85% of Change efforts fail. 100% of my transformation efforts succeed!!!

I saw the following at Linkedin HR- OD group.

“There is a wonderful research based book written by the VitalSmarts team – “Influencer” ( Joseph Grenny, Al Switzer, David Maxfield. Kerry Patterson & Ron Mcmillan).
This gives a wonderful insight into why 85% of the change initiatives fail. It also gives us a model to focus on to ensure that we can 10X our influence. An article based on the above was published in the MIT Sloan Management Review ”

I found the research mentioned. I believe it. Two points: It said change efforts fail because important conversations do not happen and that confrontation on key issues is missing.

I indeed have a answer. It is my “whole system transformation” intervention. Here is an article.


The Consultant’s Role in Creating Sustainable Results

John J. Scherer, Gina Lavery, Roland Sullivan, Ginger Whitson and Elizabeth Vales

Anyone who has ever attempted a large-scale planned change initiative knows the disappointing truth of what can happen shortly after you and your consultant colleagues leave the building:
• The busy-ness of people’s daily work diminishes—or even neutralizes—the changes that were agreed to at the end of the kick-off celebration.
• Three months (or maybe even three weeks) later, leaders and employees alike are thinking—or saying, ‘What was that all about?’
• The ‘We-are-changing-everything-around-here’ t-shirts, so proudly worn for a while, go back in the dresser drawer as people realize it was not really about changing anything fundamental. Things are pretty much the same, only different.
• The bottom line: your change process has ‘dropped like a marble in a bowl of oatmeal,’ making hardly a ripple in the on-going effectiveness and practice of the system.

What happened? Why do so many large scale change initiatives fail to create lasting change in the system that badly needed it—especially when all those involved thought they had created it?

Based on our experience in participating in transformation initiatives with a wide variety of client organizations, we believe there is a clear set of principles that make up a kind of “recipe” for what we refer to as sustainable whole system transformation (WST).1 Our experience also suggests that following these principles enhances the likelihood of actually transforming the organization, not simply changing it. In most instances, what we do may feel good and even lead to some change, but it is not likely to result in sustainable whole system transformation with deep, lasting impact on the client organization’s processes and people.

By using the term “sustainable” we are not inferring that a change remains in place forever. This scenario is highly unlikely, regardless of what you do. Life moves on. The world changes. What is right for one moment becomes a drag on the organization later on. As Weisbord (2004, personal communication) has noted,
‘Sustainable transformation’ is a philosophical dilemma and an oxymoron, since nothing lasts forever, regardless of the method used. Leaders come and go. There are many variables out of our control or even ability to influence. Pressure from Wall Street or shareholders can demand a return to business-as-usual. We can help people build transformed organizational cultures for today and maybe tomorrow, but not for the ages.

Even though many—or even all—of the specific operational changes set in motion during our WST interventions fade with time, we have often seen that something lasting does “stick” within the system. Perhaps what is sustainable is who people become—effective leaders and unleashed employees—and what the system learns about cross-functional teamwork, breakthrough thinking, and about the process of transformation itself. Sometimes a critical mass of people is able to hold on to what Weisbord (2004, personal communication) calls “the capacity to do things together that everyone values and they could not do alone.”
In the context of the framework presented in this chapter, the “sustainable” part of whole system transformation means assisting people in the development of a replicable and evolving enterprise-wide capability to transform the way they do things again and again in a chaotic, ever changing world.

Whole System
The scientific worldview, held by Chaos theorists and thinkers like Wheatley (1992) and Capra (1975), emphasizes that we must no longer look at the world as a machine with isolated, separate parts that need to be “fixed.” Chapter co-author John Scherer uses the image of a clothesline to describe a system: “Pull on the socks and the underwear jumps.” Roland Sullivan likes a cooking metaphor: change one thing in a recipe and that changes everything, because all the ingredients, even the smallest, are interacting with each other in the process of becoming the meal. What happens in one part of a system, no matter how small or isolated it may appear, has an effect on every other part of that system.
We are also not just referring to a system but to a whole system, and that additional word is extremely important. Our word “whole” comes from the Old English root hool, which meant healthy, unhurt, entire. Whole, therefore, is more than a quantitative word referring to “all of something.” It has a qualitative sense of a healthy balance, unity and completeness. When the term “wholeness” is applied to a system, it refers to the interdependent parts interacting with each other and with the environment as a unified whole, so that a more healthy world is created for that system and its stakeholders.
Whole system transformation goes beyond simply setting in motion changes that affect the entire system. WST means the whole organization is involved—as a system—in creating itself anew.

