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The Transformation Checklist – we’re only about 10% of the way there…

The Transformation Checklist
– we’re only about 10% of the way there…

Used with permission of the author:
Author: Andrew Hofmeyrandrew@bused.co.za
Business Education Design (Pty.) Ltd.www.bused.co.za
30 April 2007

So you’ve ‘done’ transformation and are now waiting for things to get better? Better have a good book handy – it’s going to be a long wait. The problem with transformation is that we’re still not quite sure what it is, what it’s supposed to achieve, how it will achieve whatever it’s supposed to achieve, and how we’ll know when it’s happened.

The challenge is that there are in fact two, related aspects of transformation – structural transformation and process transformation - and the one won’t work without the other. South African corporations have focused almost exclusively on structural transformation (downsizing, flattening and so on). Not surprising, really - it’s the easier to achieve. However, without a concomitant transformation of the organisation’s behaviour and processes, structural transformation is rather like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The thing will look better, but it will still go down.


Structural transformation has no value in itself. It is something that becomes necessary when organisations start operating in new, more dynamic ways. The improved business performance comes from new ways of behaving, not just having new structures within which to behave in old ways.

As can be seen in the model below, transformation is a combination of structural and behavioural issues. Examine each and decide how much real transformation your organisation has achieved.













Departmental behaviour


Independent silos

Co-operating business teams

Leadership style







Ownership and understanding





Decision making








Business understanding




Our ability to go the full distance with our transformation is limited by a number of problems, some a matter of understanding and others a matter of courage.

Decision-making and responsibility.We are loath to give up decision-making and responsibility because, quite simply, we don’t trust those below us not to make a hash of things. Understandable. Given a history of not training lower level staff in the logic of business, we can be forgiven for not having faith in their ability to make sound business decisions.

Motivation, leadership style and departmental behaviour.Put bluntly, most managers don’t believe that their staff can be intrinsically motivated. So we continue with autocratic leadership and motivation through the carrot and stick approach, in defiance of research indicating that the approach is not really sustainable. In an ethos of fear and confrontation, departments then act as if they were enemies, rather than internal customers and suppliers. Pass the buck and duck the blame tends to be the dominant theme. Our organisations are thus too often characterised by vertical and horizontal wars.

In summary, most South African organisations have simply restructured, without changing the business behaviours and relationships that are supposed to drive structural change. The irony, of course, is that the new structures are incompatible with the old behaviours. We would have done better to stick with the old structures, if we are not going to go the full distance.

What, then, is the solution? If we are going to enter the new millennium anywhere near our trading partners’ new business approaches, we have to transform properly. This entails doing business differently – providing staff throughout the organisation with the understanding of business and its value to them, that will provide sustainable motivation; forging new relationships between levels and departments – relationships based on solving business challenges, rather than settling old scores; leading by being part of an operational team, rather than a distant despot. At the heart of all of this is a shared, organisation-wide understanding of the real stuff of business.

What is encouraging is that this approach can work – yes, even here. Research done by Dr Gillian Godsell1 on organisations that have opted for creating organisation-wide business understanding found that staff developed:

  • Improved understanding of business principles, and a desire to apply these principles to the their own jobs
  • Improved teamwork and willingness to share tasks, as well as increased productivity
  • Improved understanding and appreciation of the role of management
  • A reduction in conflict in the work situation
  • Innovative ideas and efforts to implement cost savings
  • A greater sense of ownership of and responsibility for their own work
  • Increased enthusiasm and improved co-operation
  • Demonstration of an active, "owning", understanding of their work
  • A greater sense of responsibility, increased enthusiasm, and improved co-operation
  • Greater satisfaction from and a growing sense of competence in their work

Where an ethos such as that described in the research dominates, organisations can really transform – creating entirely new internal business behaviours and relationships. Yes, and then if necessary, the structures can be productively changed to match the new behaviours.

1 Research done by Dr Gillian Godsell - Formal Impact Studies: Team Business Longitudinal Impact Study

Andrew Hofmeyr (BA, HDE (PG), BEd. Med, MBA) lectured in educational theory at the Johannesburg College of Education and the University of the Witwatersrand from 1977 to 1992. During that time he studied research methodology and educational technology on an international fellowship at the University of Surrey, UK. He is a founder member of Business Education Design, whose training programmes are used by leading corporations and business schools in South Africa and the USA. He can be contacted at andrew@bused.co.za and at the Business Education Design website www.bused.co.za.

Short summary
Transformation in the structures of an organisation without transformation in corporate culture and behaviour is in vain.

Keywords and relevant phrases
Accountability, autocratic leadership, behaviour, business understanding, communication, confrontation, co-operation, corporate culture, decision making, downsizing, enthusiasm, ethos, fear, flattening structures, focus, internal customers, internal suppliers, leadership style, motivation, ownership, participation, process transformation, responsibility, structural transformation, sustainable development, talent management, teamwork, transformation, trust.  

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