Jan 23, 2010

Transactional and Transformational Change

Several weeks ago I got into a debate with a co-worker about, of all things, transactional versus transformational change. We were discussing how best to implement some new processes, and typically how best to implement any change often depends on how significant the change is. Hence the friendly debate on whether this was transactional or transformational.

First some definitions.

Transactional change is aimed at achieving established goals by either redefining or clarifying roles, responsibilities and task assignments. Transactional change is a "first order" change that involves things like requirements, standards, chain of command, etc.

Transformational change is deeper - it's a second order change and involves elements such as mission, strategy and organizational culture. Much bigger and fundamental and often harder to get to.

I am a big believer in the notion that you can effect transformational change by enforcing transactional change. In other words, setting standards, rewiring reporting structures and defining roles will, over time, have the effect of moving any organization transformationally to it's next level or iteration. At some fundamental level, you are what you do. Therefore, if you do anything long enough, it becomes part of who you are. Seems obvious, right?

Having worked through this issue at work, I am seeing examples of this all over the place outside of the office. Want to be bike commuter some day? Simply ride your bike to work; just trying it once is a fine place to start. Give it another go later when you feel like it - you'll probably hit on something that worked better or made it more enjoyable the second time (even if it's just being in better shape). And so it goes; do this often enough and you will absolutely transform yourself into a regular bike commuter. Or a runner. Or an artist. Or a writer. Or whatever.

No need to wait for an epiphany or some mysterious transformational change to come crashing into your life (in fact, doing so will usually prevent the change from happening).

My goal of riding through the winter fell off in December, but I picked it up again in January (to some extent, anyway) now that it's warmer. Framing my goal of becoming a year-round commuter as a transactional change (rather than a transformational change) helps me to put my mid-winter winter lull into perspective. Recognizing how transactional action brings about transformational change makes this little backslide merely a step on the path to that more fundamental change.

P.S. - The image used for this post is a west African symbol for the concept of life transformation and changing your character.

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