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Transformative action


by consultant Ivan Häuser, Denmark, March 2021


Input-Transformation-Output [Competencies: Adaptability, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving)

Generally speaking, transformation is about engaging a person in an activity (“Input”) which is designed for facilitating this persons’ self-reflection, generation of new thoughts and taking action (“Transformative process”). It leads to a new situation where the person has adapted behavior and attitude and developed a new understanding (“Output”)

Slide No. 1

The design and methodology of the transformative action is the topic of this presentation.

A fundamental question is: “What drives people”?

People are driven by inborn and learnt/developed needs. What gives satisfaction is attractive. What impedes satisfaction creates frustration (Slide No. 2). In transformative action, we work with people’s drives, e.g. their motivation.

Intrinsic motivation instead of extrinsic motivation [Competencies: Self-awareness, Sense of Purpose]

Slide No. 2

Motivation can be manipulated. If so, we are talking about extrinsic motivation, where people are lured into doing something they do not really like in order to achieve something else that they really want (for instance doing some dull work in order to earn money so that they can afford to something they love. In transformative action, we do not want to manipulate people, but to be in accordance with their intrinsic motivation, e.g. what they really want for themselves.

Research by Ryan and Deci (2000) on small children’s behavior has shown what the elements of intrinsic motivation are (Slide No. 3). People want freedom to explore and satisfy their curiosity, they want to be good at something, and they want to belong to a group.

Slide No. 3

The zone of proximal development [Competencies: Curiosity, Collaboration, Building Trust in oneself, Self-regulation / Discipline, Sense of Resilience]

Transformation, however, doesn’t come easily. It is a learning process. Transformation is about getting out of one’s comfort zone and further. This can only be accomplished, if there is a challenge and a helper – the latter is a person who knows something that the client does not know. If the challenge is to big, the learning will not happen. And if there is no challenge, no learning will happen. The helper must find out what is the person’s next possible learning step: the zone of proximal development is (Slide No. 4)

Slide No. 4

An example (Slide No. 5) is how to help children learn to read. Reading is learnt through exposure to texts, starting with easy ones, so that the children’s brains can keep up with the growing difficulty. Most frequently, children are supported by teachers or parents. In general,  these adults do not really know how children learn to read, the children’s brains are doing the job of figuring out how the complex systematic relation is between sound and text.  But at least, the teachers and parents expose the children to texts of increasing difficulty and thus facilitate learning in the zone of proximal development.

In Slide No. 5 we illustrate what the problem is for children with learning difficulties (e.g. dyslexics). Their brain doesn’t by itself figure out what the systematic relation is between sound a text. Soon, after having learnt to read the most simple phonetic words and after a lot of guessing, they inevitably run into a wall they cannot climb, but the wall can be leveled out and transformed to manageable steps. A few textbook publishers and teachers how found out how.

Slide No. 5

The professional conversation – facilitating change [Competencies: Reconciling tensions and dilemmas]

Bringing a person to the zone of proximal development is also the task in professional conversations, such as sessions with clients/employees, where the psychologist or doctor or leader knows more (about psychology, health, leadership) than the client/employee. First, the professional must secure that there is a good atmosphere/environment that promotes openness, trust and comfortability. Second, the professional must listen in order to learn and uncover where the interlocutor is and try to find out why this person needs help. Together, the professional and the interlocutor create a transformation. The art is to let the interlocutor do most the talking, but also carefully direct this person towards self-reflection, new insights and transformative action.

Slide No. 7

Music presentations and story-telling [Competencies: Self-expression, Reflective Thinking]

Finding a way into a person’s motivation is a discovery. Quite often, people are not aware of their real needs and need help for self-reflection. One example of how to help people discover their own deep motives is “music presentations” (Slide No. 8). I use this method on course participants. A week before they meet up, I ask them all to think about a piece of music that means a lot to them and be prepared to play two minutes of it before the audience. In addition, they must tell a story about themselves, not about the music as such, but with some relation to the music. In the process of finding the music and remembering the story from their life, the course participants get in touch with deep layers in their personality.

Slide No. 8


There are many similarities between transformation in individual people and transformation in organizations which we will see. The most important is that you cannot jump to transformation. You need to analyze where the organization is now, and involve the staff in a learning process. In this learning process, the management consultant starts with listening and learning from people in the organization and from its external stakeholders. The organization must be made ready for transformation.

Unfreeze-change-freeze [Competencies: Open mindset]

Organizational change (transformation) will only be a success, if we “unfreeze” it first. Then we can change and “freeze” the changed organization:

Slide No. 9

We often encounter the problem that many people of the staff do not see the need for a change. (This may also occur with individuals). That is why “unfreezing” becomes very important.

Below, we will see some examples about how to create a common understanding of the need for a change.

The empty chair [Competencies: Respect towards others, Empathy, Perspective Taking]

For private companies, a common understanding can be found by comparing with successful competitors. This can be done by using “the empty chair technique”, which is originally a psycho-therapeutical method. You use it when you want a client to see a problem from another person’s perspective. The client sits down in the empty chair and play the other person, unfolding his or her thoughts and feelings.

In a strategy seminar for Company X, I divide the audience into for instance 3 groups, one being Competitor I (with its concrete name), the second Competitor II and the third Competitor III.

Slide No. 10

The groups now virtually sit down on the empty chair, they imagine that they are a certain, concrete competitor, and use their creativity and knowledge to fictitiously elaborate this competitor’s strategy on the market. The groups also imagine how (their own) Company X is perceived by the competitor and how the competitor disrespects and makes fun of Company X. All 3 groups make plenary presentations which, invariably, will contain a lot of self-criticism of Company X and awareness about what they are up against on the market. There will be a lot of good laughs and emerging insights.

