It’s the one term that has grown to be as ubiquitous as the ongoing pandemic - effective change management and has arisen as a fruit of it – Change Management leaders. Enveloped under its purview are the processes, tools and techniques used to manage organization-wide change, including planning, implementing, and verifying the effectiveness of it. With its considerable enormity, executing change is challenging, and requires clarity of purpose, cooperation, and communication across those that hold the highest stakes.
As part of leadership series, the folks at peopleHum had the opportunity to interview some of the leading minds in the corporate world who shared their perspectives on change management initiatives through unique lenses. This blog is a collection of some of their notable insights, broken-down into crucial global concerns of day to day management plans.
Here are top 10 change management leaders:
CEO of PETRONAS Lubricants (India)
Member Director at CIPD
Founder of BlewMinds
Business Coach and Owner at Jessica Fearnley Business Coaching
CEO at Malt & Salt Hospitality
VP Global Talent at Ubisoft
Strategy Professor at Columbia Business School & Founder of Valize
Mark S Babbitt
President at WorqIQ
Ingrid Galvez Thorpe
Human Capital Management | OD & DEI Consultant at THORP, LLC
CEO of ClickOnHR
To gig or not to gig
The gig economy isn’t a novel concept to the Indian economy, says Pranav Bhanage. Although it has a quasi-professional ring to it, India has always had a very large informal economy, with people doing the perennial odd jobs. However, with Covid-19 in the picture, the viability of it comes under scrutiny. “How,” asks Pranav, “do you weigh personal freedom versus guaranteed benefits that come along with the focused and long-term missions of a stable job?”
Naturally, income continuity is predicted to be a huge driver for people in a way it hasn’t been before, and the pandemic has posed as a major disruptor, but of a different kind. On a hopeful note, David D’souza wishes for more governmental and societal pressure to ensure that people in insecure roles have better security in terms of provisional care. But on a realistic note, he predicts that gig work is likely to diminish because people would prefer to work for companies that are going to continue to exist down the road.
However, perspectives differ in the Hospitality department, where Akhilesh Bahl is quite assured in the belief that the gig economy is here to stay and bound to grow. Newer platforms of food tech, likened to the native Uber Eats and Swiggy, are slated to emerge, and competition and consolidation is bound to happen. In the effort to serve towards the needs of consumers and provide higher value, engagement and convenience, tech is going to be the ultimate enabler. “We’re all technology players” says Akhilesh, “Either as developers, providers, or consumers, it’s tech that links us.” The bottom-line was that whether it is a gig work or a steady one, technology would have a major hand in it, not as a solution creator, but as an enabler. It is up to businesses to make the timely decision to create viable business solutions for the future with the aid of tech.
But ex-practitioner and not-quite-passionate-advocate-for-the-gig-economy, Mark Babbitt, knows that this is the future, and the pandemic is simply an accelerator of it. This new future will stand as a true test of whether we as individuals will thrive within the new economy, and the skills we will need to develop to make the transition.
What he really hopes for, however, is the end of autocratic leadership.
Emotional leadership on main
When life throws a pandemic-sized curveball, there’s never really a guidebook to help us get through it unscathed. But the first step, Mark offers, is to acknowledge that we are all learners in our current situation. So, instead of being that decisive, loud and autocratic leader, it would be mindful to approach the situation with empathy, compassion, and even some vulnerability. If change management leaders maintain their autocratic methods in a world that has witnessed tremendous shifts, then they are at a disadvantage of losing their best talents.
Akhilesh voices his perspective on leadership in a similar strain. There’s no rule to being a good leader, but often, empathy is a good place to start. In a life where employees spend nearly 50% of their 24-hour cycle within the workplace, creating a fulfilling environment through mindful leadership, motivation, and culture is critical for maintaining a balanced health of the team members.
