Change management

Managing change: a human centric approach

I have been tasked with helping to lead organisational change more than once in my life. The conventional term for this is change-management. After many years of managing and being part of change, I think of myself as a bit of a change-management veteran.

I think the reason I found myself in this situation, so often, has a lot to do with how rapidly the world has changed in the last two decades. It may also be a result of the industries I chose to work in – many of which were being severely disrupted. Through these years I have seen many different cultures evolve, intersect and some times jostle. Whatever the reasons, I have learnt that leading and managing change successfully is exhausting, frustrating, gratifying, and exciting, all at the same time. It certainly is experience that deserves to be shared now more than ever before.

Why do organisations need to change?

When organisations change, they are either undergoing a process of evolution or transformation, and in my experience, neither is likely to be a natural process. It is often a response to the external environment which has changed or is expected to change, leading to dramatic shifts in consumption behaviour or customer expectation, redundancy of product lines, or commercial pressures such as cost that make the business unviable. It could even be a reaction to a storm in the marketplace that has repositioned the brand, the product, or the category, possibly making them redundant overnight. Sometimes, it is necessitated by the merging of cultures as in the case of two companies coming together or an acquisition. The culture conflict could also come from a new SBU or business process that needs a different mindset and people to be inducted.

Some organisations, of course are good at predicting change and manage it proactively. Their journey is less urgent but as exciting and arduous. In other organisations, change is sometimes a byproduct of leadership change. The unsaid rule is that a new leader brings new perspective and fresh ideas. But it is also true that the occasional leader finds the need to change compulsive, sometimes for control and symbolism but also often to be able to leverage their own leadership style. It is also possible, infact probable that a new leadership comes with a mandate for change.

Finally, a frequent but mostly unspoken case, is the dramatic changes that come with growth. Growth pain is probably the toughest to deal with.

Whatever the reason, managing change is complex, it requires a deep appreciation of people and culture, and often fails before it succeeds. The tectonic shifts in consumption behaviour followed by the uncertainty of a pandemic may have finally brought us to the awakening that our brands, companies, organisations, and people can no longer be tied to the muscle memory built by unchanged practice over decades. The next decade and beyond will belong to the “Learning Organisation” and success will be defined by the ability of an organisation to change, evolve, pivot, and even transform. What will be our role as leaders? What will differentiate the organisations that successfully transcend change?

I will try and lend some thoughts in this post. But first a small story.

I was once posed with a rather difficult question in my first months in a new assignment: How should my company deal with old hands (read: people) that are not embracing the new digital reality of business? As I understood it, the company had invested much money in technology, brought in domain experts and conducted training. The best consultants that money could buy had been used to plan modernisation of the workplace and the workforce. The industry and the company had been severely and visibly disrupted by the internet. Yet “some” people were unwilling to adapt behaviour and were pulling the business back.

I asked for some time and a list of people.

A quick chat with HR told me, many of these people had been with the company for decades, they had impeccable career records and some of them had been achievers. The HR person was categorical however, that they were outdated, relics of the past who had been given ample opportunity. We needed younger people with the right attitude.

The next morning, I walked up to the oldest person on the list and introduced myself. I offered coffee in exchange for a small chat. I told him my predicament and asked, “What do you want to do?”

“What do you think?” he replied. He had spent a large part of his working life with the company, he had seen it grow and he wanted to be there till his last working day. I told him it was looking tough because he did not want to accept and be part of the future. He looked at me very seriously and asked how I had decided that was true. And then he asked me the one question that was worth a million answers, “Why would anyone not want to be part of the future?”.

It seems I was the first person who was speaking to him about this. So far, he had dealt with townhall speeches, trainers, IT, and emails. He was petrified that he did not understand what was happening, and young people who seemed to know a lot were mushrooming all around him. He had no idea what to do and where to start. So, he just stuck with the familiar, hoping he could hold onto what he knew to avoid failing and justify his worth. In doing so, he had dug in his heels, as had his other colleagues.

The company had done everything right. Consultants: tick, new talent: tick, technology: tick, hiring engineers: tick, trainers: tick, leadership communication: tick, IT support: tick, spending huge money: tick.

But conversations, comfort, empathy, coaching: a big cross. Dealing with 35 years of muscle memory: cross. Managing conflicting cultures by encouraging empathy and learning: cross.