There is change and there is transformation. Change is altering something within the given parameters of the situation, but keeping the fundamentals basically the same, like going faster in first gear. Some examples include changing to a new Performance Management Process, installing a different Information Technology platform, sending everyone through a training program, merging two organizations, or reducing the workforce. These interventions are often necessary—but are rarely sufficient to transform an entire system. Something else may be needed – not “more-of-the-same-only-different,” which is change, but something entirely different – like shifting into another gear, or as a more powerful analogy, leaving your car to use a plane to get where you are headed.
We use the image of the quantum leap, which is what happens when an electron makes a shift to another state within an atom (Zukav, 1979). The actual shift from one “shell” to the next does not happen gradually over time. It is discontinuous. One moment the atom is in one state with a certain configuration among its electrons; the next instant it is in another state, which dramatically alters the nature of the atom. In the vernacular, “quantum leap”’ has come to mean a relatively small “jump” that makes a huge difference, and happens all at once.
This jump is what we refer to as transformation. Transformation is a sudden shift that is so profound that the old situation and the way you saw that situation are either left behind or are subsumed into a new way of seeing and doing things. It is actually a new way of being that alters the system’s relationship to what is happening. Chapter co-author Gina Lavery refers to it as the “birth” of a new view because it can be painful, uncomfortable, messy and unpredictable.
Transformation means “going back to zero” and re-thinking the fundamental principles and paradigms on which you are basing what you do and how you do it. When you make a
quantum (transformational) leap, there is a shift in the way the world occurs for people, such as:
• The strategic intention or the ‘Big Idea’ behind the enterprise is understood and embraced by a majority of the organization.
• Employees start working together in completely new ways.
• A sense of accountability and ‘ownership’ becomes personal and present at all levels in the system.
• Leaders lead from a more authentic, related and integrated stance.
• Decision-making becomes more collaborative, and conflicts are handled instead of avoided.
• Communication becomes more honest, especially up the organization.
Change is always embedded in transformation, but the opposite is rarely the case.

Implementing WST Processes
In virtually every request for transformation, some or all of the following elements are present. First, there is an awareness among a few key leaders that “things are not working,” that there are forces and/or factors at work in the organization’s world that must be reckoned with, and that some units—or the entire system—would benefit from breakthroughs that lead to higher levels of effectiveness or performance.
Second, those same leaders have had some kind of a transformational experience that allows them to see that the normal ways the system addresses situations like this are not likely to work, and that they must take a radically different approach. It is important to have a senior leader in the system who sees or wants transformation for the organization, and is well-positioned and willing to be a strong “champion” in making it happen.
Finally, the notion that the “answers” or “‘solutions” are already in the system somewhere, rather than existing only in the reports of expert external consultants—or in senior management. The developed leadership core must realize that there is a lot more potential to be actualized.
The whole system transformation journey is a dynamic, holistic process designed to help leaders engage a critical mass of the organization in reinventing itself and creating a future of aligned and committed action (see Figure 4-1).2 Starting at the center of the diagram, organizations and individuals are in a state of perpetual change. The process begins with transforming the leader and his or her team so they are aligned both intellectually and emotionally with a new vision. They must be ready to move forward with one heart and one mind in order to sustain the kind of committed action required to succeed with the new vision.
Insert Figure 4-1 about Here
WST Macro-Model
Once leadership is aligned, then and only then can the process move into transforming a critical mass of the organization. This is accomplished through the design and execution of a powerful large-group interactive event where enough people within the system participate to drive a significant shift for the organization. They emerge more aligned with leadership and the new vision.
The change foci can be any number of things. To name a few, the journey can be focused on a new strategy, change in culture or aligning the organization to take advantage of new opportunities in an ever changing market place. Throughout the transformation journey there needs to be an enterprise-wide communication effort that keeps a multi-directional information flow alive. In today’s environment it is not enough to just meet or even exceed customer expectations. In order to obtain new and retain existing customers, organizations today must continuously find new and innovative ways to thrill the people who purchase their products or services.
Kathy Dannemiller used to say if you have gone through a large-group interactive event and have to find a way to measure the outcomes, the event failed. Cost effective measurement methodologies need to be established to compare intended results with actual results. Throughout the journey the process of scan, plan, act and re-act is applied. Planning consists of convening the right people from the system to review the data and collaboratively develop action plans and commitments. Act and re-act go hand-in-hand. Re-evaluation is necessary during the process in which the organization implements the plan and re-actions are required to respond to new realities and unanticipated obstacles.
The WST conceptual methodology described above has several crucial action elements. The first is gathering data on the system’s culture and functionality of its operations and processes. Information can be obtained through a mix of interviews, surveys, observation, public data, and so forth. When there is conflicting data, go with your findings from face-to-face interviews, especially from front-line performers. This usually gives you the best “read” on both the “hard” and “soft” data needed for diagnosis and planning.
The next step is to share the data with the senior leader, then the leadership group, facilitating the implication derivation process, where they see what is happening and are moved by what they realize it means. In our experience, taking an Appreciative Inquiry approach helps leaders digest tough data, turning problem statements into energizing descriptions of how it could be. This means asking questions like:
1. What is a recent high point for you and/or the system—when you were at your very best and it worked?
2. What do you value most about what your unit contributes to the organization’s objectives?
3. What is a core attribute or quality that must be central to your development?
4. As you picture your unit performing brilliantly, what do you need to: start doing?; stop doing?; build on?