Ingrid Thorpe justly perceives that 21st Century leadership teams mandates emotional intelligence. The important steps that change management leaders can take right now is building trust and securing an environment where vulnerability is not punished. “Vulnerability really demonstrates a level of accessibility,” Ingrid explains. “When a leader demonstrates vulnerability, they’re really saying that they’re human, that they suffer the same thing everyone else does.”
The digitally savvy gets the worm
If it wasn’t already obvious from the daily Zoom meetings and Slack updates, the pandemic put a heavy check-mark on the need for digital. From the HR side of things, Andrew Saidy passionately maintains that digitisation must be its top priority – in the way that HR connects with employees, in access to information, in managing their careers as well as learning. Prior to the pandemic, organizations were either preparing to go digital, or were sleeping on it; And for the latter, Andrew had one big advice to give: “Don’t wait.” The luxury of reluctance is no longer affordable and organizations need to accelerate towards digital immediately. All one needs to do is take a leap.
The voices of Rita McGrath and Rya Stone were loud and clear: Technology is here to accelerate, and if we weren’t tech savvy before, it has become critical, now more than ever.
Tending the workplace
“Two years ago,” states Ingrid Thrope, “everyone was talking of safe workspaces from the perspective of creating welcoming, engaging spaces where individuals could bring their authentic self to work, and make contributions based on their diverse point of view.” Today, with the pandemic, political unrest, and daily challenges, the collective idea of safe spaces has dynamically changed. And tackling this requires the implementation of strategic transformation efforts, which Ingrid likens to her garden analogy:
“If you think of your workplace community as a garden, it must be looked after in order to grow and thrive. They are living, breathing entities that require seeds, water, pruning, repotting, and so on. Good gardeners plant for the season, great gardeners plan for the future sustainability of the farm.”
We have all been guilty of labelling this new reality as a positive shift towards the utilization of technology and remote working, where work flexibility and collaboration comes together with our ability to adapt to it willingly. But the reality, David concurs, is that the crisis is going to serve as a test as to how much of it was true and how much of it was just a nice branding statement. In order to major change initiatives in workplaces, automation will be a major enabler to mindful problem solving, with people at the centre of it rather than just being an object to it.
Like many others, businesses and individuals in the hospitality industry faced shrinkages, closures, furloughs, or low to no salaries. But change, Akhilesh perceives, is about re-instilling confidence within the elements and looking out for their wellbeing. He admits that in the foreseeable future, the pain of hard work and sustaining the everyday business will be prolonged, but should eventually lead to stronger, leaner, and brighter chances of success.
The infrastructure of the hospitality industry is perennial, but technology platforms will continue to have a robust presence in the foreseeable future. With security and user-friendliness coming from tech platforms, Akhilesh has a positive outlook for a future where customers will be comfortable and confident about online payments, ordering food, groceries, meal kits, and just plain dealing with technology.
The hiring matrix reloaded
All this talk on technology amounts to nothing without a people strategy. At a time when companies are emerging from a sort of recession, change management leaders will have to drum up a successful people strategy tailored to business goals. Rya Stone wisely suggests to start-off with a skills matrix. “Ensure you have a skills matrix at any given point and you can also tie that into your employee performance evaluation. Having a skills matrix will be very helpful because it will help you identify the talent pool that you want in your entry-level workers,” she recommends.
On the home front, Pranav asserts that when looking for the right talent amongst a young talent pool too incomprehensible to scale, employers should be looking for these three elements:
1) People with a lot of ideas and some amount of crazy thinking.
2) The discipline and perseverance to bring ideas to a conclusion in the future.
3) And the ability to be comfortable with conflicting ideas and coalesce them in a tangible product that can be implemented.
Stories are the stuff of life. They are as old as cave paintings and their influence remains with us even to this day. I could divulge into a full-fledged gospel about the power of storytelling, but for now, let’s stick to its influence in transforming organizations.
Sandeep Kochhar believes that the power of storytelling can change organizational productivity. “If a person who is unable to do a job efficiently hears a story of inspiration, it will allow him to think that anything is possible.” And that’s what great team leaders do – they inspire with stories and build a strong bond with their people.
