Organizational Transformation Is an Emotional Journey - Deepstash
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Leading a successful organisational transformation

Leading a successful organisational transformation

The road is full of failed transformation programs: Leaders define objectives, design a project plan, agree on KPIs, and recruit the right people. Yet the failure rate in transformations is far too high and one that organisations can't afford.

For a transformation to be successful, leaders should approach it in ways designed to mitigate emotional harm to employees.


134 reads

What makes transformations successful

What makes transformations successful

Research shows that leaders and workers start transformations excited and optimistic. But as the transformations get rolling, they all show reduced positive emotions and increased negative emotions.

All transformations are difficult, and confidence is bound to dip. Yet this is key to the transformation's success. The heightened stress raises performance, and leaders who learn from their emotions use those lessons in their transformation. This maintains high performance. 


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What makes transformations unsuccessful

Leaders must create psychological safety and mechanisms for all voices to be heard. Without psychological safety and support, workers feel anxious and overworked. Moreover, workers lose faith in transformation when there's no compelling vision, visible progress, or practical and emotional support from leaders.

When leaders themselves lose faith in the transformation, they may become distant, look to reduce damage to their own brands and jump to different activities.


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Seven steps for a successful transformation

Failed transformation can lead to employees suffering emotional damage, losing confidence in leaders, and becoming sceptical of further attempts at transformation.

Ways to set transformation up for success by prioritising their employees' emotions.

  1. Address the unsustainable status quo.
  2. Detach from the status quo.
  3. Develop a purposeful vision.
  4. Lead emotional transformation.
  5.  Include both the rational and emotional. 
  6. Align KPIs, funding, resources, and people.
  7. Make transformation the new normal.


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1. Address the unsustainable status quo

Any transformation begins by recognising that the status quo is unsustainable. It means working on yourself first and starting a transformational emotional journey. 

Understanding the unsustainability of the status quo means putting yourself as a leader in a separate place to see yourself, your company and from where you operate differently.


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2. Detach from the status quo

2. Detach from the status quo

Embrace the unknown and adopt the humility required to challenge your mindsets and assumptions about your company, its current ways of working, the industry and what will result in success.

  • Be open to learning.
  • Lean into the emotions of anxiety, fear, and excitement.
  • Understand the system you're in, how it's changing and what opportunities and risks are being created.
  • Expose yourself to new ideas that will inform and structure the future of your industry and company.


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3. Develop a purposeful vision

3. Develop a purposeful vision

Embracing the unknown and adopting humility helps you to create a vision because you can see more clearly what needs to change and why. 

You can then imagine how you might create value differently at a functional, product and service, or even entire business model level.


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4. Lead emotional transformation

Transformation is both exciting and unsettling for employees. For example, they can't see how their skills will be relevant. Therefore, it is essential to address these emotions. Formal conversations will help them to work through their anxiety and fear of the unknown.

Yet, listening skills are just as important:

  • Encourage emotional awareness and expression through simple questions such as, “What are you feeling? Can you tell me more about that?”
  • Paraphrase what you think you’ve heard to facilitate emotional regulation.
  • Create workshops that enable active reflection on emotions.


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5. Include both the rational and emotional

When executives begin a transformation, they will reach for a project plan that focuses on a rational understanding of how long it will take to deliver key activities. These plans are often overly ambitious and miss the critical listening component, which causes the process to slow down. 

Conduct one-on-one listening exercises as well as in small groups and workshops to help leaders and employees understand their own purpose and how they are part of the bigger purpose.


49 reads

6. Align KPIs, funding, resources, and people

Employees may find the reality of major shifts in KPIs, performance management, funding, and resources difficult. Their lack of belief in the transformation becomes real as they lose power, status and even their roles.

Losing people is inevitable in a successful transformation, but research shows that making practical decisions sooner enables people to move from one emotional state to another.


49 reads

7. Make transformation the new normal

7. Make transformation the new normal

The old model of predictability, stability and hierarchy was the norm in many organisations. However, stakeholders demand a more "organic" organisation where continual transformation is the norm.

Enabling transformation requires giving employees the information and resources they need to develop and innovate in other directions.


53 reads



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