I've noticed a difference in the language we use. No longer do we make changes - we transform things. It's something which has crept in to our everyday language in recent years and it's gained a firm hold. Now every day I hear about one transformation project or another. But what do we actually mean by the term and is it really that helpful?


Transformation is defined as "making a marked change in the form, nature, or appearance" - so basically altering something. The word transformation makes it sound so much more complex than that though. It is suggestive of doing something radically different - reinventing and breaking new ground. Most 'transformations' I've seen rarely live up to those grand expectations of being truly different and are more often than not subtle tweaks and modifications to something which we already had.


There is absolutely nothing wrong with that and arguably the most sustainable change is achieved by a series of subtle tweaks rather than a fundamental re-write. Theories of change indicate that most people don't like change - especially change that they are not controlling. Surely then labelling something a 'transformation' is a huge trigger to our fight or flight instincts rather than something that gets us on board?


If subtle changes are ripples in the pond which gradually create the momentum to move things, transformation is the tsunami wave that occurs when we throw a brick in. Disruptive and with the potential to cause some damage.


As leaders I think we have a responsibility to challenge the fashionable language and jargon that exists around us and think about the psychology behind the words we use. If we truly want to make a difference then we need to take people with us - not paralyse them with fear at the prospect that everything they know is going to be 'transformed'. For me change is a fine art - a matter of gradually changing the angle by a few degrees at a time rather than doing a full about turn. That way people can learn to go with the shift and adapt rather than being fearful to even take the first step. Of course it's about what will be different but it's equally important to stress what is going to be the same.


We all need to feel safe and secure to perform at our best.



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