As far as transformation triggers are kept silent in the organisation, we will be facing an old-model hierarchical structure. If we want to become more agile, to go digital, organisations need all the elephant-visualisers and low-voltage-light reactors to speak up.
But who are they?
I have sat down many times with people that told me:
- “this process is not working”,
- “nobody reads these reports”,
- “I know where these bad results are coming from”,
- “this management level is not needed”,
- “I cannot work in this bad atmosphere”,
- “nobody is responsible for this topic”,
- “this is duplicated work”,
- “I can feel that the organisation is too fat but I do not know where”.
All these people were able to detect the “low-voltage-lights” or the “elephant” in the room. They are what I call low-voltage-light-reactors and elephant-visualisers. However, in most of the cases they struggle to voice their knowledge. Only some organisations are willing to listen to these valuable triggers.
Are they valuable transformation triggers?
The symptoms of an organisation with declining performance are many times obvious for an outsider: unhappy customers, isolated silos, disengaged employees, lack of transparency in communication, failure of sales, financial KPIs eroded by high non-allocated costs, complex or inefficient processes, high levels of bureaucracy. Once inside the organisations, only some employees (the transformation triggers) can recognise the nuances of the symptoms and voice them. They have other management structures above them who do not believe them, who cannot grant anything coming from a level under, who have not the knowledge to assess the importance of the topic or simply do not want to admit a problem to their managers.
As far as these transformation triggers are kept silent in the organisation, we will be facing an old-model hierarchical structure — with command and control style, disengaged employees, hindering organisations to transform, to acknowledge the real hurdles and to adapt to the new way of doing things.
But if we want to become more agile, to go digital, organisations need all the triggers to speak up, to lead or be part of the transformation or take the responsibility to search for a solution – to become a valuable trigger for the transformation.
The elephant and the low voltage light
In many small companies the valuable trigger tends to be the CEO. However, in mid-size or big companies, the triggers are usually positioned under the CEO and not always visible.
Are you a valuable trigger for a transformation – an elephant-visualiser or a low-voltage-light-reactor?
I coined these two plastic expressions that perfectly allow us to visualise who the triggers for a transformation are. I will explain them here down and link them with our own experience.
Describes somebody that is able not only to identify a serious problem in the performance of the organization but also to dare to put it on the table, and is willing to support further actions for a improvement, change or transformation. We are usually contacted and sponsored by these elephants-visualisers, although many times we end up finding more like-minded along our process. Often they can only see a blurred baby-elephant, but enough to trigger an initial analysis. Our transparency report on the current state of the organisation usually shows a father sharp elephant. At this standpoint, if both the transformation trigger and the guests in the room can see the sharp elephant, then a first real step forward in the transformation is made. Otherwise, if the room gets completely foggy and nobody can see the elephant, neglecting the fact-based results, the attempt for transformation is failed.
The visual of the elephant is also referred by Luai Ghazali in this post in Linkedin.
Refers to a person able to respond to a low voltage light even if the rest of more relevant lights show all correct and the rest of the observers overlook it. These low-voltage-light-reactors are curious people, in search for clarity, change, improvement. They usually request our support to give them the transparency with all possible reasons that could have caused that low voltage light. The lack of reaction to a low voltage light can be originated by different circumstances but all quite concerning: 1) Colour blindness and therefore unskilled observers, 2) Unwillingness to react because of fear or lack of motivation, 3) Covering the light in order to conceal reality.
Brian Robertson uses the visual of the low voltage light in a plane to explain the origin of holacracy (holacracy.org).
The relevance of organisations listening to valuable transformation triggers
Either elephant-visualizers or low-voltage-light-reactors are the valuable triggers for transformation. They are those capable to trigger the water flow downhill. Organisations should pay special attention to these transformation triggers and listen to them carefully. Sadly, hierarchies show the least capabilities to react appropriate on them.
Both the elephant-visualizers and low-voltage-light-reactors are immersed in the culture and the structure of the organisation. Outsiders can join the dots between them, be of help to produce an overall analysis, to detect risks, anomalies and inter-dependencies objectively, and to present them in a way that facilitates decision-making.