Are you a victim or a transformer?

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Unilever announced in 2010 that, by 2020, it intended to double the size of its business while halving its environmental impact. This became known as the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP). Ambitious growth coupled with a significant constraint would challenge all the paths on which it had become dependent.Pier Luigi Sigismondi was Unilever’s chief supply chain officer in 2010, and he would bear much responsibility for the execution of this transformational strategy. At the time, he confessed both to rational doubts as much as emotional excitement around the company’s ability to deliver the goods.

In Adam Morgan and Tony Franco’s excellent Market Leader cover article (‘The creativity of constraints’, Q3, 2017), they talk about changing our mindset from ‘Victim’ to ‘Transformer’. With the Victim mindset “we give in to the constraint and the only option is to scale back our ambition”. When we are in Neutraliser mode, “we start to see ways around our targets – looking for workarounds or shortcuts”. However, it is only with a Transformer mindset that, in the words of Morgan and Franco, we begin to see any constraint as “pregnant with opportunity… a springboard for a new way to deliver our ambition”.

the mindset maker

Therefore what becomes both important and useful for leaders to understand is where their teams sit on the Victim-to-Transformer axis when confronted by thorny challenges. When Sigismondi and the rest of the Unilever board began their journey to establish the USLP, they would have had to ask themselves three questions:

  • Are we as a company sufficiently motivated by the challenge?
  • Do we believe we have the methods at our disposal to tackle it?
  • Is the corporate mindset strong and positive enough to face up to it and see it through?

When you dive a little deeper and start to unpick the specific factors that underpin Mindset, Method and Motivation on the journey from Victim to Transformer, you can establish a map to pinpoint where you are and where you need to get to in order to successfully conquer the challenge.

There are three points to make about the Mindset Marker:

  • The Victim mentality is not necessarily a personality trait, or something fixed in stone forever. Typically, we go on a journey from left to right. The natural reaction when faced by a constraint is to feel ‘victimised’, but whether you then progress to the status of Neutraliser and Transformer will partly depend on your appetite for battle.
  • On average, you need to be scoring 3, 4 or 5 across Mindset, Method and Motivation to have any chance of success. All three have got to be edging into Transformer territory together as a unit, and none can be left behind.
  • If Motivation is high, then you have a much better chance of finding the right Mindset and Method. Sigismondi said this about the USLP: “The logical thinking took us to a concerned place, but the emotional intent was so high that we said ‘We don’t have all the answers; we need to work with others… and if we join forces we can find a way.’

So how can the Mindset Marker add value? In two ways:

  • When confronted by a significant challenge that needs to be embraced to achieve a lofty ambition, a leader can use this diagnostic tool to assess where each team member sits on the Victim-to-Transformer spectrum. This can also be compared with how the team view themselves. And to complete the 360-degree picture, adjacent stakeholders can be asked to rate the team in question.
  • Once it becomes clearer which specific factors are holding back the team both as a whole unit and as individuals, these can then be addressed through a range of tailored development, coaching and training interventions.

So, in summary, addressing any significant challenge requires the right Mindset, Method and Motivation and everyone needs to move along the spectrum from Victim to Transformer to give you the best chance of success.

Mark Simmonds is co-founder of A Beautiful Constraint. Mark.Simmonds@
David Hicks is co-founder of A Beautiful Constraint. David.Hicks@