True transformation is not an event, it is a journey. It may be triggered by an event or a life-changing experience that may cause a disruption to our comfortable autopilot routine. Such a circumstance may move us to reflect on the road traveled thus far and consider whether we are moving in the direction of our goals and the life that we see ourselves living.
Similarly, organizational transformation is generally triggered by an event or series of events that lead to the desire for a total overhaul of systems, processes, and approaches. In government, procurement is generally on the list of functions for which transformation is sought. A quick search of the number of cases where contract fraud and abuse of power have threatened public trust can help us understand why procurement is often a candidate for transformation.
Although the concept is not new, procurement transformation has gained popularity in recent years. It is possible that transformation means different things to different people because the term has been used rather loosely to amplify the magnitude of a process improvement initiative. According to several online sources (Business Dictionary, Etymoline, and Word Reference), the word transformation means total change. Its origin is from the Latin word “transformare” which means to change form. The first part of the word “trans” means “complete change, move across”. The second part of the word “formare” means “to form”. Together, it means to undergo a complete change of form.
There are many dimensions to transformation. One that I consider the most fundamental is related to the culture of the organization. Although many refer to the transformation from the tangible aspects such as process improvement and systems implementation, it is the people and culture that are at the root of the success of any lasting change. I am not denying the importance of the visible benefits to the organization of continually improving processes and creating systems that support efficiencies, but the implementation of new systems and processes are a collection of events. Ultimately, the success of those events relies on the people who support and work to continually improve the organization. A culture of continuous improvement doesn’t just happen. It requires intention and the recognition that people are at the center of every process, system, and decision in the organization.
In my experience, there are three aspects that contribute to the overall value of transformation. There is no denying that visible progress is what is celebrated, but visible progress is not feasible if these three aspects are not taken into consideration. I believe that without them the change will not become the new routine and people’s new autopilot performance. If you are going through or thinking of initiating a transformation process, I advise you to give serious consideration to these three things: leadership, the reason for the change at the micro-level, and a culture of teamwork.
- A good leader: The positional leader must be equipped to lead. Often times the reason why transformation is necessary is that the person in the leadership position has not truly developed as a leader and has continued to perform as a higher-paid technical specialist. One of the signs of the absence of good leadership can be observed in the performance of employees. If employees are simply meeting the demands of the job, there’s not much creativity, and performance is at the autopilot level, then the leadership aspect needs to be addressed. The limitations on performance are generally related to the limitations of the leader. I see two different strategies organizations can apply to correct for a deficiency in leadership. One option is to replace the positional leader with a person who has the leadership skills. This option may be the best option, particularly in a toxic environment. Of course, it will be disruptive to replace the “leader”, but it will provide a fresh start. The second option is to help the positional leader acquire basic leadership skills and put him/her on a path for growth. With the right attitude, some professional development, and coaching the positional leader can develop the skills necessary to lead the group through the transformation process. This strategy will take time, and no one is perfect, which means that it is not going to be a quick fix. A true leader invests in his/her own growth regardless of the organization’s desire to provide the resources to facilitate training. Since growth is a process, many positional leaders miss opportunities simply because they don’t prepare for it. Once the opportunity presents itself, it’s too late to prepare. In cases where the leader is not ready to lead when a transformation mandate is handed down, positional leaders end up being replaced or put in a situation where departure becomes the most attractive option for them. The leader is responsible for setting the tone for the team, helping each team member feel successful and achieve higher levels of performance, and channeling their efforts to ultimately achieve the organizational desired results.