The Leadership Alignment Session
It is then important to align the senior leadership group so they are powerfully holding a vision of what Lindaman and Lippitt (1979) called a “preferred future”—and committing their unconditional support for what will be required to transform the organization. The senior leadership group must set aside enough time (we find that three days is the minimum) to embrace the future they are choosing, to discuss the business reasons for that future, to understand the whole system transformation process, and to let go of “sacred cows,” such as programs, procedures or processes that are not in alignment with that preferred future. By the end of this series of conversations, complete with arguments and changes of position, the leadership team is more ready for the role they need to play in the process as participants (and facilitators) and not as drivers of what happens.
The overall purpose of this session is to create alignment among the members and the team leader, and to engender their commitment to show up as “one voice.” Specific objectives include: 1) bonding as a team by establishing an environment of authenticity and support; 2) chartering the team by agreeing on the organization’s and the team’s critical commitments, guiding values, common purpose, shared accountabilities and how the team will organize to accomplish them; 3) creating and establishing alignment among team members and ownership for the organization’s transformation roadmap; and 4) becoming “one voice.”
The session is highly experiential (more interaction, less presentation) and designed to create a space where the leadership team can engage in deep dialog in order to develop trust in one another and a deep commitment to their shared vision of the future. The “secret sauce” is that the facilitator(s) must engage the group at the heart level, not just the head level. This can be quite uncomfortable for leaders (and consultants) who are accustomed to living inside their plans and concepts. Once they enter the “heart space”, they find they all really want the same things, both from each other and from own their work as leaders. This opens them up to the possibility of working in a synchronous and supportive manner.
Although the leadership alignment session can do wonders in terms of transforming the top team, they need to be vigilant about continuing to allow themselves to be open with each other as the process unfolds. In our experience, this is a challenge, because when leaders leave the safe and transformational space of the offsite and re-enter the world of work, they have a tendency to shift back into their heads and their former patterns of interaction. It helps to have a consultant that is there through re-entry to help the top team internalize this new way of working.

Transforming the Leadership Core
Now that the senior leadership team is aligned (“on board”) and motivated to champion the process, the next phase involves transforming the (larger) leadership core. Alignment is each leader seeing and committing to what needs to happen, and what each of them needs to do next or differently. Transformation is a dramatic shift in who the leaders are “being” with each other. Co-Author Gina Lavery explains it this way: “Quite often it is the shedding of the old, dysfunctional, more superficial ways of interacting with each other, resulting in a fundamental shift in trust, deepened relationships, and increased comfort in sharing deeper truths about who they are and what they want. This shift is often characterized by leaders as a “softening” towards each other, with a surge of compassion, understanding and respect. In a three-day experience, this shift usually occurs on the morning of day three. A hallmark of the transformation is a spontaneous and positive emotional release at the group level, often evidenced by tears, laughter, celebratory shouts, or standing ovations. The shift in energy can be felt by anyone who is physically located in the room.
Who comprises the leadership core? Once the senior leadership team becomes aligned and transformed, it is necessary to involve other natural leaders throughout the system. This is an expanded group of natural leaders representing every level and from every department or division who have been selected by the senior leadership team for their potential influence on the initiative. It is essential to invite a few ‘nay-sayers’ to participate, especially those skeptical or cynical members who have a ‘constituency’ in the system and need to be represented. This group needs to come together and for a three-day experience that aligns them around the ‘preferred future’, the whole system transformation initiative, and their own experience of transformation. Since people in organizations tend to ‘look up’ to see what is important, as they see the example set by the senior leadership team and the leadership core, this begins to energize, encourage, and empower them to trust the process and engage in the transformation initiative.
Transformation in this context often looks like some or all of the following shifts taking place in the members of the leadership core:

1. A fundamental shift from self-centeredness to a heightened awareness of colleagues and concern for their welfare—and their organizational unit.
2. A fundamental shift from avoiding or deflecting responsibility for mistakes to taking 100% personal responsibility for whatever happens to anyone on the team.
3. A fundamental shift from ‘looking good’ (or looking better than anyone else) to ‘lifting up’ colleagues and wanting everyone to be their best.
4. A fundamental shift from holding on to information as a source of power over others, to sharing information as a source of power with others.
5. A fundamental shift from playing it safe—by doing what has been done before (and maybe making a few small changes)—to seeking entirely new ways of doing things (breakthrough thinking).
6. A fundamental shift from trying to have control over everything that happens (in an attempt to make it conform to their personal agenda) to having power through what happens, regardless of what that might be.

