The ROI of transformation : an disturbing truth

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Transformation is the word of the moment and it is as popular as it is scary. We are in a world where the transformations underway or to come are on every corner.

Digital transformation for companies and their employees under the pressure of technology, innovation and new behaviours and expectations of their employees and customers. Transformation of the state. Transformation of public policies. Transformation of society to adapt to today’s world. Ecological transformation. This is only an extract from the current topics, whether you find them relevant or not, anxiogenic or not.

But transforming oneself is complicated and logically before you start, you wonder what you have to gain

What transforming for ?

This is the first unavoidable question. We are changing because we have something to gain, of course. Hence the eternal questioning on the benefits and even the return on investment of transformation. Because if you have nothing to gain, why invest time, energy, money and get out of your comfort zone?

Why transform?

In fact, the question of “why” is ambivalent because we often confuse “why” (for what reasons) and “what for?” (for what benefits). Every individual is occupied, first and foremost, with his or her own personal interest and rather than looking at external factors about which we can do nothing, we look at our personal situation which is ultimately the thing over which we have (a little) power and which is the only thing that matters to us.

And here the “why” is of great importance in order to take a clear look at the “What for”.

As a matter of fact….

Transforming is not changing

In a company or any form of structure facing a transformation challenge, I systematically hear about change management and, over time, I have come to understand that it was totally inappropriate.

What is change? It means adapting to an evolution of the context, of the ecosystem. We remain in a known paradigm in which the rules of the game evolve. The framework remains, the way we evolve in it changes. We need to find new game systems to adapt to the rules.

What is transformation? It is about dealing with a paradigm shift. It’s not even understanding the rules of the game to find the right systems, it’s about being able to discover those rules. It is about fighting against your reflexes and mental systems. And once you have got used to the new paradigm, only then can you understand how to evolve within it.

Even if it’s a little bit of a caricature,  playing football and seeing a rule change… well, that’s change. For example, one adapts one’s game to the removal of the offside rule. Playing football on the moon or in weightlessness is first of all understanding that all the rules of physics on which we based the way we played no longer exist. First you have to apprehend the weightlessness before you ask yourself how you’re going to play.

Change, a question of performance

We can therefore see change as a performance issue. Adapt to stay or pass ahead of competitors, make the most of the new rules to create or maintain a competitive advantage. So logically, the question of profits or ROI is relevant as long as we do not lie about the figures, projections and expectations.

So transformation is a matter of what then?

If change is a question of performance, then what is transformation?

It’s a matter of survival. It is simply a matter of changing the paradigm, the change of world, which will then allow us to ask ourselves the question of how to be efficient there.

So what is the ROI of transformation?

Over time I ended up adopting a simple answer for all those who asked me what they should expect in terms of the benefits of their transformation. We were talking about digital, but I think it applies very well to more societal things.

“Nothing. Expect no other benefit from your transformation than your survival. Transforming yourself will not make you better or more successful than your competitors, it will just give you the right to continue to play against them. At best you will pass in front of those who will not change, but with all those who will have changed, you will find yourself at the same point. It is then up to you to recreate a competitive advantage in this new paradigm.

It is indeed a two-step mechanism: first, to change paradigm and only then to understand the performance factors that are specific to it. Thinking performance first leads to applying to a new world a system of thought adapted to the old one: most often it is obsolete and leads only to failure because everything is built on erroneous assumptions and therefore irrelevant logic.

The difficulty of transforming

Selling transformation is even more complicated than selling change. Requesting efforts with, on the other hand, maintaining the status quo or even a slight regression is anything but easy. Few people are willing to hear things like “it’s going to be hard but be happy, in the end you won’t have won anything but you’ll still be alive”.

This is the logic of all the transformations we face as professionals, individuals, citizens or humans. And certainly the reason why few really get involved and/or the results are disappointing.

Photo : une vérité qui dérange by rangizzz via Shutterstock