The Difference Between Change and Transformation

Change uses external influences to modify actions, but transformation modifies beliefs so actions become natural and thereby achieve the desired result.

By John Palinkas

Over the past few years, “transformation” has become the new buzzword replacing good, old, ordinary “change.” People use the two terms interchangeably, but are they really the same?

Look up “change” in a dictionary. It is described as “to substitute or replace something.” “Transformation,” on the other hand, is defined as “a complete change, usually into something with an improved appearance or usefulness.”  There is definitely a lot of similarity. And the results may look exactly alike to an outside observer. So what is the difference? And why is it important?

CHANGE can be small and incremental, or it can be large and complex. But it is something that needs to be constantly monitored and maintained. Think of all of the change management processes and procedures in an IT organization. You do not put them in place and hope for the best. (Well, some groups do, but that is a different article.) Every one of these processes has an owner and metrics and involves continual improvements. A conscious external effort is needed to maintain the actions required to achieve the desired result.

TRANSFORMATION is almost always large and significant. Transformation is an internal fundamental change in your beliefs of why you perform certain actions. Transformation does not require any external influence to maintain, and because of its fundamental nature, transformation is more likely permanent.

Change is about using external influences to modify actions to achieve desired results. Transformation is about modifying beliefs so that natural actions achieve the desired results. Here is an example of why this difference is so important. A few years ago, we were asked to help an IT organization that had frequent service outages. The business units were unhappy, and IT management had failed with two prior change programs to resolve the issue. Yet by working with the IT team from a stance of transformation rather than change, we eliminated more than 90 percent of outages and more than two-thirds of emergency changes in less than six months.

What did we do differently? We recognized their people were passionate about service delivery. They became great firefighters out of necessity in order to ensure good service. We showed them that to deliver excellent service, they needed to become “fire preventers.” We helped them change their beliefs about how to provide excellent service, and their new, altered actions achieved the desired results. The prior two efforts had changed processes and procedures without ever addressing the employees’ basic beliefs that good service meant being a good firefighter. The two change programs had failed where the transformation program succeeded.

IT organizations have been successfully executing change programs for decades. Yet, some of them do not achieve the desired results or they simply fail outright. Why? Think about your unsuccessful change programs. Were you trying to use standard change management program principles when what was actually needed was a fundamental change in beliefs?

Before you launch your next change program, consider the following three questions:

·         Will just following new processes and procedures achieve the intended results?

·         Are monitoring and metrics enough to maintain the desired state?

·         Do your people have a fundamental belief that is not in line with your desired end state?

For decades IT organizations have talked about “people, process and technology.” It is time that we pay attention to the people and their culture.


About the Author

John Palinkas is a partner at The IT Transformation Institute. ITTI is a catalyst for transforming the IT industry. ITTI helps change the DNA of IT teams, solving today’s problems and breaking the cycles that led to them, and to create next-generation IT organizations. John has spent more than three decades in the IT services industry, working with industry leaders like AT&T, AT&T Solutions and British Telecom. He has led numerous multimillion dollar, multiyear outsourcing and service-delivery engagements for dozens of Fortune 500 firms. He has extensive experience and expertise in IT transformation efforts, outsourcing analysis, M&A integrations and service implementations. He can be reached via email at John.Palinkas@TransformingIT.org, and you can follow him on Twitter via @jpalinkas.

This article was originally published on 06-28-2013
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