It is no secret that not everyone always makes it through change. That is the unfortunate way of life. But the only way to successfully steer the ship is through people. Not surprisingly, most change falls between the cracks of human connection and the inability to look at change from that lens. In this case, we had done everything that involved spending money or deploying technology perfectly and forgotten to deal with anything that was soft, human. We were operating off Microsoft Office, Google Suite, board room meetings and technology. Even this would have all been fine if our deployment lens had been the people who needed to move with the ship.

A human centric approach to change

The criticality of putting people at the centre of change is now well researched and documented. The consulting firm, BCG, ran a series of articles in 2019 on the challenges of transformation, focusing on key elements in the people journey. In one of these publications, transformation specialists Reinhard Messenböck, Michael Lutz and Christoph Hilberath observe that employee-centricity is the absolute essential if transformation is to result in a competitive advantage. Their experience corroborates the view that successful transformation efforts always put employees at the very centre. The critical bottleneck that needs to be managed according to them is the employees’ ability to absorb change. Yet it’s worth pointing out that their own global research, conducted on over 1,000 companies and referred to in the same publication indicates that transformations, in general, pay little or no attention to the people journey.

After many years of being part of change and now with my research to corroborate, I can safely say that if there is one trait for successful change management, it is the ability to see the human side of change. That is the secret sauce. At The Core Questin, we refer to this dimension of leadership as Human Centric Leadership or the ability of a leader to humanise the challenge and find a deep, sustainable path forward. Human centric leadership makes the workforce both the centre point and the starting point of strategy.

In reference to my earlier story, this is not just a behavior shift but a definite paradigm shift and it facilitates a few things to happen:

  1. Better communication, collective ownership of the often-urgent need for change
  2. Empathy – a deeper understanding of why people struggle with change
  3. Less resistance and fear of failure, uncertainty and the unknown
  4. Easier adoption of tools, technology, and training
  5. An ability to absorb failure and try again
  6. Softer landing ground, less transmission loss and more energy at the other end

Change fatigue and a case for coaching

The last point in the list above is a critical one and rarely addressed in a change management system design. Most change, especially if it is sudden and discontinuous, is painful. It can lead to attrition, reduced engagement, and loss of trust. In fact, the other side of change is not as celebratory as most leaders dream of it being while in battle with the unknowns. In his contributing article for Forbes in March 2018, Brent Gleeson refers to the term, Change Fatigue in the same vein as battle fatigue. This is a real organisational phenomenon. Change is rarely a smooth process that fits into a perfect time window. It often fails in the first attempt, has many bumps, has periods of uncertainty and grey and is exhausting. As a result, many employees end up cynical, tired, and disbelieving. The longer the change cycle, the more chances of Change Fatigue. Good leaders know that and are conscious of not just getting to the other end, but getting an energised workforce to the other end.

In the same article, Gleeson also refers to a direct correlation between the Emotional Intelligence of managers and a company’s ability to manage the change process. This is important because companies with higher EQ for change in its ranks, manage the journey better. Their ability to use the people lens leads to relatively less Change Fatigue.

Not surprisingly, an increasing number of companies now use coaching as a powerful tool to equip their managers with the tools to manage change. When I think back on all my experiences with organisational change, I realise how much difference having a good coach would have made for me. My advice to all the leaders engaged in change management, is to make coaching a part of organisational culture. It will raise the level of their game significantly. And it will do that at a fraction of the cost of consultants, technical advisors, and mentors. Even today, many of our clients at The Core Questin bring an agenda of transition and change to the table. My guess is, this is a brief that is likely to repeat itself even more often.

Shifting the paradigm of change from actions and tactics to people, and from behaviour to mindset, is a critical ingredient in success. Its criticality grows as we move along the scale of change from evolution to transformation. Think of it as the lens to think through strategy and tactics, as a useful GPS system that guides decision-making. Think of it also as the anti-gravity force that helps you raise the level of all your work.

A change management checklist for leaders

It’s possible, that at this point, my focus on people and culture may seem like an over simplification of the enormous effort that any change requires, to some of those reading this article. After all, many things go into managing change effectively. Perhaps this is a fair critisism, at least to some extent. It’s important to make a point on this, before I move on, because there is a host of actions that must accompany this shift to make the process complete. Change is hard work.

