strictly live from what we call our “relationship capital” and mouth to mouth recommendation. We are an open model, joining with consultants from outside to provide the optimal expertise for our client in the mandates. With that approach we are able to performed large scale transformations that really impact. We strongly believe that this is a very promising model for management consulting in the future.

2) How did you get started working on Transformation Design?
In fact I was working for some years with the Business Model Canvas from Alex Osterwalder in strategy projects with remarkable results. I love the spirit and way of collaboration and of design thinking. One year ago I discussed with my partners if and how this approach could be applied in change projects. We were more and more in doubt of classic change management approaches as they are very often not delivering sufficient results and in highly dynamic environment. We created at first the Transformation Design Canvas – looks easy but it took us weeks to build it. The most challenging part was to simplify the structure and language so that it is usable also for non- professionals. Once we held the canvas in our hands we started to work with it in client projects. The impact and acceptance was fantastic.

The Transformation Canvas
Transformation Canvas

3) What did you learn while developing this framework?
For me the most striking experience was that reframing change management with approaches such as lean, agile, design thinking, and gamification opens an entire new universe. Here’s an example: We started a large transformation program last year with a mayor technology company. The executive board worked on the transformation with a completely new quality of dialogue – they set targets, expectations and the frame for the change. We then cascaded the transformation in over 300 teams – they were asked to design their transformation based on the frame of the board. The dynamic nature of this process was outstanding; the level of trust and engagement was really making a difference. This change project is seen as the best ever in that company.

As OD professionals we used to take for granted that only we consultants are able to understand and create suitable change processes and architectures. It was difficult for us to challenge our own role and to let go. We learned that managers and staff are very well capable of discussing, understanding and designing a transformation process. We don’t think that consultants are obsolete, but we feel a bit of a new humbleness.

4) Which parts of your framework have clients latched onto right away?  And where did they resist?
The term Transformation Design seems to be very obvious for our clients. I now propose TD as part of every project I run and often clients find this soon the most important part of the journey. Our clients love to use design thinking for this field. One manager told me that he never really understood change management, that it always felt like a fuzzy grey zone and never was really inspiring, bringing up feelings like anxiety and resistance – change was more seen as a problem. His experience with TD showed him that change can be a creative, collaborative process, creating the experience of positive emotions with colleagues.

In some cases our clients found that the canvas was too much at once, too many fields, too big. We learned that the TD canvas is more a principle than a fixed framework. The canvas can be customized for specific needs of the transformations. This was really a process of understanding what the core of TD is and that it’s not helpful to see it as a standard with copyright.

5) What’s next for Transformation Design?
We had unbelievable sessions in the last weeks. We worked with Andreas Erbe from Launchlabs on the question what can be learned from Customer Experience Design (CX) and Human Centered Design (HCD) for our TD approach. We developed several concepts together. One is the Transformation Experience Journey to better understand the emotional curves and to design specific interventions for the journey. Another one is the concept of Transformation Personas (T-Personas) where we apply the personas segmentation approach to better understand the different segments of people affected by a change. For us this is revolutionary stuff and we are really on fire for it.

We decided to write a book and we will launch a blog and hub for Transformation Design in the next weeks. We really hope that the concept will inspire consultants and managers. Our experience gives us the feeling that TD could become a great approach and that a growing community is thinking and working in this direction.

6) Thank you so much Clemens, I’m looking forward to the book!
You’re welcome!

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