Understanding and changing culture [Competencies: Conflict Resolution, Find solutions to complex problems]

Slide No. 11 shows an example of an analysis which a Company can do about itself. In a workshop, the staff member discuss and describe

  • WHY the company exists, what is its raison d’être?
  • How the company behaves and what the company culture is (what do we never do? What do we always do)

Slide No. 11

Culture’s inertia and tenacity [Competencies: Compassion and Respect, Tolerance for Complexity and Ambiguity]

Slide No 12 illustrates the problem that a company culture may be outdated and on the path to extinction, without the staff being aware of it. The dynamic of a culture is:

  • First, we rationally adapt to the surroundings (external adaptation) in order to survive – we accept the necessity and behave in a way that makes us survive
  • Next, we – and our descendants – get emotionally accustomed to behaving in the mentioned way and begin to love this way of life (internal adaptation). We may have forgotten why we do as we do, but now we find it right, natural and beautiful, and we love it
  • Third, when surroundings (the market) changes, we would need to change accordingly, but we don’t and can’t because we love our way of life and subsequently refuse changing. Culture has inertia.

Slide No. 12

Preserve – remove/reduce – develop [Competencies: A Sense of Responsibility, Cognitive Flexibility]

Slide No. 13 shows how we may change the culture, with due respect to tradition and preventing resistance to change. In a workshop, we ask the staff:

  • What must we preserve, because it is rational, valuable and means a lot to us?
  • What should we be doing less, or stop doing?
  • What don’t we do today, which we should start doing?

Slide No. 13

In the  slides No. 14 and 15 we see “From-Towards” templates for pinpointing needed changes the employees agree on after discussion. There are examples from a variety of workplaces.

Slide No. 14 +15


Examples CHANGE / Transformation  
From Towards  
Museum Focus on historic correctness Focus on parallels to today  
  Visitors can only look and cannot touch exhibited items Visitors are active, get a strong experience and can touch  
  Independence from politics Helping the local authorities solve local problems  
Retail Only physical shop Also web-shop  
Restaurants Only eating guests in the restaurant Also take-away  
Foreign Language class The teacher asks questions, gets answers and corrects mistakes


Learners in groups have conversations in the foreign language, the teacher observes and comments later  
Presentations The audience listens and can ask questions after the presentation The audience is involved in planning and may comment  
Authorities Monitoring that rules are followed Servicing and giving advice to citizens  
Aviation Offering luxury experience, food for free Keeping costs down, letting people pay for add-ons
Person Watching TV every night Reading a book two nights a week
  Seeing friends every weekend At least one weekend per month on your own
  Spending 50% of money on accomodation  and food Spending 30% on accomodation and food
  Saying yes under pressure Saying no when it feels right
Meetings Every week and 1½ hour When needed and never longer than 20 minutes


Structural change to support change in behavior [Competencies: Sense of Resilience, Sense of Integrity]

We should add that a change will not last, if it is not supported by a structural change. To put it simple: If you want people to think in a new way, they must move to another place and not sit together with the old group of colleagues. Without change in the structure, the change will overruled and “eaten” by the old culture which is still there. Examples:

  • If you want to promote equality of men and women in terms of, for instance, equal pay you need to change the statutory rules for maternity leave
  • If you want to change the destiny of challenged young people in housing areas with crime and drugs you need to keep them away from the streets in the leisure time and fill their time with other activities
  • If top-down and detailed control of salespeople does not work it might be a better idea to empower them, i.e. give them more freedom and more personal responsibility (extrinsic motivation / change management by fear to intrinsic motivation)
  • If you want to stop gossip and have a better work atmosphere you can separate people and move them into new constellations with new seating
  • If you want people to change their minds change their physical environment

Slide No. 16

 Kotter’s change model [Competencies: Problem Solving, Collaboration, Managing Risks]

A well-known model for facilitating change is the one below, designed by Jon Kotter. The idea is

  • First to create a sense of urgency, making people realize that we cannot go on like we used to. (Some take about a “burning platform”; it is not Kotter’s term but inspired by a disaster in the oil industry)
  • Second, to form a group of enthusiastic followers of the change-idea, who can carefully prepare the revolution and take the first careful steps
  • Third, make an attractive picture of the new situation after the change, get the majority onboard
  • Fourth, win the first small victories showing that they change is successful (“low hanging fruits”)

Slide No. 17

In traditional (old-fashioned top-down governed companies), change is dictated by the top management who gets the employees “onboard”. Those who do not follow are marginalized or fired.

Maurer’s model on resistance to change [Competencies: Empathy, Building Trust]

It is wiser to study the nature of resistance to change and thus prevent resistance. Slide No. 17 illustrates that there are 3 forms:

  • Some people need more explanation why the change is necessary (“I don’t get it”)
  • Some people are afraid of losing something (their work content, their colleagues, their level of wages) (“I don’t like it”)
  • Some people have little trust in the concrete people who introduce the change (“I don’t trust you”).

It is possible to do something about (1), (2) and (3). It is a good investment to include the staff and hear what they hope and fear in connection with a potential change and get their advice how to implement it.

Slide No. 17

The lemon exercise [Competencies: Self-awareness, Self-regulation]

To make people accustomed to change, you can train them like with the “Lemon exercise”, described in

Slide No. 19

People doing this collaboration exercise will come out of their comfort zone, have a lot of fun, feel a little fear and end up being proud of their accomplishment.

Thank you for your attention!

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