Reflecting on my experience, I have created a comprehensive list of important ingredients for successful change management. Please note that not only does a human centric approach sit on top of the list, it also powers and facilitates all the other actions on the list. We will see how that happens as we go along. Here is my list:

  1. A human centric approach to change. This clearly occupies numero uno position
  2. Leadership effectiveness, traits, behaviours
  3. The strategic ability to correctly predict the nature and scale of change required
  4. A buy-in from management and the board on the need and the course of action
  5. Clear accountability and responsibility for change management or transformation projects with a person, group or team
  6. Unyielding consistency on values and purpose
  7. A laser sharp focus on business continuity
  8. Focus on data and clearly articulated success metrics
  9. A high degree of awareness – insight on consumers – both internal and external
  10. Communication with external and internal eco-system – building ownership
  11. Celebrating small successes and ensuring workforce engagement
  12. The capacity to embrace failure
  13. Timely investments, particularly in technology
  14. Investment in training
  15. Agility – testing and iterating at scale, particularly processes and products that are new to the company

These are all important points and you will observe they are recurring themes in this document, but the onus for much of these lies with three crucial underlying themes: leadership, consistency of actions in sync with values and purpose, and a system of change management (versus just some actions). Each of these is vital for successful change management. The other very important but under rated theme for change is communication and messaging. I will deal these themes one by one.

A. Human Centric leadership in the context of change

Since the starting premise for this post was human centric leadership, let us start by re-looking at that in the context of actions.

The mirror metric to Change Fatigue is ECAC, Employee Capacity to Absorb Change (ECAC), that has been referred to by BCG via their research in a 2019 publication. Simply put, successful, employee-centric transformation maximizes ECAC – a measure that provides information on how well and how fast an organisation can adapt to change at a given moment. This employee-centric transformation has two essential components. First, transparency and second, more importantly the leader journey.

“Leadership is not a destination or a job title. Leadership is a journey that starts everyday”

Shweta Anand Arora
The Core Questin

My own learning and personal message is that the best (most effective) change leaders, lead from beyond job titles, power and position. They recognise, that in a process that is intimidating, unfamiliar and laden with uncertainty, an authentic and fully accessible human being has the highest chance of being able to influence change. This belief drives much of our work at The Core Questin.

The best change leaders engage with their teams and act with compassion and understanding. They are visible, available, and accessible. Their actions stand out because they reflect empathy. This loops back to the earlier point on changing the paradigm of change and putting people at the centre of the change management programme. A successful ‘change leadership’ will have inevitably asked questions like: How do these changes affect the people in our teams? What changes do we need our teams to make? What will that take? How ready are they? Do they understand and own this need for change? Do they understand what is needed of them? Do we recognise their challenges and how do we address them?

So much is said about leaders who lead from the front, roll up their sleeves and so on and so forth. The fact is real leadership is visible in corridors, aisles and cubicles. When it’s stormy, the best leaders make time, almost magically, to be walking around and talking to people, stretching meetings by a couple of minutes to be able to listen. I’ve often marvelled at how that happens, but it does.

Bottomline, at the heart of human centric leadership, sits a very human leader forging authentic human connections with people around him or her. I can guarantee that if any of us have ever experienced leadership at our work places that is human centric, we will remember the manager, the leader, the human being more than anything else.

B. Purpose provides an emotional connection and a safety net

Earning trust and respect in the heat of change is not easy. But the best managers are respected because in their honesty, they bring a purity of purpose to the table, that people around them find easy to latch onto. In fact purpose emerges as an important theme in this era of volatility. In a recent post titled, An expanded definition of leadership, Shweta Anand Arora, CEO, The Core Questin, offers thoughts on how we can expand the traditional definitions and behaviours of leadership, to include a sense of humanity. And on top of her list is ‘vision, with purpose’.

The most effective leaders during a transformation do not throw the baby out with the bath water. When faced with the need for significant change, they recognise and hold on to the value of purpose. They constantly reiterate why the company exists and what binds people together. Their actions reinforce, not contradict their stated purpose. And when it appears to contradict for reasons beyond their control, they offer human explanations. In other words, purpose is real and visible and provides the safety net of human connections. Human centric leaders recognise that.

