• Chris Bevan

Change is not transformation

“Transformation” and “Change” are used as interchangeable terms. “Well it's all the same really, isn’t it,” someone said to me last week. Well actually it isn’t, and, in my opinion, language is important because it paints pictures (sometimes nightmares) for people. So, it is important that we are speaking the same language, painting the same picture.

I offer the following as a way of describing the difference and establishing a point of reference :


If a company’s current operating model will support the achievement of its strategic ambition but it needs to be more efficient, I would describe this as incremental change. Each function may have a continuous improvement programme and in the main, the change is confined to a function or department. A central “Change” function might provide experts in tools and techniques, but the focus of the change is local. CHANGE

If a company’s current operating model will support the achievement of its strategic ambition but it needs to be more effective by taking complexity out of its operation, complexity that has built up over time by the application of “tweaks” to the current operation, I would describe this as “Change.” It could well have elements of transformation in it, e.g. transforming an IT system, but the operating model is not changing. It is important to understand where the focus of the change is and what impact it has up stream and downstream. I don’t wish to minimise the potential impact or benefit of the change. TRANSFORMATION

When a company’s operating model will not support the realisation of its strategic ambition and needs the development of a new operating model, then for me, this is transformation. Transforming the operating model, the capabilities, outcomes, technology, structures etc. This is enterprise wide and the time horizon required will be large. The achievement of the outcomes and benefit may take place through two or three transition states which need to be articulated through the operating model design.

Why is this important? In my experience the starting point for companies to identify the need for external help, usually a Transformation Director or Programme / Portfolio Director, is once a strategy refresh has been completed and several programmes have been set up and there is a perceived need for an experienced individual to execute the Portfolio. This is where the problems start. What is the Portfolio delivering? What outcomes, what capabilities? Are we trying to reduce complexity or are we trying to build a new way of operating? Without having established which of the three definitions described above are at play we can’t set the context within which we can design the end game that the portfolio needs to deliver. There is also the need to use the appropriate approach and without having defined what scale of change we are embarking on we can’t define the appropriate approach. Let’s not forget, one size doesn’t fit all. So, let’s be clear from the outset about what type of change we are embarking on. There will be enough headwinds coming down the track which will try and blow us off course, so let’s ensure that the appropriate approach is used, and we set the programme up for success from the start.

Chris Bevan is a Co-founder of Outvie Consulting and an expert in leading large scale business transformation.

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