In today’s world, transformation is often a desired end. We know that to advance as individuals, in our organizations and in our communities often requires us to change form. Survival, and thriving, in our growing complex world, requires many mutations and reinventions of ourselves over our lifetimes. Organization leaders are aware of this need, as evidenced in the constant calls for transformation all around us. Community engagements are increasing as people collaborate to find new answers to seemingly intractable challenges and the emerging opportunities of our fourth industrial revolution. As with any transformative journey, however, the process itself can be a daunting task. In addition, many espouse to want transformation, but often do not really know what they are asking for or how to get there. This is an issue I exemplify in the title of a workshop I often do: I want Transformative Change, Now Send me a Briefing Note! While briefing notes are useful, they often do not and cannot be used to synthesize transformative change processes and outcomes that are unknown and unknowable. In my experience, while context defers across the private, public and social sectors, the key processes for arriving at transformation are the same.

What does Transformation mean anyway?

[n] Trans.Form.

To change form.

A look through definitions of transformation shows two key characteristics. First, transformation requires a permanent and dramatic change in form and second, it defines the change process by which A becomes B. As I’ve defined elsewhere, “a transformational change represents change that fundamentally shifts ‘how we think,’ ‘how we do our work,’ and ‘who we are’ in organizations. It is a shift in the collective organizing premises and identity of organizations, relative to the ‘thinking,’ ‘being,’ and ‘doing’ of individuals within the organization system.[i]” The million-dollar question for leaders in organizations and society is: How do you effectively facilitate transformations that result in the desired outcomes when the evidence continues to show that most transformation effects fail?

A Resonance Transformation Framework

In the book Dialogic Organization Development: The Theory and Practice of Transformative Change, I describe how practitioners might guide clients through the learning journey required for leading transformations in the three stages of Initiating, Facilitating and Sustaining a transformational change process. In a blog series last year, I further described how practitioners might prepare to facilitate transformations in these complex times by going through the learning process themselves.

In the course of all that, I have been also been synthesizing a simple planning framework that acknowledges the complexity of transformation journeys. The framework integrates the adaptive, transformative learning and collaborative engagement processes (dialogic OD practices). Under these conditions, organization transformations are almost always evidenced to be successful[ii]. It entails 12 planning steps in the iterative cycle through initiating, facilitating and sustaining transformations with Resonance storytelling at the core. It is for those serious about leading a process of transformation by continually collaborating with stakeholders to plan and co-create sustainable change and move away from “the way it’s always been done,” in order to get sustainable results. It is for leaders willing to hold themselves and others in the balance of the known and unknown and who have the strength to say, I don’t know, lets figure it out together.

Figure 1: A Resonance Transformation Framework

Here are very brief descriptions of this simple but powerful framework.

Resonance Storytelling for Transformation

The use of what I call Resonance stories which are personal narratives that deeply connect people to their reason for being in the context, organization, community or issue at hand is fundamental throughout this framework. As a recent Stanford Social Innovation Review article discussed, storytelling has always shifted systems and always will because it allows us to connect cognitively as well as emotionally to reasons for change, brings people together across difference to a shared narrative and in so doing shifts deeply held beliefs.

Initiating Transformations

In this stage, the opportunity for practitioners and leaders is to set the context and boundaries Once these two frames have been set, the transformation process will be served best by making space for people to uncover their personal and collective resonance stories that connect them to the purpose of the transformation.

Facilitating Transformations

The planning required in this stage is all about getting clear on the current state and helping people transition from the current into the future as they define the narratives they want to create. Once a new narrative emerges, the question becomes, how might we design this future? This is the phase for innovation experiments, prototyping and pilot testing.

Sustaining Transformations

Here, top actions that have been determined from the experimentation of the facilitating phase must be implemented and evaluated. As desired outcomes are realized and flourish, mechanisms must be put in place to allow for appropriate spread and scale of the transformations. Resonance stories become critical to sustaining transformation journeys, at this phase to reinvigorate the process when the going gets tough.

Looking forward to seeing those of you will be at the BC Organization Development Network (BC ODN) session I am facilitating on April 16, 2018, where we will engage in discussions about some of the dilemmas this kind of process presents in practice. See here for more information.

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[i] Gilpin-Jackson, Y. (2015). Transformational Learning in Dialogic OD, in G.R Bushe and R. J. Marshak (Eds.), Dialogic Organization Development. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

[ii] Bushe, G. R. (2017). Where organization development thrives:  Winner of the Val Hammond research competition. Retrieved from http://www.roffeypark.com/research-insights/free-reports-downloads/where-organisation-development-thrives/