Getting fit for transformation: What businesses can learn from fitness experts

January 2, 2020

Transformation. A word that carries significance without hyperbole. Greater than ‘change’, which feels decidedly meagre, but more ‘real-world’ than metamorphosis, which is reserved for the beasts of nature and mythology. 

Inherent within transformation is a journey that starts with an undesirable current state and ends with a sharper, winning, more beautiful end-result. The time axis is flexible, there are ups and downs, the journey is never really finished, it must start and end with the traveller, and happens within. Such are the clichés of transformation.

A perfect storm of cultural, technological and societal factors has created a heightened desire to transform – both for individuals and organisations around the world. 

‘Digital Transformation’ is the fastest growth discipline within the global management consulting industry - growing nearly 33% per year, on top of an already multi-billion-pound base – as businesses of all creeds and industries place Hail Mary bets on smartly suited consultants in a bid to keep up with the rapidly changing world around them.

The personal health revolution is witnessing similar growth, creating millionaires, celebrities and a vibrant marketplace of magic potions, coaches and fitness fads – even claiming a day of the week to celebrate success stories on #transformationtuesday.

Aspiring individuals and organisations at the start of their transformation journey face the same challenges. From goal-setting and choosing appropriate counsel, to tracking and documenting progress, to the deeper psychological aspects of motivation and change acceptance – whether the objective is a sixpack or a real-time supply chain, it won’t come easy.

‘Digital transformation’ has become a myth - a fairytale invented to sell more. Like Tiffany invented the engagement ring 130 years ago to sell more diamond rings or Hallmark invented Mother’s day to sell more greetings cards.

Consultancies sell ‘transformation’ to sell more man hours.

Systems integrators sell ‘transformation’ to sell a platform build.

Digital agencies sell ‘transformation’ to legitimise their outputs. 

Marketing agencies sell ‘transformation’ to sell more digital media and programmatic.

What would happen if we applied the advice of leading body transformation experts to a business context? Can organisations learn more from personal trainers than management consultants? More from nutritionists than innovation agencies? 

The eight stages of transformation - as told by fitness experts


Every transformation story starts with a ‘trigger’. This is an event or a gradual recognition of the need to make a change of a greater scale than something achievable normally - i.e. a need for revolution rather than resolution. 


What happens next is a ‘search’ for a viable framework or action plan to follow. In personal health, there are many plans or approaches to follow - most are 12 weeks long - “just the right amount of time to get good results but not too long to feel like a huge commitment” said one fitness entrepreneur. 


All of these frameworks start with a process of ‘self-recognition’, within which individuals are asked to jump on the scales and take some unflattering pictures. “Most people have an emotional relationship with food and fitness, which they have to understand before they can change” said another celebrity trainer - adding, “your body believes the internal conversations you have with yourself”. Getting these on the table early seems to be one of the biggest success factors for transformation. 


The next stage in most programmes is setting a ‘goal’. Most run on a 10 or 12 week programme to apply a time box for that goal. Although weight-loss and strength are the most common hopes for a transformation effort, most experts recommend body fat % as an objective measure of success. 


The ‘plan’ stage is where there is the most divergence in the recommendations than experts. Some favour more moderate exercise (one celebrity trainer suggesting 8-20 minutes of exercise per day) - others favour intense exercise (one best selling author recommending >60 mins of weight training six days per week). Either way, the key seems to be to select a predictable, repeatable and scalable process that allows habit-forming. A number of transformation experts cite the old tale (actually, it turns out, research from Columbia University) that “it takes 21 days to form a habit”. 


All of the most popular transformation plans share the same principle - transformation is about making better choices. Simply put - ‘doing’ it, consistently.  Tracking (of calories in particular) is crucial to understanding the impact of bad choices. Assisted action fulfills the requirement to train the body in new ways - e.g. hiring a personal trainer. As one fitness entrepreneur and digital coach elegantly put it “the only way to lose fat is to have a CFD - Calorie F***ing Deficit. That means eat less sh*t and exercise more effectively”. 


No transformation would exist without the ability to ‘Measure’ it. Most trainers and coaches advocate setting a specific timeframe against which to measure your success against your goal incrementally. This is usually on 30 day increments and involves taking the same measurements and photos as at the beginning of the process. This culminates in the end of the agreed period of the plan. 


Transformation by definition involves a changing of a state from a before to an after. Most experts in the body transformation arena say that transformation is only complete when people are able to ‘normalize’ the outcome and the process to get there. That means accept that, whilst the effort seemed transformative to begin with, it will soon become ‘business as usual’. 

Putting it into action

There you have it. If a business asked a body transformation expert to help them to transform, they would tell them to:

  1. Find a trigger that gets the organisation to acknowledge the need to transform 
  2. Search for the right partner(s) and frameworks to frame the journey
  3. Make sure that the organisation has some sort of objective self-recognition before they start 
  4. Set a goal that is ambitious but measurable 
  5. Create a plan that adds timings to that goal - both short-term and long-term points of reflection
  6. Make sure you turn thinking into doing by retaining an execution focus and not letting old habits kick in 
  7. Measure against your goals and nothing else
  8. When the initial effort is offer, normalize the behaviour and make it something that is done by default (BAU)