The Business Of Transformation Or Change Management – Which Are You Known For?

Posted 18th Aug

The business world likes nothing better than to latch on to some new buzzword or other. It gives us the illusion that we are, indeed, ‘adding value’, creating new ideas to take us to some new ground-breaking future.  It makes us business folk feel good! And as someone who has been dealing in the business of ‘change’ for some years I find this no more true than of ‘change’ and ‘transformation’ which are used, by most people, interchangeably.

So the question is, is there a difference?  I certainly recall many years ago I never referred to transformation in what I did, everything was simply “change”.  But, suddenly there came a moment when particularly big projects were referred to as “transformations”, and recently I have been struck with the amount of people telling me about their ‘transformation’ expertise when, in reality, they have been running a change programme – perhaps of a category, or a group of suppliers or a change of systems (albeit some of these changes can be quite big and complex). At least, in my head, that’s how I would have referred to it.

Dusting off my Oxford dictionary – yes I do mean the old fashioned book on a shelf kind – some kinds of change I reject entirely, and the feeling of a proper book is one of them (more on people change in a later blog) – the definition of ‘change’ is: the act or an instance of making or becoming different or the alteration or modification. It thus suggests something more ‘in the moment’, or more evolutionary, small substitutions to get to a new state.  The definition of Transform, on the other hand, is “to make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, outward appearance, character etc.” This word, by contrast, suggests a ‘change’ that is much deeper, more revolutionary, and more ‘complete’ i.e. you arrive at that new form, new outward appearance, new character etc.

Change can be small and evolutionary, taking baby steps, – or it can be big and complex – but whatever it is, it is a constant and needs to be monitored, and managed, not as a one off event but as an ongoing project.  Just look across at your IT function, and you’ll see constant change projects going on there – processes, procedures, systems – all of these have an assigned project leader, with a core team, a steering group and a sponsor with all manner of KPIs (sometimes too many but more on that in another blog) to monitor and manage the change.  Without the constant monitoring it may not stick, and so could be transient in nature.     

Transformation, by contrast, is nearly always substantial and noteworthy. It’s a fundamental change in operations, or looks, or feel. It’s a leap. A revolution. And when it’s successful, it represents a permanent change. It becomes the new status quo.

The reality is that there are similarities in both terms - and as a Transformation Lead myself, I like to think of Transformation as being the art of defining the current position, rigorously assessing it for potential and identifying where the destination is…and the pathway to get there (transformation programme roadmap) is formed of a series of change management projects to get to the new destination. Which then becomes the new situation, until some bright spark comes along and identifies an opportunity to transform again!

So, for me, change management is a fundamental necessity within a Transformation programme.  So next time you claim on your CV that you have run transformation programmes – just think again whether that is the right term, as yours could be a change programme – both abilities are meaningful and a transformation can’t happen without change. Be proud of the one that is justifiably yours.

If you would like to know more about our methodology for transformation – vision and strategy setting, roadmaps, change management using agile approaches, and behavioural psychology get in touch .

Further Reading


Knowledge Hub: Three Phases Of Change In Procurement


Tagged by topic: Procurement Transformation

  by Allison Ford-Langstaff

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