A critical part of the process is involving the entire system in a minimum of 2 days over 3 days (3 days and 3 nights is better) in “max-mix” (representative) gatherings to deeply engage in exploring the vision for the organization. Participants should be encouraged to dream and share their vision of a preferred future, unleashing the spirit of the organization to “live the vision.” As an example, a recent client vision was “Mobilizing all our economic and human power to thrill the customer.” Sometimes mundane, the actual language of the vision does not have to be magical; the powerful and profound personal ownership of those words is where the transformational power comes from. As part of the discussion, people also begin to uncover things that need to change in order to achieve the vision. Deepening the vision in the hearts, minds and spirits of the participants, attention should move toward creating robust action plans for shifting the organization from its current state to the preferred future state. Small cross-functional teams can also be used to prioritize breakthrough ideas and develop plans to convert them into action.
The final steps involve connecting and applying the work of the teams to the day-to-day work of the system to ensure the preferred future comes alive in the real world, and soliciting feedback continuously from the system, in essence, adjusting what is happening based on what is learned. How many breakthroughs created at the offsite are actually being followed up on? What are the early signs that a breakthrough idea is having a positive impact on its intended “target”? What kind of resistance are decisions running into, and what kind of leadership may be needed to free the “logjam” and move things forward?

Core Ingredients in Sustainability
In order to ensure the sustainability of the project, it is critical to create a sense of ownership of the problem and solution, tap the energies that exist in the system, and touch the spirits, hearts and minds of those involved.

“Getting the whole system in the room,” as Weisbord (1987, 2004) has made clear, is the fastest way to transform a system. Once you and the client have figured how best to do that, for example, how to create a strong sense of ownership among all key stakeholders of what happens, including the design of the process, the breakthrough possibilities that get addressed, and the decision-making that finally moves the system in real-world, day-to-day ways.
This type of transformation requires everyone in a critical mass to be very self-aware and system-oriented, starting at the top of the organization. When the individuals in a system are self-aware, they come to see that they need to get beyond their habitual ways of thinking, doing and being. When people are system-oriented, they are able to appreciate all the stakeholders (including suppliers and customers), not just their department. Combine the two and everyone involved can see how they relate to each other and to the outside environment, resulting in a healthy system that knows what to do next and is capable of acting quickly.
More important, though, is that their self-awareness enables participants to understand how they, themselves, are collectively responsible for what is happening in the current system. This awareness brings a keen understanding that the system will not transform until they personally transform. When that “moment” comes, when people clearly see their system-at-work, often like a thunder clap, a whole new range of possibilities emerge, along with the necessary energy and focus to enable them to succeed, now and over time. Experiencing such newness, like learning to ride a bike, never goes away.

Tapping the Energy of Polarities
Johnson (1992) has pointed the authors toward a powerful source of indestructible sustainability that is inherently present in every system: its ability to keep moving through an “infinity energy loop” that flows around and between two poles (ways of doing things). When a system becomes enamored with one pole, say change, to the exclusion of the opposite pole, stability, this attachment is guaranteed to bring on a sinking into the downside of the preferred pole. People begin to experience uncertainty and exhaustion and yearn for more stability. If the movement toward stability is resisted, the system gets “stuck” in a less-than-optimal place, and the natural flow of energy is blocked.
As illustrated in Figure 4-2, as long as the system continues to move back and forth between these two poles (which are both valid and deserve to have their “time”), the system is alive and well. Such a system is able to tap the benefits inherent in the unavoidable, constant, infinite energy flow around the polarities. WST empowers that flow.

Insert Figure 4-2 about Here
The Polarity Infinite Energy Loop
Touching Spirits, Hearts and Minds
When a system begins to experience difficulty, the “trouble”’ usually manifests “above-the-waterline” at the operational level, where important numbers begin to fall, like customer satisfaction, market share, revenue, speed to market, and so forth. However, leaders who understand WST principles realize that the response to falling numbers has to involve shifting the way things are happening “below-the-waterline,” inside and between people and organizational units. They know the long-term “solution” lies in awakening, unleashing and focusing the spirit of the system (Scherer, 2009).

