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Know the Difference Between Change and Transformation
Ron Ashkenas, a managing partner of Schaffer Consulting, observes that many organizations have failed to grasp the difference between change and transformation. In the Harvard Business Review he writes, "While we've actually come a long way in learning how to manage change, we continue to struggle with transformation." In his view, change management entails implementing finite initiatives that may or may not cut across an entire organization. The emphasis is on executing a well-defined shift in the way things work by applying such change management principles as building a coalition of leaders and executing with discipline. Examples of effective change management can range from implementing new personal productivity tools to shifting from decentralized to centralized marketing support.

By contrast, transformation does not focus on a handful of discrete, well-defined shifts, but rather on a portfolio of initiatives that are either interdependent or intersecting. The overall goal of transformation is to reinvent the organization and discover a new or revised operations model that is based on a vision for the future. When compared to change, Ashkenas says, "It [transformation] is much more unpredictable, iterative and experimental. It entails much higher risk. And even if successful change management leads to the execution of certain initiatives within the transformation portfolio, the overall transformation could still fail."

To successfully work through the transformation process, the organization's leadership must be flexible and able to dynamically coordinate resources. They also have to be able to be efficient at collaboration across boundaries, better at communication in the midst of uncertainty and able to prioritize and, in some cases, eliminate lower-value activities. Ashkenas concludes by stating that it is fairly easy to execute discrete changes. "What we know much less about is how to engineer a transformation," he writes. "And if we want to get better, let's at least start by being more clear about which one is which."
Harvard Business Review (01/15) Ashkenas, Ron
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FEBRUARY 2015 EDITION
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