What is transformation? What does it mean, and how can we achieve it?

I remember talking to a group of managers, a few years ago, at a very big Richard’s Bay operation. I mentioned that one of our programs was transformational teambuilding.

A very stressed manager, immediately stood up, and said “You need to take the word transformation out of the description, of your product!” When I asked him why, he immediately said, “This sounds like you’re trying to replace us.”

This is one of the many meanings of the word transformation, in South Africa. Some South Africans, use the term, to describe the action that needs to be taken to have more people of colour, in the workplace. And to them, that means removing those who are currently employed.

What does transformation really mean?
(A look at transformation within the legal profession, by The Centre for Applied Legal Studies.)

 “The Centre for Applied Legal Studies, which is based at University of the Witwatersrand and uses law to protect human rights, has rightly affirmed that talent and diversity are not alternatives. Diversity after all is not inconsistent with talent and ability.

For a robust debate about the quality of High Court judges perhaps there first needs to be an understanding of three questions:

  • What is meant by transformation?
  • What are the barriers to transformation?
  • How should these barriers be addressed?

Transformation is often understood in the legal profession, as well as socially, as the appointment or promotion of black people to positions they would otherwise not qualify for. But as the centre’s report advocates:

Transformation should be about the removal of barriers that hinder talented lawyers from opportunities to develop and gain skills to advance their careers.

Barriers to transformation span across the different stages of a lawyer’s career. Black law graduates struggle to find jobs and have limited connections to established members of the profession. In addition, the cultural alienation in the legal profession affects the rise of black lawyers. The centre also identifies:

  • covert racism;
  • briefing patterns that exclude black lawyers; and
  • the “trailblazer phenomenon”, in which a few black lawyers are used as the benchmark in assessing other black professionals.

All these affect the rise of competent black lawyers to the bench.

Transformation of the judiciary is inextricably linked to the transformation of the legal profession. To settle the debate about the quality of High Court decisions, we first need to understand the barriers to transformation and then debate the various patterns that continue to entrench them. We must also be honest and accountable in our debate so that we can begin to find sustainable solutions.”

The very thought, of “transformation” is scary, or a HUGE opportunity.

Transformation often really frightens, many people in the workplace. “What must we do?”, they think “All we’ve done was be born with a certain skin type. And now, all of a sudden, we are to be replaced by people, simply because they were born a different colour.”

Other’s believe that they deserve a position, just by virtue of their colour, gender, or age.

Transformation is not about the replacement of groups of working people. No-one can legally be fired because of their skin colour, race, language, ancestry. Nor, is it about employing people, simply because they are from other backgrounds.

It is all about bringing people, previously excluded and side-stepped – into the workplace and opportunity. 

The transformation focus is to remove the cultural, historical, traditional, mental, physical and leadership blocks – that prevent people of differing genders, ages, races, cultures and religions from moving into, and upwardly, within organisations.

Some of these barriers would include:-

1)      Fear, self-preservation and old-fashioned racism, or prejudice.

2)      Seeing people as a colour or gender or age. And not viewing them, by their qualifications, abilities and actions.

3)      A preconceived idea that people of value only come from people of one’s own “group.” For example: “No woman, youngster, black, Indian, white, male, or coloured could do this kind of work.”

4)      A lack of understanding of culture, diversity, body language and religions. The severely impacts a person’s ability to firstly get through the door and become employed, secondly to work comfortably within the environment, and finally to advance within the organisation.

5)      Biased and non-representative employment committees. This bias may not be intentional, it may simply be caused by the lack of understanding – in 4).

6)      A constant focus on being with people who make us feel comfortable. This is apparent, when people stick to their own social, cultural and race groups, when socialising. There is absolutely no growth in being “comfortable.”

7)      The “experience” exclusion. This is used when applicants have just graduated, and if they seem to have “too much experience.” Graduates are simply blocked.

8)      A focus on excluding people, through what is often called the “Company Language.” And occasionally used as a description of the company – Eg. “This is an English company.”

As an example, a highly qualified Zimbabwean HR director was kept in the dark, and expected to perform. Meetings that were held in the dominant company language. “Don’t worry, we will tell you what they said, after the meeting.”

9)      Another big block, is the buddy–buddy system. This means that people who look like you, think like you and speak like you, will be the people of choice when you put together a project team. This doesn’t work, and does not give the proven diversity advantage.

So effectively, transformation is actually about creating a welcoming environment where deserving, and qualified people, from different backgrounds are able and happy to be a part of an organisation.


10 steps to positively, and effectively transform your organization.

1)      Assess your company. What are the demographics – by level, department, team. Get to understand where there are blocks to people of differing backgrounds, languages, ages and genders. What is the “Status quo?” What does this do to prevent the inclusion of other people.

2)      Diversity and Inclusion Training. Get your current team to learn how others respect and how to be respectful. Get them to lead respect and show respect – as others wish to be respected.

3)      Be Inclusive. Include your current team and add more diverse people to your team. Remember, that they will be strong opposition from your present team and challenges for your new team members. That is okay, be patient with them.

4)      Stop all classifying and judging.

5)      Open company-wide communication. Speak a common language, ask, listen and share – there are great lessons to be had. Also, where necessary, interpret all communications into the various languages of your team.

6)      Clear and Cleanse prejudice. Help by guiding those with strong prejudices, in the team. And watch out for incoming prejudice. Help them to change. If they do not wish to and are destructive and may be better to part ways.

7)      Get strategic with transformation. Lead and grow unity – by acting upon a diversity and inclusion strategy and Transformation Policy.

  1. Employ without prejudice. Get an outside, unbiased and diverse team to help you with the selection of new team members.
  2. Get a similar team, with a deep understanding of culture, religion and traditions, to handle disciplinary actions.
  3. Give everyone an equal chance. Ensure that all of your new employees get equal opportunities to participate in projects. At all times!
  4. Employ people with potential, even if their experience is limited. Make it your responsibility to grow graduates and give them workplace experience.

8)      Get Strategic! Create the vision, policy and D&I and Transformation Strategic plan. With your team, and/ or future possible team members.

  1. Inclusively develop an inclusive code of conduct, for all to manage.
  2. Set-up accountability through Management KPIs for behavior, transformation and D@I and manage it.
  3. Manage the D&I and Transformation strategy and the workplace relationships, on a regular basis. Take action to keep it on track.

9)      Begin a programme of mentoring. Remember that mentoring is not one-way traffic. Simply put, there’s much that we can learn from each other, be it job focused, language, culture, or the speciality – of the new person. We need to take the time to find mentors, in the areas that we are need to improve.

10)   Become a welcoming organization and team. Build an inclusive and welcoming environment, with diversity specific and common resources, for all.

Transformation is not a choice, it is a business and national imperative.

We have the destiny of our nation and our world, in our hands.

Unless we take bold steps, and powerful action, we will remain a divided, racist and prejudiced nation. The government of the day, will enact new laws, more divisive and more prescriptive.

This is our time, to create the future that our children deserve. That our people deserve. We simply HAVE to includes, all people, of all backgrounds.

Have a happy, focused and transformed 2016!


Warm regards

Brian V Moore
+27 79 643 4457

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