C. Building a change management system that works

Another consistent theme, closely related to leading change, is the role of the change management function or system. The word system is very important here, because managing change cannot be seen as one-off behaviour or tasks. This is a system needs to be designed carefully.

building blocks of a change management system

More times than not, the leader assigns himself or herself or the leadership team this role. In some companies it’s a group put together for a project. In others it’s a leadership position or a team tasked with continuous change or discontinuous transformation. The last set are evolved organisations, committed to continuously learning and being prepared for the future. I know of companies where a completely different unit is tasked by creating many small bullets that are fired over a three-year or a five-year period. At any point of time they have a playbook.

Irrespective, the system of change is now an unavoidable theme and this role has become critical in most companies.

If you are looking for some do’s and don’ts in establishing and successfully delivering this system in your organisation, there is some interesting work to fall back on. Lets start with the do’s.

Over the course of hundreds of client transformations, BCG has identified three crucial actions to strengthen a company’s’ change management function:

  1. Ensure that the role of the change management function evolves to suit the various stages of the transformation program
  2. Develop traits that are critical for effective change management function
  3. Pick the right organisational structure for the change management function that has the right mix of centralisation and decentralisation

These are really important points because organisations come in different shapes and sizes and the nature of change is often similar to others but unique in its own ways. In fact, I have learnt that even within organisations there are often complex sub cultures and environments to consider. Therefore, the organisational structure and system of change needs to be able to mould itself to be effective, whether it’s one leader who’s responsible, a team of leaders or a function.

Let’s take an example. Modernisation is a buzz word right now. In the last few weeks I have addressed this issue with many people. The need to modernise could come from competitive pressure, redundancy, changed market dynamics and consumer behaviour, cost pressure, leadership awakening, growth pains or an internal charge. It could come from many other places as well, but I find these are the usual suspects. Now the urgency of change and time available, the scale of change and the nature of change will be very different in each case. So will be the size, scale, geographical spread, organisational structure, culture and leadership of each company.

Let me generalise two conversations for you to get a flavour of the contrasts in brief.

First, a third generation family leader who wants build an organisation beyond her family over the next three years. She hopes to see a professional leadership take over, but is unable to attract talent to a weak culture. She feels the need to embrace technology but the best engineers find the work culture hostile. Her problem is compounded by lack of euphoric support from the board, which doesn’t perceive the same level of need and the resistance of the current and loyal internal customer to let in outsiders or evolve culture. She needs intervention starting from the top and peeling the layers. Her first priority therefore is to be empowered to catalyse or influence that change. Coaching is a powerful tool in this circumstance. She is reconciled to an enormous amount of pain and frustration over the next three years and has started with equipping herself to be a change leader wearing the magical cloak of purpose. The change system she builds will need to empower deeply inside the organisation and requires a decentralised change management system. This is long term, very deep and very sustainable change management. Ripping off the band aid doesn’t quite do justice to what is being attempted.

Contrast this now with an organisational leader who has rapidly built a scaled operation with great passion. Unfortunately, in the absence of structure, processes and discipline, it is failing faster than it grew. The company and the leadership team does not appear to have the will to take on its new size. In fact the leadership team appears ill-equipped to deal with disruption. The company has no change management system, accountabilities or even a system of innovation. This is an SOS call from the leader. There is absolutely no doubt that he needs to be the change leader, and adopt leadership traits that galvanise and role model the change. He will probably need to co-opt a system that is brought in or build one immediately. More importantly he will need to lead it. He and his leadership team need coaching, and wherever needed, skilling. The leadership system may have to be designed outside of the leadership team. Over the next six months processes and a change system will be critical. But what happens everyday starting now, will be as important.

These conversations are not any one single person, yet they are real. It’s clear how different the needs are. It’s also important to remind ourselves of how critical it is for both these leaders to design this change with a human centric lens. The image above lists some building blocks for designing your change management system.

My list of don’t’s is very closely matched with by a recent publication, The Elements of a Good Change Management system, which records some familiar patterns or some common mistakes in failed change management projects.

  1. Creating change management units for specific projects at the last minute
  2. Not providing clarity for the role that they expect the change management team to play
  3. Lack of skill and experience in the change management team
  4. Instituting operational changes without stake holder buy in, which is unsustainable long-term
  5. Over-reliance on the communication plan
  6. Lack of thinking on the impact changed behaviours have on the existing organisation

As long as the change leadership operates as a learning system, a continuously evolving mechanism that operates off consistency in values and purpose, change is inevitable and will happen.