Figure 4-3 provides an overview of the typical flow of events in the WST process. We have identified a handful of moments in a change initiative that hold great leverage in creating sustainable whole system transformation with clients.
Insert Figure 4-3 about Here
Whole System Transformation Process

WST Starts in the Contracting Conversation
If you want to do sustainable whole system transformation, you need to be clear and committed to what it takes from the very first interaction with the client. What you are proposing will almost certainly be different from the way the organization and its leaders currently go about things, otherwise they would not be in their situation. It is a natural paradox: leaders need to do things in radically new ways, yet they instinctively protect the status quo and the old ways of working together.
As a result, the client is likely to have an urge to “negotiate” or remove things from the process that scare them, like allowing front line people to participate in making decisions regarding what to do, or having to experience personal transformation themselves. The consultant must hold his or her ground and help them see the logical connection between their situation and the breakthrough potential of what is being proposed. WST must not be allowed to become another leadership flavor-of-the-month that people can “hunker down and outlast.” Even though the process appears to be a series of events that can be scheduled on a calendar, WST is beyond a program. It is a journey, a new “way” of working together that never ends. Chapter co-author Lavery likes the metaphor of learning to ride a bicycle: once you have learned how, you cannot un-learn it. It is with you forever. As soon as you get the experience of balance, the whole world is different, and you will never go back. Like riding a bike, people cannot un-learn transformation. Once people and the system learn how to be an organization that renews itself, this capability does not end, and is so compelling they do not want to go back to the way it was before.

The Leadership Core Must Experience Transformation First
After the contracting phase, WST begins with a “Leadership Alignment Intensive” for the leadership core, where they come to understand transformation by experiencing a personal quantum leap in the way they relate to themselves, to each other, and to the system. Without this deep and often dramatic increase in self-awareness, when the pressure is on leaders can “bail out” and abandon the process. Within this context, the leadership core goes beyond top or senior leadership, extending to the leadership that exists throughout the system (e.g. union and other informal leaders).
The primary objective is a leadership core that is aligned around a single intention—the creation of a “preferred future,” developed in collaboration with front line employees, that is more productive and more alive. For this to happen, leaders at every level must be willing to let go of control, trust the process, and share control with their people. At this point, the senior leadership team may not realize what they have agreed to. Transformation is about to rock their world, but without a committed “thumbs-up” from the senior leadership team, WST is very difficult or impossible to achieve.
In an interview, WST colleague Jennifer Todd puts it this way:

In hierarchical organizations, the results from WST are made possible by the leadership core’s commitment at the heart level and their actively and visibly shifting their behaviors and ‘“way of being’” to align with the transformation. The organization will continuously test them to see if they really are willing to do the work themselves personally: ‘Are they for real this time?’ The depth of the personal transformation the leadership team is willing to take on will be proportionate to how much and how deep the front line people will feel safe in going. Leadership has the power to make or break the success of transformation, particularly in its early stages when the system is still forming itself anew and stepping into its new paradigms.

How do you transform the leadership core? Any of several designs will work here, but the Leadership Alignment Experience, referred to earlier, usually includes these elements:
• Staff: Two external consultants (male and female is recommended) take the lead, shadowed by (1 or 2) internal people who have been selected to be trained to lead certain aspects of the WST initiative from inside.
• The first order of business is to guide the group in identifying tangible business challenges confronting the organization and to feel a common sense of urgency in addressing them. Each member of the leadership core needs to ‘own’ the system’s situation, and commit to the co-creation of breakthroughs via a process of discovery and action carried out with front line people as colleagues.
• Leaders need to experience a shift in their relationship with each other so they end up speaking with one voice. They also need to be assisted in what Scherer (2001) calls ‘facing the tiger,’ discussing what they need to discuss in ways they have not done before: ‘If you are not facing your tigers, they are already eating you.’
• One important outcome is experiencing greater trust in themselves, in their leader, in each other, and in the consultants.

A key concept that surfaces at the Leadership Alignment Session is that everything that happens in the up-coming WST initiative must be understood as happening “in stereo,” with attention being paid to both operational (above the waterline) and human factor (below the waterline) dimensions. WST is based on the principle that sustainable transformation occurs when both of these domains are acknowledged and addressed.
The leadership core also needs to understand that, rather than the traditional “un-freezing, changing and re-freezing” model (Beckhard, 1969; Lewin, 1951), WST is a conscious and continuous un-freezing of the organization so that, like water, it can flow. Frozen water is rigid and cannot flow or adapt to changes in the environment. Today there is no room for re-freezing. The older change model may give temporary advantages—and a feeling of some control for managers—but it drives the system to repeat the past as soon as things change again, which is happening constantly.

