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So let’s say you are helping a child with their science homework and so you reach for Google.  The assignment is simple, to talk about how a caterpillar turning into a butterfly.  One website says, “The caterpillar starts to change", and then you go to another website and it says, "The transformation from caterpillar to butterfly is one of the most exquisite in the natural world".  Both are reputable websites, one is a university and another is National Geographic for goodness sake.  It would be fair to assume that both change and transformation are actually the same process.  Well, let me ask you this, does the caterpillar become a better caterpillar or a butterfly?  That is the essence of the difference.

Change management anchors itself with a reference point of the past to become better at what was and currently is, while a transformation has a reference point of the future starting from today.  This differentiation is crucial when undergoing any kind of alteration because each requires similar as well as different components for success. "Different isn't always better, but better is always different”.

Which is Cooler?

In my experience as a Change Management/Transformational professional, I see a common theme that occurs with failed change management projects, what I call 'the coolness factor'.  Candidly speaking, change processes are difficult and require resources since the basic premise is counter to what we want to do as humans, change.  Those that seek to engage in projects that inherently have change, require funding and often present these projects as 'transformational' projects.  

Why?  Because management would rather fund a transformational project than a change management project.  A transformational project suggests that 'we are getting something new’ while a change project suggests that we are spending more money to fix something, not very appealing.  Though these premises maybe true, the inverse can be also true.

The fact remains that things do change over time and need to be updated.  Look at the computer chip.  It’s fair to say that over the last 20 years, the computer chip continues to gain speed.  What a computer does may still be valid and needed, however, if we can get it to go faster, that is also a good thing.   Therefore, updating your computer system to faster ones is a valid and worthwhile endeavor.  There is no mistake that needs to be fixed, just engaging in smart decision-making. Meanwhile, a transformation may not require something new.

Sometime ago, there was an aspiring engineer looking to make the world a better place.  Specifically, he was concerned with the mortality rate of infants in a poverty-stricken village in Africa.  Through his analysis, he concluded that the reason that infants were dying was a lack of incubation machines to help them early in their life.  To that end, he created a state-of-the-art incubation machine that could run in the village.  He delivered five of those machines and saw the mortality rate of infants plummet in the first six months.  However, after a year, he saw a disturbing new trend, the mortality rates were climbing up back to their original levels.  

Arriving back at the village, he saw the all five machines were sitting in the corner, broken.  He was dismayed, coming to the understanding that the villagers did not have the skills to fix these highly complex machines.  He began to walk back to where he was staying.  During his walk, he notice that the villagers were driving cars and trucks that were fifty years old or more.  He then came to an idea; build an incubator from truck parts.  The villagers knew how to fix trucks; they certainly can learn how to fix incubators made from truck parts.  A transformation occurred.

Components for Success

Each, change processes and transformations, requires an understanding of the ‘As Is’, as well as a sense of urgency and a set of metrics for success.  It’s important to understand where you are staring from, whether you are looking to change something or endeavor in a transformation.  Status quo is what brought you to the realization that something needed to be done.  Second, you will be having an effect on others and therefore understanding the sense of urgency, either good or bad, is needed.  You will be communicating this urgency to others and having clarity is essential.  As humans, we avoid change instinctively unless required (remember the ‘fight or flight’ paradigm).  Lastly, having a good set of metrics, for baseline purposes as well as to show progress is essential as you engage in either a change process or a transformation.

Change Management.  Change Management needs an accurate assessment of the past.  The original requirements are still the same, but we seek a greater level of efficiency.  I think of 'ER' words like 'cheapER', 'fastER', or ‘simplER’. Any item that seeks to achieve these is a good candidate for a change process.  For example, a project that streamlines the payroll process because the company has consolidated business entities is a good example of a change project.

Transformation.  A transformational project needs a clear line of sight to the future, an operational vision statement that is clear when attained.  A historical view is often interesting, however can be harmful as well as people tend to stick to what they know, stifling any innovation that can come about and needed for a transformation. Transformations seek to gain greater levels of effectiveness and quality, 'birthing' something new. A simple, yet powerful example is when we transitioned from horses to mechanical means of transportation.  We still sought to travel faster; however, we looked to something different as opposed to creating a faster and cheaper horse. 

Both change management and transformational processes are needed to achieve greater gains.  Each brings a unique and critical perspective to your projects; however, they need to be utilized appropriately such that they produce the requisite outcomes.  

Looking at your on-going projects, are you changing or transforming? Let me know via Twitter @DrTomTonkin --  #ChangeManagement or #Transformation.