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Transformation and change management – a marriage of sorts

Abe Thebyane

HR practitioners know that for any significant change to happen effectively there has to be a deliberate and intentional change management process to underpin that change.

Change management as a process is aimed at ensuring that the buy-in and support of the change is greater than the resistance to it. However when it comes to transformation in the sense of "redressing the imbalances that the Apartheid legacy has wrought on South African society," the approaches we adopt are devoid of any change management thinking or approach.

The change equation

General Electric has a "Change Equation" they use to illustrate the importance of change management in ensuring the effectiveness of any significant change project.

 Technical aspect      Cultural/Acceptance       Change effectiveness
 1  1
 2  2
 3  3
4 4
5 X 5 =
6 6
7 7
8 8
9 9
10 10




Any driver of change has two options for making the change project effective. You either aim at perfecting the technical aspect of the change to drive effectiveness. Looking at the change equation above, you could aim to improve the technical aspect of the change and move it, let us say, from 5 to 10. This will give you a change project that has only a 10 level of effectiveness, if that is all you do.

Alternatively you can focus on both the technical and acceptance aspects of change. If you have the technical aspect of the project at 5 and you leave it at that level without perfecting it further, but then drive the cultural/ acceptance side of the change project to 5 as well, what level of effectiveness do you get? Instead of the previous 10, you now have 25 i.e. 5x5=25.

This demonstrates the impact of a well thought through and intentional change management process on any significant change.

Why are we HR practitioners not thinking like this about transformation?

The folly of ignoring change management when it comes to transformation

Change of any sort, elicits resistance. This resistance is what makes many change projects to fail. So, ignoring Change Management increases the likelihood that the Transformation project will fail. Is that what we are prepared to risk?

No amount of pronouncements from the highest peak of the high moral ground will deal with this resistance. We will shout-"but it is the law" and it "is the right thing to do," until we are blue in the face, this will not make the resistance to go away. All that this will do is to make the resistance to go deep underground and manifest in the malicious compliance we see today in the Transformation space.

Understanding the source of resistance

Resistance to change has three potential sources that are powerful and have to be dealt with through a change management process. The rational, emotional and political resistance to change. At a rational level, people resist change because they have logical and rational concerns about the impact of the change on themselves and their loved ones.

"How do we achieve the objectives of transformation while enabling white males to continue to play a role in the economy," is a logical and rational concern that the champion of Transformation needs to respond to.

At an emotional level, people fear that transformation is a weapon that is meant to punish them for having benefitted from apartheid in the past. This is an entirely reasonable fear because the definition of transformation is "redressing the imbalances of the past." Surely this historical focus means that "those who benefitted from the past now need to experience relative disadvantage today"

At a political level the concern might be "transformation is going to affect my status"

To succeed, the transformation project has to deal effectively with resistance at all those three levels. As mentioned before, failure to do that, puts transformation at risk.

Self-preservation is a basic instinct of humans. No one in their full minds will participate willingly in a project that is designed to disadvantage or harm them in any way. To elevate people away from their base instincts and get them to think inspirationally, transformation has to be approached from a strategic change management perspective, designed to deal with the rational, emotional and political resistance to change.

What should the change management include?

A compelling, inclusive vision for change

"Redressing the imbalances of the past" as a vision for transformation is not inspirational; it is exclusive and therefore is unable to get everyone including white males, excited about transformation.

Transformation needs a new vision that is all encompassing, inclusive and nation building. "Inclusion" provides us with a powerful opportunity of defining the end state of Transformation in terms that are nation building.

'Inclusion" as a concept means that everyone is included whether they benefitted from Apartheid or not. The focus is on including everyone regardless of what makes them different because we are building a nation and a country. Inclusion suggests that white males are needed too; we cannot make it without them.

Leading change and transformation

No change effort will succeed without change capable leaders effectively leading the change. The problem with transformation is that the leaders today cannot lead it authentically as they fundamentally do not agree with many aspects of it. For many of them it is not the leading that comes from being fully convinced of the rightness of the Transformation course of action but, is a leading motivated by the desire to avoid regulatory sanctions on their organisation.

A leadership that comes from this can never be inspirational because at best it is grudging. Inspirational leadership can only happen when the heart and the mind are aligned around change and white senior managers have to lead this change because they are the leaders at the moment.

Stakeholder identification and influencing strategies

We need to realise that we cannot succeed in transforming South Africa without the meaningful participation of everyone, especially those who we regard as beneficiaries of the past. White males need to share with us how they believe we can implement genuine transformation while we simultaneously protect and take care of their interests.

The influencing strategies at a micro level have to be aimed at dealing with resistance focussing on all its sources, be they rational, emotional or political.

I am calling for a change of thinking when it comes to transformation. The greatest challenge we face as South Africa is nation building and one of the things that stand in the way of this, is transformation.

It polarises us as nation -blacks are grieved by its slow pace and by their perception that whites resist it. White are grieved by the perception that this is their punishment for Apartheid so they resist it with all the ingenuity they possess, while they continue to live in fear of when will the black masses rise up in revolution against their continued state of deprivation and economic disadvantage.

Abe Thebyane is the Group Executive: Human Resources at the Nedbank Group. He has a BAdmin, Postgraduate Diploma in Management (Human Resources) and an MBA. He joined the group, and was appointed to the group executive committee, in February 2011 as head of group HR. Abe has 29 years' experience in HR, which he acquired through the various senior and executive positions he held in large corporations in SA. Prior to joining the group, he was executive head: human resources at Anglo American Platinum Limited for six years and before that he was executive director: human resources at Iscor Limited.