A Truly Integrated Team of Internal and External Facilitators
We cannot emphasize enough that, unlike other change management models, WST is not primarily about the external consultants. It’s about the system transforming itself, led by a small team of capable internal people who are “joined at the hip” with each other and with the externals. These dual roles make it possible for the process and its results to be “owned” by all key stakeholders in the system. Without internal consultants, the process is unlikely to succeed, as the system becomes dependent on the external resources and fails to learn how to do what is needed. Without external people helping to guide, stimulate and inspire what happens, the initiative is less likely to create transformation, since the culture will instinctively try to “domesticate” the process and its output, “taming it down” to fit within existing paradigms.
In many traditional planned change models, the initiative is managed by a team of external consultants, working closely with top leadership. There may be a small group of internal people appointed to “‘work with the consultants,” but everyone knows they have little or no influence over what happens. In WST, this pattern is reversed. People soon realize that what happens is being obviously planned and carried out by internal people, trained and assisted by a small team of external consultants who are experienced in WST.
The work in a typical WST initiative is divided between the external consultants, internal resources, and both groups working together. External consultants, working alone, typically: 1) manage the initial contracting conversations with the client; 2) undertake the initial briefing and coaching of the WST Sponsor; 3) model transformation for everyone else (e.g., letting go of control and sharing the limelight with others); 4) create the initial design for the Leadership Core and their subsequent transformation experiences; 5) guide the Transformation Management Team’s (TMT) work; and, as outside content experts, from time to time they may be invited to address the gatherings and provide a context for transformation (e.g., an industry expert or someone experienced with a particular issue being addressed).
An organization’s internal resources fulfill a number of key supporting roles. One key role is intelligence and reconnaissance, in essence serving as the “eyes and ears” of the team, asking their sources around the organization what the “buzz” is about the process. Part of this role is ensuring that the external consultants understand political “landmines” and other hidden hazards to be avoided. Communication should also come from within the organization, sharing up-dates on what is happening via internal communications like newsletters, emails, strategic conversations, and so forth. Insiders also have the knowledge and insight to ensure coordination, managing sub-teams, handling scheduling, and making sure the right people are included in all phases, logistics and other matters. Another function that insiders should provide is ensuring that all existing change efforts are connected and aligned “under the WST tent,” building bridges to other improvement initiatives that are underway to ensure they do not interfere with each other and generate synergy wherever possible. Since external consultants rarely have the necessary historical knowledge about the organization, insiders can also link to history and reality, helping externals to understand where the organization has been and ensuring that what is planned is connected with the daily life of the organization. Finally, an underlying intent of WST is for the external experts to train and empower the internal TMT to lead and facilitate as much of the process as possible, depending on their level of competence and confidence.
Working together, the two groups – the external consultants and internal resource people – typically: design and facilitate the Leadership Alignment and Transformation Experiences (again depending on the skill and experience of the Internals on the TMT); help to facilitate the Whole-System-in-the-Room experiences; facilitate TMT planning and debriefing meetings; and guide the selection of who needs to be included in the process and how such inclusion should be carried out.

Shared Power and Decision-Making
Radical in the 1950s when it was introduced, our OD ancestors invented what they called “planned change,” where front line performers were invited by top management into a process that generated ideas for improving things, which then went back to top management for consideration (see Beckhard, 1969; Lippitt, Watson & Westley, 1958). This approach was picked up by large consulting firms and dubbed “change management.” Unlike the application of planned change by our OD ancestors, which involved front line employees, these top-down, consultant-driven change management programs sold to so many corporations simply have not worked. The literature often reports that upwards of 75% of such initiatives fail. Successful WST is less about imposing change on an organization from above (management-driven change) or from outside (consultant-driven change), than it is about enabling and empowering the system to transform itself.
In WST, there is a blurring of the line between 1) who is identifying areas that need work and thinking up ideas for action, and 2) who is deciding what gets done. In WST, managers join front line performers in developing breakthrough ideas, and front line performers join managers in making decisions. As consulting colleague Bob Kline noted in a recent conversation,

Rational management thinking must still be prized, but it alone simply cannot provide the energy needed for the long march that is transformation. What is needed is an empowered system where the empowerment does not come solely from the benevolence of positional authority, but also from a genuine sense of shared commitment to take initiative and be accountable for reaching larger goals.