Storytelling is an integral part of building an organizational brand. Marketing a story well, within and outside an organization, could lead to limitless impacts and possibilities.
Transitioning through a phase
“The research,” Rita states, “is pretty clear. Companies that invest in growth and invest in people when things are tough, when the easiest thing to do is to shut everything down, tend to really accelerate their growth once they’re through the crisis.” Through her journey with working for corporates, one of Rita’s biggest learnings was that those companies that improved their resiliency by adopting the right and innovating solutions, are now more in control of navigating their way through the current crisis.
On questioning Mark about what he felt about the massive transition into remote work, he was of the opinion that the transition would be a gradual and graceful one, the kind that will allow one economy segment to replace another: “... but the reality is, a phone hanging on the wall with a cord used to be huge, too. And we don’t have those landlines anymore. So, this transition is going to happen, and we are going to have to replace that segment of our economy with something just as robust.”
The transition obviously comes with its downsides, a major one being the balance between life, family, and work. “But that’s another reason why the transition will happen slowly and more gracefully,” he quipped, “because all of us are learning how to do this all together.”
Rita provides an interesting soundbite for us to dwell on, which is, “When uncertainty is at its greatest, that’s also the greatest opportunity.” We live in a world where the old rules are no longer applicable.
The heart in HR
“HR is a puzzle and you need all the pieces of the puzzle set in the right place in order for the puzzle to make a great picture.”
When asked about the role of HR in creating successful organizations, Andrew responded with the reminder that HR is a business, and for a business to be successful, it has to be customer-centric. If organizations want to move away from traditional business strategies, they have to keep employees at the centre of the organization. That entails creation of programmes around wellbeing, family leave policies, diversity, inclusion, learning and development. “I definitely think the future is all about employee experience. HR needs to be at the heart of the business, to understand the business, the employees, the CEO, and ensure that these elements are supported.”
Mind the D&I gap
Jessica Fearnley believes that a woman’s confidence and uncompromising strength begins from a singular vision. To get comfortable with their ability to be the forces of change and break the glass ceiling that stifles their narrative. With remote work sweeping the world, Jessica believes that women are finally being recognized as 3-dimensional beings, and that the pandemic has brought forth an opportunity for women to get the working conditions that suit them, and help them in balancing their priorities while not having to sacrifice their own wellbeing.
On the subject of addressing issues of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, as well as their remedial measures, Rya advocates for the critical role that analytics plays, particularly in these three ways:
1) Identifying existing diversity gaps and creating programmes that encourage employee engagement.
2) Help build a more equitable compensation structure across the board to retain talent.
3) Help develop a retention strategy, and ensure that the company is a true reflection of how it stands in the community.
The culture lab
“Organizational culture isn’t what you laminate and put up on the wall. It’s what people say when they don’t think their boss is around.”
Culture, in its evolutionary state of being, sustains itself through clarity of communication, and the same, David states, goes for corporate organizations, too. “Organizations that are open to challenge and to reflect on themselves tend to have the healthiest culture because it's most reflective of the way that people want and need to work.” David believes that we have the opportunity to harness technology and reinvent the way we work within organizations. Therefore, it is imperative that organizations make the right choices and accelerate their digitization efforts, or risk going back to set working practices that are outdated.
Mark Babbitt claims to have grown quite impatient with how slowly organizational cultures are changing, and quite rightly so. But in spite of arriving 10 years too late, he is thrilled to see workplaces finally focusing on its employees, customers and communities. He believes that it is ultimately a caring, inclusive culture which will attract better talent, and I simply couldn't agree more.
As I said before, rallying an organization towards change requires clarity of vision, collaboration and communication. The pandemic is a wake-up call for humans, and before anything at an organizational level, it should serve as an impetus to change people’s outlook towards their own lives and how they prioritize their actions. It’s as the change management leaders, especially Pranav Bhanage rightly called it out to be: the generation-defining change.