Nothing could be more important than clean water. Sanitation probably comes a close 2nd. To impact water and sanitation at scale across the developing world would be a true transformation.

Transformation is one of those popular terms now that is applied to any change initiative that happens. However, the word “transformation” carries more power than change. It infers a radical change. Something that takes place not just at a surface level but at a level of underlying structure.

When I was invited to facilitate a series of stakeholder dialogues over 18 months on the subject of sanitation, I got to see how a true systemic transformation can take place.   Multi stakeholder facilitation is a core transformation consulting skill.

In many ways the NFP and development sector has much to teach the corporate world. NFPs often rely on influence, diplomacy and a series of nudges to work the change inside out and from multiple stakeholder perspectives.

Traditionally most corporate change has been top down, told through crafted scripts, and directive in execution.  It optimistically expects rapid change through “alignment” and detailed execution pathway with often unrealistic milestones and deadlines.

Instead of this top-down approach, successful systemic transformation invests into a series of stakeholder facilitations to clarify and reshape the purpose.  This requires stakeholders to bring real “stories” and “on the ground” experiences so that everyone can grasp the true nature of the issue and its impact. The authenticity and relevance of these stories are critical to nudging change along.

Whilst holding the “why” as a beacon, the transformation consulting process focuses on creating some underlying structure that would enable and accommodate change to happen in different ways for different paradigms and for different stakeholders. This structure can be a voluntary guideline that sets out broad specifications, risks and concerns. The intention is to create a “vessel” that can hold may different types of products & services while ensuring some consistency, reliability & referencing the safety concerns. The critical outcome is a guideline document that is “on purpose”, accommodating for different needs, with suggested processes, and required boundaries.

Through the application of this precept or standard, the different stakeholders can create their own execution pathways.  However, they should be encouraged and nudged to include other parties in this execution. It is through this, multi-party approach that the concerns of the broader systems will be addressed.  Strong program management is critical here, however, it is often achieved through strong “production”, not through the direction. By production we are referring to an ability to facilitate and influence multiple characters into roles that support one central storyline. It requires holding a clarity of purpose and also holding the positive intentions of most parties to play their role. It requires a systemic mindset to see the bigger story and an ability to move people progressively through the journey without carrots and sticks.

Advancing developing world sanitation is a transformation well overdue and one that requires a different set of skills to the old change management approaches that remain ever present in many organizations.  It is clear why change is critical. And there are many ways that progress can and will be achieved. 

In your own business, there are undoubtedly overdue transformations waiting to happen.

Some key questions that may help you to reflect further on this critical question:

  • What is the more radical change that your business or function is currently resisting?
  • What “mindset” or approach does your business use to tackle larger transformations? ( is it locked into an old change management model)
  • How might you identify new influences and facilitators within your organization who can bring a “producer” rather than “director” approach?
  • What is the “why” for your transformations? And how have you included all parties in constructing this purpose?