- A reason for the change. The leader must be aware of the team members’ “why”. Communicating the vision, the goals and even the strategy to effect changes is a good idea in helping people see the path forward. More importantly, it is essential for everyone to identify their own “why” for change. Why are they in the organization? Why do they want to accomplish their goals within the organization? These questions are very relevant to the transformation process. One of the reasons for this is that the values and priorities differ from person to person. When individuals can see the vision and goals of the organization through their own value system and align their goals with the organization’s vision, the effort by each individual will produce a compounding effect. Ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates (c469-399BC) pointed out that human choice was motivated by happiness. If you observe happy people, you’ll notice that they seem confident and have an optimistic outlook. They also seem to have a sense of appreciation for the things and people around them. There is a sense of accomplishment when people succeed in living their purpose and values. Happy people are self-motivated to do and achieve their goals and/or their life’s purpose. Happy people are more productive. That productivity provides significant benefits to the organization, particularly during a transformation process. This means that with goal alignment, the effort by each individual not only benefits the individual him or herself but also the organization. At the same time that it helps the organization, self-motivated, higher producing individuals serve as examples and resources to others in the team, helping them to also achieve their unique goals. If the leader understands what moves each person in the group, then the leader can unlock the key to productivity by being strategic about creating opportunities that contribute to the individual success of each person. Everybody wins. Zig Ziglar’s statement “You can have everything you want if you help other people get what they want” is very fitting and so true. There is, of course, a process of self-discovery that each individual will need to go through to get to the level of awareness needed to get clarity on their own individual purpose. Once there is clarity, it’s a matter of finding common ground to strategically maximize efforts. There are tools available to guide this process. It may also require individual growth and development so that people develop in areas where there is a skills gap. Leading people through this discovery and growth journey will require resources, particularly if the organization is seeking transformation in an accelerated schedule. The leader must know the people that he/she leads and help them believe that they have the capacity to achieve more. Some “positional leaders” want to manage from the comfort of their office. A true leader goes to where the people are, helps them grow, and helps them develop to their potential. A true leader empowers, believes, and helps people achieve new heights. As a result of the behavior that the leader models to the team, the leader gains their trust. It’s important for the leader to gain the trust of the people they lead. Without trust, the relationship with the leader will not develop.
- A team. Team is another word that people use loosely to refer to a group of people working in the same organization. Just because people work together doesn’t mean that they are a team. In his book, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” Patrick Lencioni indicates that trust is the foundation of a good team. Trust is at the center of every relationship. When team members can trust each other and the leader, they can tackle the toughest assignments knowing that others have their back. A good team, according to Lencioni, can work through conflicting ideas, commit to a decision, hold each other accountable, and focus on results. To build a team, each individual must understand that they each bring a valuable perspective and unique talents to the team. Each team member must value what others bring to the table. It is the responsibility of the leader to create a safe environment where growth is enabled, ideas are welcomed, and collaboration required. An environment where failure is seen as part of the learning process and not as a cause for punishment and ridicule. Socrates insisted that people have the right to think for themselves. Socrates introduced the concept of exploration and discussion amongst his students by asking questions, which was a participatory way of learning through discussion and sharing of ideas. The leader must be intentional about creating a collaborative environment.
Trust and leadership are enabling factors for transforming the culture of an organization. Trust is at the center of any relationship and it’s nothing different in a team. A leader without followers is not a leader, and in order for people to follow a leader there has to be trust. The first order of business in a transformation is then a leader that can inspire trust, can help people grow, and can create a collaborative environment built on mutual respect.
When the organization has effective leadership, its members’ individual goals complement those of the team, and everyone works collaboratively towards a common vision. Only then it is possible to change the culture of an organization. Obviously, people are happier when they are in a positive and progressive culture working with individuals that they respect and like spending time with.
To conclude, the leader has a significant role in the success of an organization’s transformation initiative. It is the leader’s responsibility to build relationships and create a culture rooted in a solid foundation of trust and respect. A transformed culture where people feel that their contribution is valued is going to continue to evolve and reach new heights. A team that feels empowered to achieve a higher level of performance while working towards their individual goals is almost unstoppable. This is the place where the leader should take the team in order to transform the culture. Add to this the necessary enabling resources and you’ll have a successful transformation.
By Lourdes Coss, MPA, CPPO – July 2020
Procurement Transformation Blog – www.lourdescoss.com
About the Author: Lourdes Coss is a retired Chief Procurement Officer with 27 years of government procurement and transformation experience; the author of “Procurement Methods: Effective Techniques”; and an executive coach, speaker, leadership & procurement trainer, and procurement consultant.