Everyone involved, especially senior leaders and the consultants, both internal and external, need to practice what Buddhists call “passionate non-attachment.” This means investing your all yet being willing to live in the “muck” of ambiguity and allowing a new organization and a new way of working to unfold. Transformation is not only a quantum leap – it is, as the current (millennial) generation might say, a “jump of faith.” As chapter co-author Lavery describes it, “They just get it! It’s as if they have been waiting for this all along!”
While consultants can facilitate and create a safe “container” that allows for WST, no one can force transformation to happen. Acts of force stop the natural evolutionary process of discovery. This requires a great deal of responsible and responsive leadership with a strong trust in both people and process. The seeds for this are planted back at the beginning, at the initial offsite for the senior leadership team. This is where the consultant(s) must remind leaders of their commitment to see the process through and not interrupt it out of fear or allow the old paradigms to defeat the emerging breakthroughs taking shape. There is often a lot of “hand-holding” of leaders by the consultants behind the scenes to keep them from stepping in and either stopping things or telling people what the right answer is. We might say something like this to a leader we sense is about to assert their authority: “Let the process unfold. Stay still, just a little while longer. Wait and see what happens next. You will be respected even more for doing this—and more likely to get that preferred future you say you want.”
At a well-designed WST event, you will not see the external consultants dominating the process from the front of the room with their magic markers and PowerPoint slides. What you will see are internal people from across the organization and from many levels working with the externals in guiding the agenda. For many external consultants, this kind of “letting go”’ is almost unthinkable. “What happens if they mess up?” is the rationale for taking charge. In the service of creating greater ownership—and therefore greater sustainability—it is more important for people in the system to see “their own” leading than it is to have everything absolutely perfect. In those places where the internal team cannot be trained to handle a crucial aspect of the agenda, the external consultants step forward. What a powerful signal this sends to the system—and to leaders—who all have a chance to see their people in a more powerful, responsible and surprising way. As a CEO client recently put it, “Wow! I never knew our people cared so much, or were so smart about our situation!”

Getting the Whole System in the Room
Somehow the consultant must find a way to “get the system in the room” (Weisbord, 1997, 2004). In a small organization that is able shut down for three days, you could gather the entire system and do it in one go. This is rarely possible, so alternative methods must be created. One approach we use often is bringing together cross-functional, quasi-representative groups of from 64 to 2,000 people for that three-day/three-evening off-site, and repeating the process to ensure the involvement of everyone in the system.
You will almost always get “push-back” on the three-day off-site requirement. “Can’t we do what we need to do in a half-day?” a client may ask. The answer is, “Not if you truly desire to create sustainable transformation.” The optimum schedule starts at 6:00 p.m. on Day 1 and ends at around 1:00 p.m. on Day 4. Given how long the system has been “perfecting” what it is doing now (that is not working), three days of hard work seems a small price to pay to create a quantum leap.
A typical WST Intensive event for the whole system will usually include these kinds of elements in the agenda:
• Setting the context: The CEO says, ‘We are here because we need to. . .’
• Acknowledging history: ‘We will be building a new structure on the old foundation, which includes. . .’
• Ventilation: People get a chance to complain about the way things are. ‘Complaints are actually stuck energy patterns. Underneath the complaint is an undeclared commitment, and a whole lot of energy yearning to be released’ (Chapter co-author Lavery). In an appreciative inquiry model of WST, complaints get converted into what is working well and what can be learned from these successes.
• Visioning: Everyone is involved in a process to generate words that have compelling power and heart for them and the organization.
• Moving forward: ‘What do we want to hold on to, let go of, and learn or develop in order to move toward that vision.’
• Action and Heart-Felt Commitment (at the level of the individual, department, inter-department, whole system, and customer): Cross-functional, ‘stakeholder-rich’ breakthrough teams formed and tasked.
• Send-Off by CEO and TMT Members.

Tracking and Reporting Results
In a typical WST process, participants go back to their organization “fired up” and focused on specific tasks that are directly connected with creating performance breakthroughs: new operational procedures, processes and people systems. It is imperative to track these initiatives in terms of real-world business results, which is, after all, the main reason for the WST effort. Measuring and reporting results – using the system’s own hard numbers – provides ongoing impetus and validity to the WST process as people see how their efforts are making a difference in the real world.

