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2019 NDMA Inc.
Excerpt from WWW.NDMA.COM, © 2019 N. Dean Meyer and Associates Inc.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs)
ON ORGANIZATIONAL STRATEGY
AND TRANSFORMATION PLANNING

  1. How do you define the word "transformation"?

  2. Should an organizational strategy be based on a business strategy?

  3. How long does it typically take to implement an organizational strategy (a transformation)?

  4. What can I do if my situation isn't conducive to a big vision or a long-term strategy?

  5. How can I learn to identify the root causes of performance problems?

  6. What are the steps involved in planning a transformation?

  7. Should an organizational transformation be led by Human Resources (HR)?

  8. What is the proper role for a consultant in an organizational transformation process?


Suggest another question and get a personal response....


  1. How do you define the word "transformation"?
  2. The word "transformation" means a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance [Oxford] or a change in form, appearance, nature, or character [Dictionary.com].

    The word might be applied to organizations in at least two different contexts:

    • Business strategies: a materially different business strategy that sends the organization in a different direction (the "what").

    • Organization: a qualitatively different way of operating (the "how").

    We use "transformation" to refer to organizational changes.

    To be called a transformation, the changes have to be more lasting than a big project, some new technologies, or replacing some executives.

    And the changes must be more significant than adding a function or new service to the organization's catalog.

    A real transformation fundamentally changes how an organization operates. A real transformation leaves the legacy of an organization designed from the ground up to succeed at its myriad missions. It's efficient, reliable, innovative, strategic, customer focused, empowered, and more.

    In short, it's the supplier of choice to its internal and external customers, and the employer of choice to its staff.

    At NDMA, we help executives transform organizations from the traditional paradigm of managers controlling resources and processes to internal entrepreneurs running businesses within a business. That change has profound impacts on every aspect of an organization's operations, and augments every aspect of its performance. It's truly transformational.

    More on the business-within-a-business paradigm....

    Speech (or executive briefing) on how to be a transformational leader....

  3. Should an organizational strategy be based on a business strategy?
  4. Absolutely not!

    Business strategies are not simple, stable, and long term. Strategies are multi-faceted (plural, not singular), and can (indeed, should) shift rapidly due to competitive threats, new business opportunities, a volatile economy, new regulations, technology innovations, changes in your customers' industries, etc.

    You can't afford to rethink the way an organization operates every time strategies change. But if you don't, a structure tuned to today's strategies is likely to perform poorly at tomorrow's strategies.

    Perhaps worse, an organization designed around today's strategies may fail to discover tomorrow's strategies.

    A well-designed organization continually generates its own business strategies. And it continually assesses its customers' strategies and identifies high-payoff opportunities for its products and services.

    An organizational strategy has to assume a volatile world, and develop an organization that's agile, responsive, and capable of pursuing any strategies the future might bring.

    More on organizational strategy....

  5. How long does it typically take to implement an organizational strategy (a transformation)?
  6. You won't like this answer. But the truth is, a real organizational transformation requires four to five years, followed by a period of stability to institutionalize the changes.

    That doesn't mean you won't see any payoff for five years. Each step in the strategy -- be it structure, the internal economy, culture, or another organizational system -- brings benefits. And each step builds on prior steps, amplifying prior benefits.

    "Keep your eyes on the stars,
    and your feet on the ground."
    Theodore Roosevelt

    Consider Teddy Roosevelt's admonition, "Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground." A great leader has an ambitious vision of the future -- the stretch assignment. But that vision is implemented in practical steps, each of which is justifiable on its own.

    The vision inspires people, and it guides each step toward a consistent end-state. (A vision that can be attained quickly probably isn't very visionary!)

    Meanwhile, the step-by-step approach is pragmatic. It works within the limits of the organization's affordability and climate for change.

    More on organizational strategy and transformation planning....

  7. What can I do if my situation isn't conducive to a big vision or a long-term strategy?
  8. Not every enterprise welcomes a visionary, transformational leader -- even one who's pragmatic about implementing the vision in a step-by-step manner.

    But that doesn't mean that a leader shouldn't bother to develop a vision and a multi-year organizational strategy.

    You know the saying, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will do." A vision guides each small change toward a consistent end-state.

    And putting some effort into planning a multi-year strategy ensures that each small step you take is the right one. It addresses your most pressing needs. But knowing what else is to come later in your plan, today's small step doesn't attempt to address problems whose root cause is some other organizational system, which always creates new problems.

    And an organizational strategy helps you get those small steps into the right sequence. A change can fail if prerequisites aren't in place -- that is, if a step in your plan is done prematurely, before you've built the necessary foundations.

    More on organizational strategy and transformation planning....

    A great leader in any environment has a vision and a long-term plan. The only difference in a conservative, risk-averse enterprise is that you may not want to advertise them. Communications can focus on just the next step and all the benefits it alone will bring.

    By the way, in such an environment, it may be best to develop your vision and plan privately, perhaps with the help of an executive coach, but without the widespread involvement of your leadership team.

    More on executive coaching on organizational strategy....

  9. How can I learn to identify the root causes of performance problems?
  10. Nobody likes to solve the same problem again and again. A great leader focuses on root causes, not symptoms, and fixes problems once and for all.

    Root causes are found in the system of influences (the organizational ecosystem) that cause good people to perform poorly or do the wrong things.

