Moving beyond the buzzword: why 'transformation' really matters

18 February 2019
'Transformation' is more than just a corporate buzzword - it's a necessity for organisations to not only survive but to thrive ethically in an uncertain world, says a University of Sydney expert.

Based on extensive research in the education, organisational and business sectors, Professor Michael Anderson from the University of Sydney School of Education and Social Work believes what businesses have been missing is the capacity to undertake basic human-level processes that ensure a productive contribution to the community.

According to Professor Anderson, there are four uniquely human skills that must be continually nurtured in order for established and emerging organisations to thrive – the ‘4Cs’ of creativity, collaboration, communication and critical reflection.

“Of course, the 4Cs can also become meaningless buzzwords unless they are defined, demystified, enabled and enacted within organisations – this is the process of transformation. It is important to think of the 4Cs as the catalysts that can make transformation achievable,” Professor Anderson said.

In a new book, Transforming Organizations, Professor Anderson and co-author Dr Miranda Jefferson provide examples of several organisations locally and internationally that have either embedded the 4Cs and grown, or ignored them and faced the consequences.

One of the companies the pair have researched is LEGO, which they claim successfully refocused its business by embedding creativity and communication over more than a decade.

“In the early 2000s LEGO was facing financial oblivion - it had too many products and ineffective communication with its customers. However, the company devised strategies to engage with customers through clear and deep communication, which led to drastic changes in product lines and other processes,” Professor Anderson said.

“This focus on communication and creativity has transformed LEGO into a secure and profitable business that also has a strong philanthropic presence supporting programs focused on the needs of children, including play and education.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Professor Anderson cites Volkswagen as an historic example of an organisation whose avoidance of transformation had clear costs, as evidenced during their 2015 emissions scandal.

“Volkswagen’s culture seemed to lack collaboration and critical reflection, and this eventually led to egregious fraud and gigantic reputational and financial damage. There are some signs that transformation is occurring at VW but only time will tell whether the lessons are learnt long term,” he said.

Another recent example (not covered in Transforming Organizations) has been the Australian financial industry’s damaged culture, as uncovered during the recent Banking Royal Commission.

“If financial institutions had embedded critical reflection as a value and a capacity, then charging fees to deceased clients and fees for no service would have been unthinkable,” Professor Anderson said.

Event: Thursday 28 February 2019

Mark Scott AO, Secretary of the NSW Department of Education and former Managing Director of the ABC, will launch Transforming Organizations at the University of Sydney on Thursday 28 February 2019.

The launch will be followed by a panel discussion, with panellists including Vanessa Chapman (General Counsel and Company Secretary, New Payment Platform), Bruce Jeffreys (Co-founder, GoGet, Dresden Optics) and Dr Miranda Jefferson (4C Transformative Learning and 4C Organisations). This event is presented by the University of Sydney Business School. 

More information and registration.

Related articles