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Transformation or Continuity:  Which One Should We Focus On?
By Scott Morrell

The Answer is Both! 

Do you know there are over 60 methods for inspiring effective transformation within an organization?  Commonly used methods for organizational transformation include: Appreciative Inquiry, Force Field Analysis, John Kotter’s 8-Step Model, SWOT Analysis and many more. Conversely, there are very few models and methods for creating continuity or stability within an organization. Think about it. Our corporate cultures need both the energy that comes from transformation efforts and the predictability continuity provides. 


When an organization emphases their Transformation efforts they are energized by new ideas and the opportunity for innovation. It makes complete sense. We can feel the positive energy. We label the leaders of transformation as change-agents. You know who they are in your workplaces. 


On the other hand, when an organization emphasizes Continuity they value the predictable nature of their work, a known path to success and core processes that work. Unfortunately these organizations or individuals will be labeled as dull, a fuddy-duddy, a stick-in-the-mud, or simply “always resistant to change.” 

    If an organization over-focuses on Transformation, without equally communicating Continuity, they run the risk of creating more resistance, and ultimately the change effort is set for failure. We need to recognize attending to both (Transformation and Continuity) is essential and is supplemental to “either/or” thinking. We need to be mindful as leaders, teams and entire organizations of our efforts for transformation and continuity as we strive for organizational effectiveness. 

    An Actionable Road Map

    Consider that there is an active energy system (like gravity), acting upon us at all times, constantly pushing and pulling us between these valuable tensions (i.e. Transformation AND Continuity). These polarities are unavoidable, indestructible and unsolvable. How then shall we make sense of this reality?

    Most people are visual learners.  Graphically seeing the polarities with their upside and downsides is a good start.  However, identifying measurable Action Steps and Early Warning Signs, and assessing the performance of the polarities over time are vital.

    I recommend organizations start with measuring (empirically) how well they are presently leveraging each polarity of importance. Quick assessment results allow leaders and teams to see, with multiple stakeholder input, how well the organization is performing on each pole.


    Take Action

    In order to experience both upsides (e.g. the value of both Transformation and Continuity), action steps should be created to define SMART goals: who? what? where? and when? These accountability measures help an organization to mobilize the behaviors needed to focus on that pole. When living in upsides of both poles at the same time a greater purpose is achieved. In other words, if we maximize measurable behaviors in Transformation and Continuity the organization will outperform organizations that only emphasis one pole over time. 


    Action Steps:  Transformation

    1.  All employees have "stretch goals" in their annual development plans.

    2.  We establish a learning culture where innovation is seen as everyone's job.

    3.  We fund a research & development wing of the organization.

    Action Steps: Continuity

    1.  Hold quarterly “ask leadership” meetings focused on company mission and strategy.

    2.  Set aside time to connect strategic plan implementation steps with the past year’s success before taking steps to plan for the next “big thing.”

    3.  Reward people for implementation and follow-through not just leading change.

    Warning Signs

    How would we know if one pole becomes more emphasized at the neglect of the other pole?  Early warning signs can point to the imbalance; they diagnose where attention is needed.  Early warning signs are also measurable things we can count for the purpose of informing the leader, team or organization they are trending downward on one pole.


    Early Warning Signs: Transformation Outcomes

    1.  People are complaining that we are chasing the “newest” thing too much.

    2.  A failure to achieve stated SMART goals due to “emergent” opportunities.

    3.  An increase on “interim” roles within departments across the organization.


    Early Warning Signs: Continuity Outcomes  

    1.  An increase of complaints that the organization is stuck in the past expecting different results.

    2.  A majority of key leaders report the past year's implementation plans were "too safe."

    3.  A third of “stretch goals” were missed.


    There is No Mystery:  A Five Step Process

    A 5-Step Process allows an organization to fully diagnose and prescribe behaviors desired to achieve a competitive advantage and/or effective leadership.

    1.  SEEING - See an individual, team or organization and their Polarities more completely

    2.  MAPPING - Create quality and/or assessment ready Polarity Maps

    3.  ASSESSING - Assess how well key Polarities are being leveraged

    4.  LEARNING –  Make meaning of assessment results from diverse stakeholder perspectives

    5.  LEVERAGING – Achieve the greater purpose of each Polarity

    Stone Arch Organization Development has an innovative tool, Polarity Assessment for Continuity and Transformation (PACT) ™, available to help with mapping your Transformation and Continuity realities.