D. The critical role of communication in a change management exercise

One could look at the role and importance of communication in the process of change in three broad buckets:

  1. Alignment with Stakeholders – internal and external
  2. Communication with the external customer, who may be seeing the change or the process of change manifest in different ways
  3. The internal customer

While all three are critical, I am going to spend some time on the third.

The communication checklist for human centric change management

All successful change leaders put communication at the top of their agenda. However a critical difference in the human centric approach to managing change is the manner in which the organisation and leaders communicate. Human centric leaders understand that successful change depends on collective ownership and a willingness to shift. They operate off a high level of awareness and listening. They are empathetic to the people challenge, examine all their investments and plans from a human lens and engage in a planned, continuous conversation.

From my own work, here is a list of some things that set their approach apart:

  1. They don’t just communicate what needs to be done – list of do’s and expectations. They communicate clearly, why the change is needed and why it’s needed at this point of time.
  2. They leave little ambiguity in what they hope to achieve. What is the change the company or a part of the company will go through. What the other end looks like for the company and its employees.
  3. They continuously fall back on purpose and string the emotional connection on that. The conversation on purpose is consistent and honest.
  4. There is great clarity in the how as well. How will we get there – providing context to what needs to be done.
  5. They are not afraid to speak about continuity. There is honest conversation around why this strategy links to existing strategy, or why not.
  6. The conversation is often two ways, customised if not personalised for those who are ahead of the curve (the change champions) and at the end of the curve.
  7. Most importantly, all communication is positive and forward looking.
  8. Their verbal communication is matched by non-verbal messaging. If a company seeks to become customer-centric but the leader is rarely referring to customers, that’s poor signalling. The best leaders live by example.
  9. Non-verbal messaging also reflects in decision making. Just as an example, if there is adequate resourcing and budgets for the intended change, a strong message goes across the organisation that the leadership is committed.
  10. Finally, this loop is always closed with clearly articulated expectations, actions and continuous check-ins.

Future proofing your company for change and uncertainty

This brings us to the question I am asked most often: If we know change is inevitable in the future, what can we do to protect ourselves? In other words, how do we future-proof our organisations in the era of uncertainty and change?

We’ve already spent a lot of time on the key leadership trait that are important to managing actual change. The ability to put the employee, the person, the human being at the centre and starting point of the change exercise. Most importantly, to design a system for change that’s human centric. How does this translate proactively? What can a leader do in good times with tailwinds and growth to set up the organisation for sustained long-term success? The answer to this lies firmly in the domain of building the right culture. In my experience, that is an exercise that starts right at the top and often reflects a leader’s vision for his organisation. Let us try and answer two questions then:

  1. What do leaders who build resilient organisations do differently that translates to culture?
  2. What is the culture key to organisations that are more capable of managing change and transformation?

Leadership traits that are key to change management

In their break through book Great By Choice, Jim Collins and T.Hansen listed three key traits that allow leaders to consistently deliver 10X results over a long period of time, presumably leading their companies through uncertainty and change. Fanatical Discipline, Empirical Creativity and Productive Paranoia. I referred to this research in my post here. All three are critical to the culture equation.

Fanatical Discipline is about unbending focus, consistency of purpose and values, long-term goals and standards. These are themes we’ve coincidentally touched upon already. Empirical Creativity is the perfect balance between data and creativity. Put simply, it is about taking more informed decisions even when they’re bold or risky. The ability of a leader to do that depends on an organisation’s ability to constantly generate useful information about itself and the world. Finally, Productive Paranoia blends deeply into disciplined, scaled innovation and change management.

It’s easy to see how discipline, innovation and preparedness are key to a higher ECAC. But truly creating an organisation on these three pillars, needs a culture of continuous learning, unlearning and reiteration. Collins and Hansen make a sound case for leadership behaviour, but in doing so, they also send a strong message, one on the culture these leaders build and leave behind that help organisations continuously learn, evolve, change.

