Updated: May 5
As I walked in a new client’s place a few years ago to help with their brand-new organizational transformation, I started asking a few leaders what their transformation was about. Unsurprisingly, I received wildly different answers.
Major change initiatives and transformations typically arise in multiple parts of the organization.
That’s perfectly understandable, because major change initiatives and transformations typically arise in multiple parts of the organization in response, or in anticipation, to domain-specific opportunities and threats. For example, IT might start a major AI and data analytics program, while a line of business might focus on innovative product development, and at the same time HR would initiate a culture shift to improve retention.
In many organizations, top management would let these transformations run for some time and then would eventually decide to consolidate them or at least coordinate the efforts. This is the typical genesis of a Transformation Office.
The Transformation Office's first challenge is to organize these disparate initiatives into a coherent whole.
As the Transformation Office inherits a bunch of change initiatives and transformations at the time of its creation, its first challenge is to organize these disparate initiatives as a coherent whole.
It would be tempting to conclude that lack of coherence is a communication problem. Not even close. It is first and foremost a leadership challenge: the leaders and key stakeholders of the transformation initiatives must ensure alignment by converging to a single mission for the Transformation Office, based on agreed-upon answers to three foundational questions:
What is the vision of the transformation and its expected benefits?
To achieve this vision, what would be the organizational scope of the transformation?
And finally, where could we start and what would be the high-level orientation to move toward the vision?
Fortunately, there’s a no nonsense innovative visual canvas, named the Transformation Alignment Canvas, that does just that by helping transformation leaders explore three inter-related dimensions:
Organizational scale: How much of the organization is part of the transformation? Are we talking about single function, somewhat transversal, or whole enterprise?
Cultural depth: How deep is the change? Are we talking about ways of working, governance, leadership habits, or organization’s DNA?
Expected benefits: What benefits are we expecting? Some local efficiency, workforce engagement, business adaptability, or becoming an innovator and disruptor?
The Transformation Alignment Canvas helps navigate these three dimensions. As the organizational scale and depth increase, so does the potential benefits (the arrow going from lower-left to upper-right). The canvas below has been labeled for transformation towards organizational agility, but it’s straightforward for the Transformation Office to customize it for any type of transformation.
Several transformations I’ve taken part in would have tremendously benefitted from a conversation around this canvas. One example that comes to mind is when I was with a group of agile experts in an agile center of excellence. At the inception, internal discussions among agile experts focused on broad and deep organizational changes such as the evolution of leadership culture, the creation of value streams, and major role overhaul. Our key stakeholders agreed on these ideas but their expectations were actually much more mundane: having a pool of agile coaches they could pick from to make their IT projects more agile.
It took several months of running in circle before they realized that the words “agile transformation” didn’t have the same meaning for both parties. Later, after my engagement with this client ended, their agile center of excellence effectively became a pool of agile project coaches. And that’s perfectly ok. But it would have been great to discover the objective much earlier.
If we had used the Transformation Alignment Canvas, this is probably what it would have looked like at the time the two parties realized their misalignment.
In one memorable workshop with an other client, the first participant who entered the room believed that the transformation was mostly about changing the portfolio and project management processes, whereas the second participant thought it was all about culture, and the third one was under the impression that it was centered on creating a value stream for their new product line. They’ve all freely used the word “transformation” for months but never realized they each had something different in mind. As you can imagine, the first hour of conversation was very awkward although extremely useful.
The Transformation Alignment Canvas helped de-personalize and accelerate the convergence of the various points of view to something everyone could endorse.
The canvas greatly helped to de-personalize and accelerate the convergence of the various points of view toward something everyone could endorse. At the end of the Transformation Office workshop, they decided with one voice to move a significant part of the company toward end-to-end multidisciplinary teams, complete with overhauled management, governance, and the required evolution of leadership. Similarly, the stakeholders agreed on expected benefits that were realistic with the chosen scale and depth, namely the acceleration of delivery and a modest improvement of business adaptability and innovation.
Here is what the canvas looked like.
Note that the Transformation Alignment Canvas does not singlehandedly provide the solution. The Transformation Office’s alignment occurs when the right stakeholders have an open conversation around the canvas.
The Transformation Alignment Canvas works because it is simple and focuses on the top three dimensions of organizational scale, depth, and benefits. We might argue that there are other critical aspects of transformation that the Transformation Office has to deal with, such as vision and the prioritization of transformation initiatives. That’s true, but in my experience, it’s often this initial alignment that’s missing. The vision is too broad to clearly convey the organizational scope and boundaries of the transformation, and the prioritization of initiatives will not ensure convergence and coherence if the discussion has not happened.
All in all, it is a simple, powerful, and versatile tool. Although we present it here in the context of starting a transformation effort, it can very well be used to review the coherence of your ongoing transformation.
Bruno Collet advises and coaches leaders to develop the individual and organizational capability to anticipate and react to changes better and faster. In one word: Agility. His approach relies on action-learning with concrete practices, skills and behaviors. Bruno Collet executed top-level missions with several organizations internationally. He is also a recognized speaker, author and is accredited ICAgile instructor. Bruno Collet holds an MBA, MSc., as well as several certifications such as PMP, PMI-ACP, ICP-LEA (Leading with Agility), ICP-ORG (Adaptive Organization), ICP-ENT (Enterprise Coaching) and ICP-AHR (Agile Human Resources).