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Marketing; Media; Advertisisng


Is collective phobia perhaps the reason why organisations struggle with transformation?

TRANSFORMATION… probably one of the most contentious topics in modern organisations.

What comes to mind when you think of transformation?  To simply use the word CHANGE seems a bit light weighted as transformation definitely implies significantly more than just change.  We change our attire on a daily basis.  Weather changes on a seasonal basis.  The examples of change are plentiful.

On the other side of the transformation spectrum, we find words such as metamorphosis – a change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one.  The key words there being “completely different”.  The obvious image that comes to mind is the worm(larva) hatching from the egg, changing into a pupa, and later becoming a colourful butterfly.

Deeper studies into metamorphosis in nature revealed a number of miracles…. Scientists nowadays agree that during the pupa stage, the caterpillar’s old body dies and a new body forms inside a protective shell.

Which example is most applicable when we think of organisational transformation?  Is it merely a change in season or is it as severe as death and rebirth as in metamorphosis?

Darwinian Theory has impacted science on an unmeasurable level and remains one of the hottest debated topics among intellectuals across the globe. Interpretations of Darwinian Theory are plentiful.   Discussions are also characterised by eclecticism – selecting and holding on to what is acceptable in one’s mind and discarding the rest.

Many people summarise Darwinian Theory into the “survival of the fittest”.  Technically this is not correct and Darwin himself way back in 1809 attempted to create a better understanding of his ideas when he said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

This reference to responsiveness is firmly imbedded in Adaptation Theory that proposes that there are three modifications that occur with environmental shift: Habitat tracking, genetic change and extinction.   All three of these are 100% applicable to modern organisations.

Habitat tracking:  Organisms who used to reside in a particular setting are looking for surroundings such as the habitat in which they used to reside.  This often happens when brands expand to other markets or world region.  Domestos is a household cleaning solution produced by Unilever. While the product goes by its original name in most countries, the brand had to reinvent itself to survive in some specific countries.   Domestos has received the name “Domex” in the Philippines and India, while in Japan is sold as “Domesuto.” You can also buy it as “Glorix” in countries like the Netherlands, Russia, and Bulgaria, or “Vim” in Argentina, Brazil, and Vietnam.

Genetic change:  Genetic change is the process of natural selection that enables the organism with minor mutations to superior to endure in a setting relative to the other species in a specified region.

Who could have foreseen that back in 1994 when Jeff Bezos started an online bookstore in his garage in Seattle, his idea would go on to become the largest internet retailer in the world? Amazon has taken the world by storm and it all started with an offering billed as ‘Earth’s biggest bookstore’. Since then, the tech giant has definitively changed the way we consume. Fresh food online? Done. Same day delivery or even within the hour? Absolutely.

Extinction:  When species are unable to adjust or migrate out to the fresh setting and discover a fresh atmosphere in which to reside, they ultimately drop out and become extinct.  Think of Nokia.  There are very few mobile phone users who did not have a Nokia at some stage.  As the same question today and the number of people who are still using a Nokia phone are hard to find.  One of the reasons for the demise of this excellent brand was that it could not adapt to the changing environment.  Although the quality of the product itself and the usability of the application were undisputed, the company lost contact with the growing needs of mobile phone users to design and customise their own interface through the various Applications platforms.

Reactions/Responses/Resistance.  Whether is it a fourth occurrence or merely a characteristic of how the process of change and adaptation takes place in humans is not important, what is important is that it is a given that there will always be reactions/responses/resistance to change.  In fact, psychologists have identified a condition known as Metathesiaphobia.

Metathesiaphobia is the fear of change or changing things. The origin of the word Metathesiophobia comes from Greek ‘meta’ meaning change and phobos meaning fear.   Metathesiophobes often feel that they have no control over their lives owing to constant changes. Their phobia makes them unwilling to move, to progress or to change anything from routine. This can severely impact one’s professional and personal lives.

The question can rightfully be asked if leadership in organisations are not perhaps inducing collective Metathesiaphobia.  Let us go back to the extreme process of change described in the example of Metamorphosis.  Each of the phases in the process is well-defined and predictable.  The tiny worms hatch from the eggs, they grow into gourmand caterpillars, change into a pupa, and develop into a butterfly.

How clearly are the stages in organisational transformation defined?  How predictable is the next phase? And, lastly, but more importantly:  Is there absolute clarity about the aspirational state and is everyone convinced that the change is for the betterment of the current circumstances?

Transformation without a relentless effort to imbed the changed state into the hearts and minds of every employee will only ignite a process where the unknown is over-analysed with a highly likely realisation of a lack of control as an unavoidable consequence.   Sure, there are various personality types in every organisation and there will also be the adventurers and the explorers who thrive on the adrenalin brought about journeys into the unknown.  However, these crusaders are in the minority.

Not acknowledging the possibility of a collective paralysing phobia in your organisation, may constrain and even damage the transformation in your organisation.

Consulta recently joined forces with Bhubesikazi, local licensee holders of Leadership Management International (LMI).  For decades LMI has been developing leaders and organizations to maximize their full potential, whether it be on a personal, family, or organizational level. Backed by over 50 years of global experience, LMI offers several products and services supported by a proven system that can make a measurable impact on both individual and company performance, as well as the profitability of any business.

Article by Johan Kruger, Head of Context at Consulta

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