June 2024

Taken in by the “Transformation” trick?

Hopefully readers will have noticed the frequency with which our masters are using the words “transform” and “transformation”. The latest person to announce he would transform something is Simon Stevens, the new boss of NHS England who replaces Sir David Nicholson, the man responsible for but who never took responsibility for the Mid-Staffs hospital disaster. Simon Stevens has said “only by radically transforming services will the NHS continue to thrive“.

I have a confession to make. In the 1990s, I worked at the management consultancy Gemini Consulting which was part of the Capgemini group

At the time, Gemini Consulting was getting slaughtered in the marketplace by the big accountancies’ growing consultancy businesses. The problem was that the accountancies could deliver the trendy product of that time – BPR (Business Process Reengineering) – for often less than £5,000 per consultant per week. This was much cheaper than the £7,000 plus expenses per consultant per week that we at Gemini charged. The accountancies could undercut Gemini’s prices because they used armies of ‘billing fodder’ (cheap, inexperienced consultants) while Gemini tended to have more experienced and thus more highly-paid staff.

In order to fight back against the lower-priced competition, Gemini tried to find a smart new way of dressing up its services to make them look different and more valuable than those of our competitors. After a few real turkeys, they came up with the idea of ‘Business Transformation’. Gemini’s big chiefs even wrote a book called Transforming the Organization and, if I remember correctly, Gemini tried unsuccessfully to trade-mark the phrase ‘Business Transformation’ as a product only its consultants could deliver.

Reviewing the book at the time, the respected magazine The Economist wrote with great prescience that a true transformation ‘would employ an army of consultants for a century – and cause endless disruption’. (click to see picture clearly)


Most organisations can be improved, but very few need to be ‘transformed’. The great thing about ‘transformation’ was that it enabled us consultants to sell massive consulting contracts where we lucratively, and possibly sometimes unnecessarily, totally restructured our clients’ organisations and also put in huge new computer systems, again lucratively but perhaps unnecessarily.

Eventually, even governments caught the transformation bug. When he was PM, Tony Blair was forever using ‘transform’ and ‘transformation’. He promised us a ‘transformation’ of the NHS, a ‘transformation’ of secondary education, ‘transformations’ of all our public services and even had a meeting with top civil servants where he explained the ‘Seven Keys to Transformation’ which would lead to a ‘transformed civil service’.

Alistair Campbell said history would judge Blair as a ‘great transforming Prime Minister’. Blair’s government helpfully produced a chunky report called The Transformational Government Annual Report in which it detailed the many successes of its Transformational Government programme. The aim of the Transformational Government programme was: ‘Delivering better, more efficient services for everyone’. The programme seemed to be central to the government’s ambitions for improving public services as it explained in typical consultant gobbledegook: ‘Government is committed to a range of citizen-focused activities designed to optimise service design and delivery, and is proud that the United Kingdom is held up as providing some world-class examples of Transformational Government’.

The only thing that transformation has ever transformed are the ever healthier bank balances of the consultants who fool politicians, bureaucrats and business bosses into launching their massive, deluded transformation programmes.

3 comments to Taken in by the “Transformation” trick?

  • shortchanged

    More ‘weasel words’, aren’t we getting rather tired of them. Maybe we should sack them all and start again. Thought of something the other day, all polititions to hold office for one year only, with no re-election for five years. That would sort the crooks from the true public spirited. Build a purpose built apartment block for their accommadation with no taxpayer funded london house they can profit from. Bring all ‘politicos’ down to earth, let them experience real life, and not the cosy taxpayer funded luxury the so richly do NOT deserve.

  • Bodym

    My brother in law is Change Director at a UK bank. I insist that his job title is utterly meaningless but he claims that ‘change’ needs to be professionally managed in order to effectively grow an organisation. To be fair, he puts in a lot of hours but still cannot seem to provide any evidence of tangible benefits which his Change Program has yielded.

    Like Transformation, Change is just another wankword used to fleece gullible decision makers.

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