The culture key: a learning organisation

Perhaps a Learning Organisation is the cultural key to organisations that sail through turbulence with more success than others. The concept of a learning organisation is not a new one. Peter Senge spoke of it first in the 90’s in his famous book, the Fifth Discipline. Peter Senge’s call for a new organisational culture, a new way for being spread like wild fire, especially since it established what could be a new competitive advantage for companies. Put simply, it was a a compelling vision of an organisation where all its employees were naturally skilled and predisposed to learning and transferring knowledge.

This organisation, in Senge’s vision, would be able to adapt faster and deal with unpredictability quicker and more successfully than its competitors. Peter identified five key key disciplines that are critical to a learning organisation. A shared vision, mental models, team learning, personal mastery and finally the Fifth Discipline which puts the other four together: system thinking. He argues that just like an elephant can’t be cut in two, to have two smaller elephants to look after, nor can an organisation. Organisations, he says, are living organisms that need to be seen as a whole.

Can an organisation, as a whole, truly be in a constant readiness to learn and evolve? Can learning be part of an organisation’s culture? Is this the antidote to turbulence? All critical questions. My personal view is that some organisations adapt faster than others, at the level of their workforce. They’re cultured to adapt – it’s a normal. There are some things that are common to these organisations:

  1. Leadership that embraces the future
  2. A system of continuous learning and innovation that is visible and starts from the top
  3. Diversity of people and of ideas
  4. Consumer centricity – listening to the external and internal customer

I have sat in a handful of leadership teams and worked with a few different boards in my career. I have learnt that the typical conversation in a leadership meeting is a sure reflection of whether the organisation is poised to think ahead and learn.

When leadership teams obsess about the here and now, when the conversations mimic those of their reportees, when everything is about survival and short term goals, you can safely assume that the organisation is not poised to innovate or evolve, unless it’s in a crisis.

There are other board rooms where the leaders are actively talking about the future. They need their leadership to be able to foretell far more than one year and create readiness. They rely on a change system, that is discreet but very visible. There is likely to be constant testing of new products, innovation across departments and many bullets (but very few canon balls) being fired at the same time. You just know the culture of this organisation will be to change, grow, adapt. As Collins would put it, they have productive paranoia.

I remember my time in the leadership team at McDonald’s in India. The franchise owner in the West and South of the country, Amit Jatia, was constantly worried about the future. At any point of time we had multiple tests running across growth stores and geographies. Menu, pricing, marketing, operations, technology. Innovation on cost, business models and even restaurant experience. Sitting in his meetings, one could feel the learning energy of the organisation and there was no question that the whole company felt it. It was a given that a certain amount of leadership time was devoted to running many parallel projects. Innovation and learning spaces, trials and tests, were all visible and all stakeholders were constantly acknowledged. In fact this was a case where I saw all three of Collins magical troika play out: Fanatical Discipline, Empirical Creativity and Productive Paranoia.

Given the unyielding focus on operational excellence, volumes and processes, McDonald’s may appear to be an unlikely contender to be deft and quick to change. But newspaper reports in India tell me that when the pandemic hit the fast food industry, McDonald’s in India was quick to innovate and respond and fought back on revenue with new ideas in accessibility. I’m not surprised. In fact I could have predicted it, with pride. That is the power of leadership in building culture. Elephants can dance if they are wired to learn.

The other interesting point on our list is diversity. A value we hold very close to our heart at The Core Questin. What is diversity? Why is it such an important theme for a learning organisation?

Diversity and inclusion is about people and about ideas.

Truly inclusive companies don’t just hire people from different genders, ethnicities, backgrounds, education and experiences but also allow for different perspectives and ideas. It is my submission that organisations that embrace diversity in its real sense will be companies with higher EQ, more empathy, a natural advantage in learning and adapting, and more connected to the world.

As change becomes more the norm, the leaders of the future will be those who are able to deal with a room full of ideas and perspectives. A case in point is Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand. It is now widely agreed that she has been the most successful pandemic manager in the world. Her countrymen and women have rewarded her with another term at the top. Dissecting her leadership style would reveal a human centric approach, authenticity, honest communication and the ability to evolve with the challenge.

But a closer look will also reveal the world’s most diverse cabinet. It’s not just the first woman foreign minister, it’s LGBT candidates, native Maoris and members from other like minded parties. The best leaders don’t hire clones and yes-men. They hire diverse experiences, skills and perspectives. They create a leadership that is diverse and try and build a company that is equally diverse.

