TRANSFORMATION Versus CHANGE. How are they different? And, why is it important to know what this difference is?

Change Management

Essential clarity on a commonly misunderstood concept.

Here at FiveRivers Consulting, we know this much is true: when it comes to a successful outcome in HR transformation, everyone involved needs to speak the same language.

In other words, clear messages being expressed, heard and understood by one and all. In fact, forgive the cliché, but consistency enables everyone to sing harmoniously from the same song sheet. We all know what we mean, and we understand each other perfectly.

Except that sometimes, we don’t.

Oftentimes, in the discourse surrounding transformation, there’s a degree of confusion. And in fact, there’s something we’ve been aware of for some time – and it’s this:

There’s a fog around how we define what “transformation “ means, and what “change” means. They appear to be the same thing, and indeed many senior managers make this assumption. To muddy the waters, most online Thesaurus tools streamline these words, suggesting that they’re side-by-side – at the very least.

However, with apologies to the Oxford English Dictionary, in our view this isn’t right.

We promise to stay away from semantics and splitting hairs with words, but we believe they are distinct.

Here at FiveRivers Consulting, we think that knowing and understanding this critical contrast is important. Why? Because seeing the clear light of day between the two removes the ambiguity. As an HR leader, it can help you to champion any transformation process you engage with. The result? Potentially, a much more effective outcome in your organisation.

So, let’s start with a summary definition:  

The Difference Between Transformation and Change

In brief, transformation is bigger than change. It’s re-designing HR service delivery to  refocus on the employee experience and enabling improvements across the board. Here, we’re talking about people, processes and technology becoming more efficient, therefore making it easier for a company to achieve its goals.

Change on the other hand, is – clearly – smaller than transformation.

Plus, it’s more nuanced. You could see change as a series of defined building blocks that make up the whole transformation edifice, or building. Separate stages towards a general objective, or goal.  

Change tends to focus on execution, and although still significant, may include a single initiative, or a series of them. Moreover, whilst you need to manage and monitor change, it may have a clearer outline. You can “see” it. For example, a security upgrade, or a software migration.

Transformation is more fluid. It incorporates a whole collection of changes within HR, which can be interdependent; it sees the wider picture. It requires investment, time, and a willingness to do things differently.

Thus, transformation is the aim, or the future desired state.

Change is what it takes to get there.

So, how can they work together? And importantly…

Why Are Transformation and Change Crucial in HR?

Because the execution of both can lead to a smoother, more streamlined department.

Our considerable experience in working environments like yours tell us this:

  • The Human Resources function is the most important, high-profile area in any organisation. This is due to the simple, and in our opinion, undeniable fact that businesses are about people – and people are your most valuable asset.
  • The HR department defines the tone for the entire company. Imagine, if you will, the source of a stream. It sets its course to the sea, joining tributaries, becoming a river – wider and wider as it goes. What we’re saying here is that, in the same way, everything flows from HR; how people do things, the employee “journey”, behavioural alignment, productivity, and so on.
  • With real-time data, accessible at the touch of a button, Human Resources can support genuine strategic growth. The team should instantaneously know  who, when, where, why, and how – in invaluable search scenarios to give to the Board that offer a crystal-clear picture


  • We often find manual processes within an HR function – and many of them. The resulting work silos are outstandingly inefficient.
  • Examples could involve a lack of data, resulting in unwieldy, time-consuming and often inaccurate reporting. Systems may not be networked, there’s no enterprise-wide onboarding platform, absence data is out of date – we could go on.
  • There is little or no value-add to the business. Staff work hard, rather than smart. Promoting success, reducing costs, increasing market share, growing in global markets, or innovating new services…it most likely isn’t going to happen.

So, HR is essential, yet often not at its best - working without clear insight, unable to see the wood for the trees.  

But, there is an answer. A way out of the woods, if you will. And, we’re delighted to have played a part in delivering that solution many times on behalf of the organisations that have engaged us.

We’ve helped to instigate changes within HR as part of an overall transformation process – each smaller change a key part of the bigger scheme of things, and a more strategic approach.  

An HR department that has undergone transformation and change can help the organisation it serves to do the same. You could quite literally, be leading the way. Streamlining basic tasks and maximising the power of data can empower your HR team. You’re enablers – or rather you can be - towards growth, more effective working patterns and a happier, more engaged workforce.

It’s Not Just Jargon

Over time, “transformation” has taken on buzzword status, overtaking and replacing good, old-fashioned, ordinary “change”. But, as you can see, although they’re not direct opposites, they’re most certainly not the same. And, they’re both key factors in organisational improvement.

What does success look like to you? If you’d like to discuss HR transformation, we’re here to help.

Imagine your best-case scenario, then get in touch with us on 07803 853 924 to start the conversation about how you get there.

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