Conceptual theory and practice in the field of organization transformation

CONCEPTUAL frameworks

Organization Transformation (OT) is a new field. Both in terms of theory and practice.

The first symposium on Organization Transformation took place in New Hampshire in 1984. The first big book on Organization Transformation was Amir Levy and Uri Merry's, Organizational Transformation: Approaches, Strategies, Theories, published in 1986. Another early study was Kochan and Useeem's Transforming Organizations, published in 1992. Nadler, Shaw, and Wilson published, Discontinuous Change: Leading Organizational Transformation in 1995.

the Earliest ot frameworks

Early on, OT was a diverse discipline, clearly comfortable with a disparate set of theories and a similarly wide-ranging set of interventions that described how to go about implementing OT. For instance, Levy and Merry, in their textbook, identified six different OT theories. Kochan and Useem, in 24 chapters, described OT as being everything from strategic restructuring to new process technology to an effort designed to produce "learning organizations." Nadler, Shaw, and Wilson, in their book, likewise saw OT as a diverse set of theories, suggesting there were at least five different "leverage points" that could effect an organization transformation. In 1986, Levy and Merry described the OT field this way; "...there has not been, as yet, any comprehensive publication covering the field..."

I've thought a lot about Levy and Merry's observation. Just this year I spent six months searching the internet and for anything that might qualify as an OT theory that unified the field. This search convinced me that Levy and Merry are still right. What was true in 1986 is true today; no one theoretical statement about what OT is, or ought to be, is available that authoritatively unifies the organization transformation field. At least, not anywhere obvious.  

TLO's Approach to OT

For TLO, Organization Transformation, if it’s going to be worthwhile, must offer a clear conceptual framework that identifies and defines all of the key elements in an organization that must be transformed. It must also identify a reasonably coherent range of transformational interventions that an organization’s change leaders must use over an extended period of time to create irreversible alterations in everything the organization is and does. This list of key elements, component parts, and its matching best practice interventions need to include the dramatic internal, system-wide infrastructure changes that must be made, as well as the radical changes that must be made outside the organization, especially in the organization's competitive, regulatory, and customer networks. Organization transformation must be a system-wide revolution, or it's nothing.

In concrete terms, effective organization transformations alter an organization's bedrock elements, both those that are inside its formal boundaries and those that are outside. Organization transformations are inside/outside efforts because they must accomplish four complex, comprehensive, integrated results: 

  • Recast and rebuild the organization's basic structure, and it's fundamental strategic and operational processes.

  • Reframe and reintegrate the organization's stakeholder networks, especially those that legitimize, control, and supply it.

  • Respect and support the organization's constructive and destructive change dynamics.

  • Recognize and catalyze the Order of Consciousness and mindset shifts that the organization's key leaders, stakeholders, and employees must make.

For the past five years, we at TLO's have been working hard, trying to learn about these key elements and processes, while simultaneously learning how to transform them. We're not completely there, yet. But, we are confident that we've learned enough from our twenty-plus years of OT consulting, our expertise in experiential learning, and our online and offline research to successfully vouchsafe the model of organization transformation that we're now using in all our OT thought partnering, coaching, and consulting work. We've titled this on-going developmental effort, "TLO's 8 Element, 2 Loop, 3 Horizon Model of Organization Transformation." This model is the conceptual framework we use to focus and guide the Thought Leadership we're offering through the TLO Resource Center. It's the conceptual framework we use when we're supporting our TLO Thought Partners as they're thinking through their own evolving sense of how best to pursue their own organization's transformation.

Here's the graphic model we've developed that synthesizes our sense of the pivotal organizational elements, change dynamics, and strategic business horizons that are necessary to effectively address the transformation of most modern organizations.



You can learn about TLO's 8 Element, 2 Loop, 3 Horizon model by clicking the navigation button just below. The material you'll find there offers you a full description of an organizational transformation's basic elements, the component parts that must be transformed, the paradoxical change process that must be organized to effect these transformations, and the new business mindsets that must be developed and inculcated by all the key stakeholders and senior leaders. Understanding what's offered in this section will provide you with the background framework necessary to comprehend the issues and challenges involved in a 21st Century organizational transformation process. 

Even if you just scan this material, we believe you'll discover a reasonably coherent definition and description of what an organization transformation is and should be concerned with. As far as we know, there isn't another model as succinct, yet comprehensive as this one available elsewhere on the internet. This 8 element, 2 loop, 3 horizons model isn't perfect, and it's by no means finished. But it is offered here as a comprehensive, unified model of organizational transformation, one that's far enough along to work from.