“If I could distil it down into one concept that we are pursuing in New Zealand it is simple and it is this: Kindness.”

Jacinda Arden

There are many other proven advantages of diversity as well – TalentLyft lists them out on its website. Not surprisingly, reputation is on that list, so is increased profit, better hiring and employee retention. But the two that stand out from the lens of change management are Innovativeness and Problem Solving. Intuitively that makes sense, but it’s also well researched and documented. Josh Bersin’s research of over 450 companies in Asia, Europe and the US, published in 2015, shows us that companies that are more diverse are 1.8 times more likely to be change-ready and 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market. Alison Reynolds and David Lewis in their article in the Harvard Business review in 2017 submitted that their research clearly proved that teams solve problems faster when they are cognitively diverse.

The psychology of change or why change needs an ear to the ground

The problem with change is, that more often than not it is forced upon us by an event that can be loosely bucketed as negative – threat, survival, adverse conditions, a pandemic, redundancy etc. In companies that react to the environment, change is sporadic, reactive and built into the psyche as “crisis”, “unfamiliar”, “layoffs”, “redundancy” and in general, stress. So while there is motivation for the organisation to succeed, it’s not necessarily a joyful experience. Add to that the discussion on Change Fatigue. Change feels daunting and the other side of change is often underwhelming.

In most cases, because organisations don’t deal with change with a human centric lens, change is a bad word.

In one of my previous organisations, the horror of layoffs had scarred the employee psyche so much, that any time any secretary fixed an appointment with someone from a consulting firm, associated with a rather un-empathetic episode in the past, the whole organisation would be buzzing “The death eaters are at our door.”

Adding it all up: embracing change

We’ve already established the benefits of a culture that provide change with tailwinds. We’ve also spoken about the human centric lens, the importance of authentic, accessible, visible leaders and the power of empathy. Coupled with the ability to stay consistent with and continuously communicate purpose and values, this approach provides the air cover of positivity to any change process.

The other important thing is for a company or an organisation to be able to look at change as evolution not discontinuity, a chance to come out better, stronger and more relevant, and finally, as a chance to come together and learn. This brings us back once more to Gleeson’s submission, that companies with higher EQ in their ranks are better equipped to handle change. I can say with full certainty that these companies will have higher positivity in the ranks.

Change is inevitable. It is likely to be more frequent, as technology invades our life more and more. In the last one year of the Covid pandemic, every single person in the workforce has experienced business disruption. As leaders, we have invested time and energy in using technology to empower people. But it is also true that we have seen people challenges that simply couldn’t be dealt with by throwing in more technology or money.

Everyone is asking themselves the same question. How do we prepare for the future?

In the last decade, a very large percentage of change-management effort was devoted to adoption of technology and dealing with marketplace discontinuity, led by changed consumer behaviour and rapid innovation. The age of the internet forced us to double down on business models that are leaner, faster and cheaper.

The next decade will belong to companies that are able to successfully evolve, change and even transform, with a human centric lens and a system. This will call for a new paradigm in leadership:

How change leaddership will be a competitive advantage in the next decade
  1. Leaders who put people and culture at the centre of change
  2. Leaders who are paranoid about the future
  3. Leaders who put purpose first and use it to propel change
  4. Leaders who will lead with honesty, authenticity and empathy
  5. Leaders who work with diverse teams and in a culture of agility, continuous learning and innovation

Foot note: the ability to lead change will be a competitive advantage in the future

What can you do now to start preparing yourself and your company?

Start building leadership skills that will matter and create a system and culture that’s prepared and positive. Most importantly, don your human centric hat the next time you’re dealing with managing change.

If you have any thoughts or reactions, do leave them in the comments. I’d be delighted if you wrote to me here or connected with me. At The Core Questin, we believe in the human centric approach and change is an oft recurring theme in our work. Do connect with us if we can help you through your unique leadership journey.

About Rameet Arora

Rameet is a highly awarded business leader and marketer, writer, keynote speaker and mentor. He is a co-founder, and leadership coach at The Core Questin

1 Comment

  1. Very relevant and interesting topic, and very interestingly well written. Could not have agreed more. You touched upon some of the subtle realities that go unmentioned /unnoticed in plenty of articles published in the past on this topic.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *