Transformation is the only certainty

In my profession where I consult and actively support companies in their transformation steps, I am often surprised to find that certain leaders still see transformation as a project. Something with an upfront defined end date and a finish line.  And in my experience as an HR responsible either HR is looked at to ensure transformation is easily digested or a separate department is created because HR does not hold the right seat at the table to promote, secure and expand transformational thinking and acting.

When I break the news to them that there is no finish line and that they should brace themselves for the eternal culture of transformation with the change in mindset and the consequences it brings, I know that I am not likely to get the assignment easily .

And yet, I honestly believe that transformation is the only natural certainty a company (and even every human being) should embrace.  Progress is build on the ultimate capability to transform and continuously challenge your status quo.  A journey to Ithaca and a lot of cross roads. Not always easy and relationships will alter; however the journey continues and there will be lots of beautiful satisfying moments.  For that you need to ensure that HR has its seat at the table (by preference quite close to the centre), that the tools are available and that there is enough oxygen and time to be invested.  Perfect is the worst enemy of good to great.  As in running, steps matter, one following the other.

The necessity to make choices

Personally, I first came across the “there is no finish line”-statement almost 40 years ago; printed on a t-shirt in the window of the local sports store. I recall it to be light grey, picturing a blue halo and the eternal runner and those five simple words: There is no finish line. And be sure it had appeal.  But I was naïve – as I still sometimes tend to be.  It is not the t-shirt that runs the track; it is the runner.

In the years since I often cursed and wished someone had gone through the effort to put that finish line somewhere.  But no one did so you kept going, aiming for a finish line.  It is only by experience that you learn, often the hard way, that goal and finish line are two different things. And there you have the cross-roads popping up.  And with them the necessity to make choices.  Choices, they have consequences – sometimes with a direct impact but more likely in a far future.  Inherent there is the risk of making a wrong choice, picking the wrong path and being punished for it.  One could postpone the choice by turning a crossroad into a roundabout but even then, you cannot keep running in circles on a roundabout.  Risk limitation and coping with fear are essential when engaging on a transformation journey as are learning from failures and growing from successes.  This requires quite some trust and guidance.  In my experience; this is the area where the impact of HR is at its pinnacle.

No finish line to learning

During your studies you receive a lot of teaching and maybe, from time to time, you even learn something valuable  – in many different ways.  To later find out that what you take for solid knowledge is a misleading vanity. You never really know. That the knowledge you gain is outdated by the ever changing context we live and operate in.  This can make you doubt your own capabilities.  Worst case, you submit, you go with the flow and consume what comes your way.

Likely for those who reading this article, you opted for the best case. You keep studying, you keep your mind sharp and try to broaden it. You meet other people, different people and confront what you hold for truth with other points of view, other cultures, opposite opinions. You shake off what was once a heritage version of life.  You travel the world and enjoy the luxury of being part of an international culture where differences fade and you link to what connects cross borders. Albeit borders often hit you as states, organisational structures and the way people think is often defined by borders.  You stretch yourself to be able to absorb as much as possible and digest it.  You deeply envy those who wanted to know everything about everything (and came pretty close to it for the purposes they needed) only to realise that there are so many you don’t even know of.  You start to understand that to be or stay relevant there is no end, no finish line defined for curiosity, for eagerness and for willingness to learn.

My mother thought us that the more languages you speak the more times you become a human being as every language holds a treasure reflections of a people’s history and culture.  She also emphasized we should not just speak a language but think in it before saying anything.  Story telling in a foreign language and dance to the rhythm of it. Cultural empathy we could say; she called it common sense.

HR as the running partner

But it is a lot…and still not finish line in sight.  One needs to digest; reflect; translate to the set of values and frame one has and re-scope.  And while doing that the context is reorganising itself around you.  Unforeseen events – for the good or the worse – impact us professionally and personally.  That takes effort and is not something one should do on your own.  Like the runner only few are made to do it all by themselves; most benefit from a running partner, a coach, someone there  to cheer for you or to tell you not to give up.  Someone at the crossings pointing you in a possible direction.  Companies have exactly the same needs.  I notice that far too often assignments are safely defined in role descriptions and expectations – not unlikely according to the same boxes that need to be challenged.  Let’s try to solve our issues by bringing the same type of solution (person) on board that already failed.  It is as if one prefers to remain with the known problem rather than the untried approach.  Here the role of HR is essential.  Being the contributing guide who removes boundaries; being present in the teams and supporting the first line people managers in the business.  In any transformation the role of HR is all but administrative.

Enjoy the run

Now, in retrospect, I am more than ever convinced there is no finish line nor that there should be one.  Every step you take is one to be enjoyed. And if circumstances don’t permit you to enjoy at least you learn from it; you discover new things, you grow, become more.  And one should enjoy the run.  Never run alone; find a running mate; build a team; attract the best coaches and the greatest fans.  Have fun; stop; sit and reflect when you lost it.  Take another road when you feel you need it.  Don’t let yourself be stopped by a wall; there is a road left and right – take one.  Do not look down on people who run differently: there are various disciplines.  Benefit from the knowledge others acquired, even or certainly when gained in other disciplines. They have experiences even the best mono-tracker will never have.

You don’t need a finish line to be successful.  You need perseverance, you need engagement, you need purpose, you need connection.  Discipline is not a curse; it is a health regime; a training for the muscle brain so you can enjoy the run.  Dare to lose it from time to time and enjoy that.  Share your experiences, not your selfies.  Embrace your challenges; your change; your success and defeats – you are (trans)forming.

And if you are HR: embrace people, embrace culture, support change and tear down the walls (you might want to pre-align that with Real estate first).  And if you need help or want to exchange ideas, contact me.