    More on the organizational ecosystem that influences behaviors....

    How can you learn to examine a symptom (a problem) and identify its root causes?

    First, study the five organizational systems that comprise the organizational ecosystem. You can get executive overviews on this web site, or read the book, RoadMap: how to understand, diagnose, and fix your organization.

    Overview on this web site....

    Book on organizational systems....

    Next, you can get some practice (and perhaps some useful insights into your own concerns) by playing with a free interactive tool -- an expert system that translates symptoms into root causes in those five organizational systems.

    Free expert system that translates symptoms into root causes....

    Of course, the best way to learn is to do it.

    List your top concerns. Then, arrange a conversation with an organizational expert to discuss why these issues are arising. And listen carefully to his/her thought process as together you drill down to the root cause of your concerns.

    In doing so, you'll solve some problems while learning the thought process behind root-cause analysis.

    More on executive coaching on organizational strategy issues....

  11. What are the steps involved in planning a transformation?
  12. Your first step is to decide whether you'll engage your leadership team in a participative planning process, or develop the plan yourself (and then communicate it, of course).

    This taps their knowledge of the organization's problems and opportunities, and builds their understanding of, and commitment to, the plan. But it takes time.

    The next step is to establish the three essential elements of a conducive climate for change: a burning platform, the vision, and the plan.

    The three elements of a conducive climate for change....

    In the planning process, you'll identify the problems, diagnose their root causes, and determine a sequence of organizational changes that will solve those problems and build your vision of a high-performing organization.

    Steps in planning your organizational strategy....

    And as you sequence those root causes into a plan, remember to consider not only your sense of urgency, but also the interdependencies among the five organizational systems.

    Resources that can help you include:

  13. Should an organizational transformation be led by Human Resources (HR)?
  14. The mission of a Human Resources function is to facilitate every aspect of the employment relationship, from hiring to end-of-employment.

    In itself, this mission does not include expertise in engineering the five organizational systems.

    More on the five organizational systems....

    Of course HR must be involved in organizational restructurings, at a minimum to ensure compliance with HR policies and to facilitate changes in the employment relationship such as job descriptions, job grades and titles, and the HR information system.

    Beyond that, many HR departments include an Organizational Development (OD) function that develops people's supervisory and teaming skills. OD can help facilitate the change-management aspects of a transformation. But these professionals are not trained to teach and facilitate design processes. OD isn't the same as Organizational Engineering (OE).

    Rarely, an HR department includes an "OE" function. But most interpret this as "organizational effectiveness" (not organizational engineering), and its staff are trained to facilitate traditional process engineering. Few have studied the broader scope of engineering all five organizational systems.

    An HR department could establish a true Organizational Engineering function. But it's not necessarily the right place in the enterprise to put it.

    HR is an internal service provider that, by its nature, prefers stability.

    More on Service Providers and stability....

    Organizational Engineering is a transformation function, the antithesis of stability. If placed under HR, it tends to be more conservative, avoiding major changes that disrupt traditional HR policies.

    More on structural conflicts of interests....

    If you're starting up a new OE function, unless you have an exceptional HR leader, a better place to put it is alongside transformation-oriented functions like business planning or business development.

    More on the transformation-oriented "Coordinator" functions....

  15. What is the proper role for a consultant in an organizational transformation process?
  16. I believe it makes no sense to pay a consultant to study what you already know, and then make your decisions for you.

    And yet, that's the traditional consulting model. A team of consultants analyzes your situation, and then writes a report with recommendations (most of which involve additional consulting services to implement them).

    A better role for a consultant is to share what he/she knows and guide you through a process of making your own decisions -- to teach and facilitate.

    To teach and facilitate, the consultant should be an expert in organizational engineering. His/her first job is to teach you and your leadership team the relevant principles and frameworks.

    The consultant should also be experienced in implementation processes, and able to guide you and your leadership team through a proven, step-by-step process that leads you to make your own decisions, in the right order, and to implement those decisions yourself.

    This teach-and-facilitate approach has many advantages:

    • Decisions are based on the in-depth knowledge of your leadership team.

    • Leaders gain a deep understanding of the changes, which is necessary for them to adopt them and lead the rest of your staff to work in new ways.

    • Participation builds commitment, since people will support implementing decisions they made.

    • It's generally less costly to hire even a very senior expert to personally guide you through change processes, as compared with a team of many junior consultants who are there for months studying and analyzing you, selling you on their recommendations, and then doing much of the work to implement those recommendations.

    • You avoid ongoing dependence on consultants. As a consultant, I believe my job is to work myself out of a job by building self-sufficient leadership teams.

    What's the down-side? Real change comes from within; but you and your leadership team have to invest the time to drive it.

    "When you're up to your neck in alligators,
    it's easy to forget you came to drain the swamp."
    1970s adage

    You'll have to divert time from "managing" to "leading" -- from guiding projects, making tactical decisions, and overseeing staff, to building your organizational ecosystem -- from fighting alligators to draining the swamp.

    We've found that most leadership teams rise to the occasion. In fact, numerous executives have cited a collateral benefit of forcing senior managers to delegate more, reducing micro-management, enhancing strategic thinking, and developing the next generation of leaders.

    More on organizational strategy and transformation....


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