New Capabilities for Transformation Leadership


Von Jens-Peter Abresch, Fabian Berg, Clemens Frowein

Transformability means: Foster the capability and mindset to constantly tackle change in a resourceful way. This ambition points at a deep cultural and organizational change. The new assumption is that everyone becomes responsible for transformation, permanently – and understands that learning is the most crucial ingredient for transformation – people become learners and leaders become trainers. We point out four key levers:

Lever 1: Shifting to Co-Creation – the Concept of Transformation Design.

For many year’s we like to work with the business model canvas of Alex Osterwalder – it felt like a disruption of “old” strategy school. We applied the Osterwalder ideas and principles to create a “design-spirit” for change and transformation processes.  People would become the designers of their own change journey – we called this idea Bild A FB

“Transformation Design”. The key artefact and basic tool of Transformation Design is the “Transformation Canvas”. This is a great tool for collaboration, design thinking and lean and agile spirit within change. We understand this tableau as a common taxonomy and language for teams on all levels of the organization to design and drive their transformation. It is collaborative, interactive and visual – and it creates a creative and positive atmosphere in the discussions about change.

After more than two years’ experience in many workshops and sessions with the canvas we see that the taxonomy works, the instrument is highly effective. It can be used for large scale transformations, for team based or even individual changes. People are rapidly understanding and using the tool. It has a huge impact on the dissemination and dynamics of transformation processes.

Lever 2: Transformations Leadership – introducing the new “HEADCOACH” Role

Let’ have a look at TRANSFORMATION LEADERSHIP. Many strategic initiatives and larger scale transformations are launched by top-management in the first place. Managers take good care to understand and design the vision, strategies, desired results etc. But again, how to get from A to B? The common reflex is delegation, down in the organization (“my line and my managers will take care”) or to internal change support (“I have professional change management in house”) or consultants. But: Transformability is the duty of top management – it is the ultimate responsibility of boards and top-manager to understand the transformational levers, design transformation strategies and take the execution on. This needs not only a new understanding but also time and also a learning process at the top.

In this context we like to call the executives “Headcoach of Transformability”. Use the metaphor of sports. Managers become Transformation-Headcoaches to design the game-system and make people in the organization players and learners. In this role, executives can play a positive and motivating part, talking about capabilities, levers, personal growth and new perspectives.

There are a few fundamental leadership principles of Transformability that we see as useful and effective.

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From our perspective the most powerful attitude in this game is the potential-orientation (Y-Type). Not focussing on deficits or resistance to change. Potential orientation means to give trust as a gift upfront and to enhance a powerful and resourceful spirit. This is more of a state of mind – that arises from the fundamental assumption that learning works best with this potential driven attitude.

Transformation Leadership is not about questioning or changing the entire leadership style. It is more the idea of completing the leadership profile and capabilities of managers by the new “Headcoach” role. It will be a shift in mind-set and mastery/repertoire.  The core capability of the Headcoach is to build and enhance TRANSFORMABILITY and LEARNING of people. And to achieve measurable results with a virtuosity and mastery on the “HOW” to get there.   For a certain amount of their time – let’s say 10-20% – the manager will slip into something like a “trainer role” with the scope to systematically build new capabilities of individuals (their direct reports) and their teams. The real challenge is to understand, that this training and capability building is taking place “on the job”, in real life and ongoing. It is not an extra event, time out or second world exercise, nor is it the duty of HR. Therefore specific training and enabling repertoires are required – in addition to the common leadership capabilities. Leaders and managers have to be able to design, develop and execute learning and training processes.

Lever 3: Change the mental framework – driving Agile Transformation

Changes in Organization are not running in a linear way and one cannot really plan the processes. Most managers have experienced this fact. Interesting enough, that classic change management schools refer much on planning (like change architectures) and more “waterfall” proceeding. This is mostly just not working. For that reason we apply Agile frameworks, methods and philosophies in transformation processes with very good results. How does this work? It all starts with one core assumption: Transformation is all about building new capabilities and learning – so we all have to learn together. We can call the idea “Agile Learning” (AL). AL starts with the teams that are granted a high level of autonomy in their transformation journey. They identify learning areas, design learning tracks, layout how to go for it. They move in “Small Steps” and “Sprints” forward, constantly reflecting and adjusting their direction. They focus “On the Job” learning, they self-organize. They use tools like “Canban Boards, Collaboration Spaces, Burndown Charts etc. It’s really “Transformation Scrum”. This way of understanding and living change and transformation makes a huge difference. It creates the helpful experience of belonging, being part of the journey, being involved. This lever is strong.

Lever 4: Reinventing the Social Operating System

One of the most problematic issues in management and organizations is the fact that people spend so much time in meetings, workshops, sessions with so little impact and benefit for each and every one. Transformability requires time, collaboration, space for learning. That’s why we address the “SOCIAL OPERATING SYSTEM” – meaning the entire idea, concept, way of designing, organizing, driving human interactions in and across organizations. The vision and ambition would be, that about 10-20% of the time spend in meetings, workshops etc. is dedicated to Transformation. There is quality time for learning in more or less every meeting. This quality time has a clear goal and scope, is designed, prepared and well executed. Hard? Yes, this is tough to do and one needs a huge commitment and perseverance to succeed. The original idea of the Social Operating System came from Jack Welch as he draw a picture to show in the four quarters of a Year different orbits where meetings, workshops, events etc. to demonstrate how the social interaction of GE would happen. We took that picture to create a tool for manager.

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The basic idea is to differentiate between three horizons  or orbits – operational, transformational and strategic. Looking at the four  quarters of the year, one could now specifically create “Learning Arena’s” within or without the typical routines of meetings, workshops and events.  Every session will have a learning part, some learning  innovation and the aim to do something together with impact for the transformation. Reinventing and innovating the social operating system is not easy but perhaps the biggest lever amongst the four.

Transformability is a fundamental new approach in organizations. It is intellectually challenging and tough to implement and get this flying. To implement Transformability needs a significant push and boost for top management and leaders/managers. They need to be trained and involved – it is a shift in mindset. Once the boost has produced the initial energy for change, leaders and managers need to be supported and coached in their trainer role.

The idea of Transformability is motivating. Shortly a manager from a major European telecom was quoting that Transformability is a revolutionary approach in these fast moving times. He has started an intensive learning and training route one Year ago with his team and not only the results are significantly better but the rates of employee satisfaction have risen dramatically. He claims that transformability works – and that the real difference is that change now is seen as something challenging in a positive way for his enterprise.

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