Over the period of my career, I have come across managers and industry speakers who have used the words “Change Management” and “Transformation” interchangeably when referring to the re-routing of an organizational policy/procedure.

I have found this slightly peculiar and often wondered if these terms are in fact synonyms – or – if they are fundamentally different from each other - in regards to the overall concept of, well, “Change Management”?
Let’s start with the actual definition of these expressions.

Change Management is referred to the execution of limited initiatives that may or may not be affected across a company. The laser beam concentration here is on implementing a distinct modification in the way things function. This is not to suggest that such undertaking is simple in any way – on the contrary, Change Management is tasking and involves erudite skill.

Let me use a hypothetical situation. Let’s say Apple decides to assimilate its expert engineers into its existing provincial sales team. As you would expect, this would mean an alteration in job roles, client reach, wages, prioritization of objectives, and team dynamics. Such a modification would affect a lot people.

Considering that your role as a Procurement Manager (which involves implementing change and developing new processes to better procure goods and services), you would apply well known change management principles and tools – such as developing a compelling business case, whipping support from senior management, engaging external clients (such as stakeholders and/or suppliers), and establishing clear results to name a few – all in effort to establish a new sales tactic. If successfully executed it would lead to noticeable improvements in return on investment.

Transformation on the other hand is a completely different kettle of fish. Dissimilar from change management, it isn’t aimed at creating a few discrete and well-defined shifts. It is, however, focused on an assortment of codependent and overlapping proposals.

Essentially, the primary objective with transformation isn’t just to execute a specific change, it involves a complete organisational overhaul – one that aims to reinvent the company and uncover a novel business model rooted in a redefined vision for the future.

With such profoundness, it is much more arbitrary, iterative, experimental and involves heightened risk.

Another imaginary scenario - if Microsoft supposedly decided to release an almost identical and cheaper version of the iPhone, for instance, and Apple realised that such product was seriously cannibalizing their entire mobile phone sales, I would assume that Tim Cook would sue Microsoft for everything they own (let’s face it that’s been Apple’s ammo since day one) – and, launch a transformation plan with the aim of articulating a much more sustainable business model – one that includes a laundry list of radical initiatives and not just a slight change. Whether or not this radical change would be successful is not specified – it is the inherent risk associated with transformation.

While these two ideologies involve basic change management disciplines and other best practices, ultimately, the uncertainty associated with transformation (which as is a process of discovery and experimentation) is what sets it apart from change management (which is associated with making discreetly defined modifications geared towards a specific and anticipated outcomes).

As you can see, these two ideologies are not the same and shouldn’t be used as replacements. With any luck, the next time you’re referring to either of the concepts, you’re using them in their right form.

Written by Sandra McLeod @Locomote

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