Staying the Course
Transformation usually happens both within an individual and an organization in a “thunder clap” moment, but it does not stop there. In fact, when a quantum leap occurs in an organization’s way of operating, learning and adapting, transformation continues indefinitely, punctuated by times of stability and times of change (see Figure 4-2, the infinite energy loop of Polarity Management.) Once WST is initiated, the system must engage in many smaller change initiatives inside the larger transformational context that has been created. Now things like training and performance management and new procedures make sense, and connect directly to the bottom line. These change projects will become the focus of attention until the system realizes that it needs to once again engage in transformation, enabling the system’s energy to continue to flow. As one of our clients said about a recent WST initiative, “It’s important to see this as a new way of being rather than a program with an end. Even after two years, we’re still on the journey. I suspect that transformation is our new state of being.”
In a recent discussion, Jennifer Todd reflected on taking an organization on the WST journey: As a leader or consultant, if you are considering taking on WST for your organization, get ready for a ride. If your heart is open, this process will pierce you in unimaginable ways. You will experience the real pain of generations and cries for relief from thousands of people who have worked and worked in difficult, even impossible, situations. You will also have the honor of seeing the heart and soul of your organization emerge as the true desires, creativity, power and passion of people gets unleashed. And all the while you will be wrestling with yourself—the shifts and changes in your own head and heart as you go through your own transformation. This WST process is hugely challenging, invigorating and deeply rewarding. If you are leading it and truly experiencing it, you don’t get a hall pass. It guarantees to change you from the inside out.

We believe WST is a concept whose moment has arrived. Although it does not take that much more time or effort to carry out, it does require a major shift in the attitude, courage and authenticity of the consultant—as well as those sponsoring and leading the process. As great teachers have said over the centuries, “You can’t take people where you haven’t been yourself.” WST cannot be led by a consultant who has not experienced—and who does not continue to experience—transformation in their life and their practice.
As opposed to the traditional planned change approach, WST accomplishes what is needed by most organizations today that require significant shifts in the way they do their work in the real world. Planned change is popular in part because of the amount of control exercised by top management in an incremental process and the sense of safety that comes with it. Ironically, it is that same attachment to safety and control by top management that prevents the effort from leading to the extraordinary results they seek, primarily because it has not connected with the human spirit. Unleashing the spirit of an organization to create performance breakthroughs is what WST is all about.
John Parker, Executive Sponsor of WST from a highly-successful company committed to “thrilling the customer,” sums it up this way:

Whole System Transformation fosters deep change. It requires personal transformation on everyone’s part. It also requires courage to take an organization through this type of change. The impacts are extraordinary, one of which is the expanded capability for change in the organization. The employee engagement that results is an unbelievable thing to see and feel. It is worth it! It is hard work, emotional, draining, and miraculous. It is magic! And yes, very rewarding.

What our world needs now is organizations and institutions that know how to continue to adapt and learn how to be whole systems that are continually transforming. And that requires more consultants who can do what we have attempted to lay out here – creating sustainable whole system transformation.

1. The concept of whole system transformation was coined by Roland Sullivan in 1974. See Rothwell and Sullivan (2005) and Dannemiller-Tyson Associates (2000).
2. The WST schematic was developed by our colleague, Tom Dick. He can be reached at: tom_dick@msn.com.

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Dannemiller, K. & Levi, R. (2003). Collective resonance in whole systems transformation™. The Resonance Project. Accessed December 15.
Dannemiller-Tyson Associates. (2000). Whole-scale change: Unleashing the magic in organizations. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2000.
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C Fig
Figure 4-1 The WST Macro-Model: Whole System Transformation Journey

Figure 4-2 The Polarity Infinite Energy Loop

Figure 4-3 Whole System Transformation Process

5 Responses to “85% of Change efforts fail. 100% of my transformation efforts succeed!!!”

  1. Kathy Z Says:

    Not of the figures are visible when I view your blog. I’m assuming they were supposed to be. We are trying to drive some transformational changes and I find your blog provides not only some great examples but also some innovative suggestions. Any chance I can get copies of the figures for reference?


  2. Glenn Borchardt Says:

    Check out my book “The Scientific Worldview.” This should clear up a lot of the questions that you have.
    Glenn Borchardt


  3. Glenn Borchardt Says:

    You might want to check out my book, “The Scientific Worldview.” It should answer a lot of your questions. See: http://www.scientificphilosophy.com
    Glenn Borchardt


  4. Aaron Pettman Says:

    I am Hugh Pettman’s second youngest son.
    I work for Shell Refining Australia, which at present at the refinery here in Geelong are going through a transformation within the organisation. After reading your blog I have taken on board the ideals written inregard to the differences between change and transformation and found it very informative. The information you have supplied here will be in the forefront of my mind as this process unfolds allowing me to better understand the process/decisions the oganisation are taking and making.
    Thank you for your post.

    Kind Regards
    Aaron Pettman


  5. Richard Allert Says:

    Hi Roland, I am a former MNODN colleague whom you have share lots of important research with. I am happy to see you continuing to make change



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