Transforming Your Organization With a Story In Your Heart
Father Geevarghese, a parish priest at a South Delhi church, likes to keep to himself. A compassionate man by nature, his overriding passion is football, and his hero is the Colombian goalkeeper Higuita. Uncharacteristically for a Catholic priest, Father Geevarghese has often imagined Higuita as Lord Shiva, stone-faced, strong, with his matted locks flowing in the wind.
A significant number of his flock comprises neo-convert tribal girls from Jharkhand, employed as maids in posh South Delhi homes. Like Lucy Marandi. The affable father is also aware of the racket that operates in Delhi; brokers who brings such girls to Delhi from their forest patches, promising them good salaries. He also knows how these brokers often behave like pimps, exploiting the girls themselves or pushing them into prostitution.
One of the regulars at his Church, Lucy, was going through such a torture at the hands of Jabbar, the person who brought her to Delhi. And the father suspected something’s wrong from Lucy’s sad face and her sobs at Sunday masses. Like his role-model Higuita – a goalkeeper who is not afraid to leave his comfort zone of the penalty area and play forward, even score a goal or two – Father Geevarghese decided to take matters in his hands.
He asked Lucy to take him to Jabbar’s house and when Jabbar tried to hit Lucy, Father Geevarghese transformed himself into Forward Geevarghese, that young, athletic footballer who could have made it to the Kerala state team had he not opted to be part of God’s Eleven. His kicks, which carried the same weight as 30 years ago, were now aimed at Jabbar’s chest and face. Blood oozed down a fainting Jabbar’s chest, adding red to the ‘Oklahoma’ graffiti on his dirty, white T-shirt.
Father Geevarghese returned to his church, calm and quiet, just like Higuita walking to his goalpost from midfield, his job done.
N.S. Madhavan wrote the short-story Higuita in 1990, and 24 years later tribal girls from Chhattisgarh are using football to set themselves free so that they do not have to depend on good samaritans who are hard to come by these days.
Last month, the 18 tribal girls representing Yuwa India, the NGO that gives self-expression and self-improvement to girls through football, were placed third among 10 teams playing for the Gasteiz Cup in Victoria Gasteiz in Spain. They were placed third after two wins, two losses, and one draw against international teams. Earlier during the Donosti Cup, Spain’s biggest football tournament, the girls made it to the quarterfinals from among 36 international teams.
The heroic acts of Geevarghese and Higuita and the empowerment of tribal girls from Jharkhand leading to their glorious achievements have lessons of personal mastery and organizational transformation. Like Rumi said, “The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you, don’t go back to sleep!” These stories have messages that could help us reflect and take action.
But let’s not over-analyse these stories intellectually, instead we should try and grasp the feel and essence of these stories because “Analysis does not transform conciousness” as Jiddu Krishnamurti said.
Many leaders are aware that they cannot be Father Geevarghese, leaving their churches to fight Jabbars and they also know they cannot be like Heguita, moving away from the goalpost to midfield to score a goal. So what can one do to create energy, meaning, ownership and accountability among all employees that could drive organizational transformation?
How to build a team that even in a resource crunch, with external pressures and ambiguities, performs like the girl’s football team from a village where earlier girls never even went to school, forget play football.
Most studies suggest that only 30 per cent of organizational transformation initiatives succeed fully. What are some of the elements that could drive a successful transformation Initiative?
1). Leadership: The leader should demonstrate the ability to stand on a future possibility and radiate conviction and willingness to take the initiative. Like Father Geeverghese and Heguita, leaders have to expand and enhance their role to drive the transformation message to all parts of the organization. Many a time the transformation journey is also an inner transformation journey for the leader.
The success of an intervention depends on the interior conditions of the intervener. Aligning and getting his leadership team enrolled in the transformation agenda is also a big-ticket item. Without a senior leadership team walking the talk and spreading the message, transformation initiatives have little chance of surviving.
2). The Transformation Story: The transformation story should point out the pain of not changing, the challenges of the current situation and paint an attractive future scenario, the end result of the transformation. This story should have personal meaning for everyone so that everyone can relate to it. Here the leaders become the storytellers showing an exciting future possibility and a painful current reality.
This creative tension between the current pain and future joy could trigger emotional connect to the transformation agenda.
3). The ability to take first steps: The organization needs to take first steps towards transformation and take action. This stage requires energy, the escape velocity we need to overcome resistance and emotional connect towards the initiatives and actions we take.
This stage also requires a road map that suggests what needs to be done specifically to trigger change. It’s always good not to attempt a hundred things at the same time. Select the critical ones that could give you momentum.
4). Communication and involving the whole system: Top down, bottom up, and pilot study might not be sufficient and somehow the whole system needs to get involved. This helps to get the systemic view and drive change faster and cheaper.
When OP Bhatt was driving transformation initiative in SBI, he used to hold large group interventions where around 200 people came together in batches for three days to discuss what was important and what actions could lead the bank towards transformation.
A strong communications strategy sharing the transformation aspiration and what each one of those meeting can do to make it happen needs to be created and implemented.
5). Touching both the subjective and the objective parts of the organization: Transformation initiatives should touch individual attitudes, motivation, aspirations, the organizational culture, values and norms, all subjective attributes and performance management systems, KPI’s, systems and processes that enable faster actions and decisions, strategy and organizational structure, the objective aspects.
Many a time organizations only change the objective aspects like strategy and structure but fail to address organizational culture. This result in the famous saying “Culture can eat strategy for breakfast any day”.
6). Building capabilities: Many a time people need new skills and capabilities to make the transformation happen. So transformation initiatives should focus building necessary skills and mindsets among employees to help them do things and take action.
If a BPO is driving transformation to become a proactive consulting orgaisation to its clients, the employees need skills to be a consultant than a back end supporter.
7). Focus on the positive and celebrate successes. What we focus on, expands, so it’s important to focus on what is working and celebrate that and expand that. Celebrating small wins creates the energy to move forward to bigger initiatives and fix what is not working.
And when the change is established, you could walk back to your office, calm and quiet, just like Higuita walking back to his goalpost from midfield, his job done. Or even better, your team could fly back from Spain after winning the cup.