Imagine explaining to our colleagues overseas that we in SA have a Transformation department. They would conclude that we are running an institution similar to Hogwarts, and that the Transformation leader is someone like Professor Snape. "What is this Transformation," they ask? "It must cost you a fortune? It must be very frustrating?"
Mind you, last time I read a Harry Potter book I felt some sympathy for all of the young muggles at the school, and I thought that Professor Dumbledore might well need to give some attention to making the half bloods feel at home. They struck me as being a conspicuous minority.
Transformation is obviously about achieving some demographic targets, and it is about righting the wrongs of the past. But it is also about creating an environment where everyone feels comfortable, where everyone has access to formal and informal ways of progressing and getting things done.
I am sure that everyone can think of an example of when they felt "out". This could be in spite of sincere attempts being made to make one feel hugely welcome.
I was recently invited to attend a Muslim wedding in Istanbul – a manager in our office there was getting married, and he had asked our local Office Managing Partner to witness his wedding to a Deloitte alumnus – or is that alumna – since she was female? I was very honoured to receive the invitation, and even more pleased when I learnt that the venue was a fancy historic castle on the banks of the Bosporus. I checked the dress code – just come as you are – you look fine. So why was I surprised when I was the only person not dressed in a black tie? In fact I didn't even have a tie. Luckily I couldn't tell if anyone was 'skindering' about my South African untidiness because everyone was speaking Turkish. Luckily also, the unintelligible speeches were short (a best practice from which we could learn plenty.) I tried to look interested, and observed my hosts very carefully so that I could see when to clap and look pleased. I was totally dependant on Oktay, my partner pair, to place a drinks order, to know when to fetch food, and even to know what was edible and what was not. He knew a lot about my culture- so he could advise me.
I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, and I was even more honoured to have been invited after I understood how unusual this was, but I was also very relieved to get back to my hotel afterwards. I found several of our American colleagues drinking martinis on the roof of the hotel when I got back, and they enthusiastically invited me to join them for a sickly sweet alcoholic mystery. I thanked them and went straight to bed – I could only take so much cultural diversity for one night – it had tired me out. Besides which, we always seemed to end up with a sales job on the war in Iraq, and I could get that in private from CNN in my room.
How often do we do this at the office?
"Please come along – in fact why don't you just pull in? We own this firm, but you know, none of us ever voted Nat, and it would be really nice to have you. Just come as you are – your dress code is fine, and we will tell you what we mean when the language is in code. In fact, if you just drink what we drink, and subscribe to a few of our beliefs, you too could be just like us – which is successful, happy, and accepted."
How can we become a home to all of our people if these attitudes prevail?
This is why we still need a Transformation Department.
However, transformation must be in everything we do as an organisation, and in everything we do as individuals in that organisation. Transformation cannot be outsourced to Di Schneider. Until we have no 'guests' at our wedding, and we have no need to get approval for our 'wars abroad', it must be truly embedded into every single agenda item.
We must demand demographic, gender and other diversity at every turn. This includes proposals, support structures, delivery teams, performance measurement, recruitment, promotions, leadership, learning, social events, strategy, planning and every facet of professional life. We need a sub-heading called Transformation under every single element mentioned above, and then the separate Transformation heading simply becomes the completeness check.
This will not be achieved without deliberate, planned effort in everything we do – which can be very tiring indeed. This needs constant awareness of what we are doing, and zero tolerance for people who leave it up to others, who outsource it. This means constantly venturing out of comfort zones – every time we slip back into our cliquey in-crowd to get some relaxation from this source of stress, we take two steps backwards (and we all do this – I certainly do). Rather go back to your hotel room alone, and just as you flick to CNN, take stock of yourself and watch some Al Jazheera for a change. Choose new books to read, new people with whom to socialise, new restaurants to frequent, new sports to follow. Become vulnerable – goodness knows – others are doing it for you. Think about who you invite to your weddings, and think about how to make all of your guests feel welcome.
When we can do all of this, when we have come full circle – where the secret corporate codes are a common language and where all feel welcome – then we will have achieved Transformation. We will laugh about our old Transformation Department, and we will travel abroad and marvel at how much we have learnt, and now have to teach!
I think we will start a revolution.