Putting People First: Leading in an Era of Constant Transformation

Leading in an era of constant disruption, change and transformation is not easy. In such transformation efforts, soft aspects of leadership play as crucial role as the hard aspects like systems thinking, innovation and execution of change.

Last week, I saw an insightful TED talk by Jim Hemerling where he outlined 5 ways to lead in an era of constant changes. He says,

Let’s acknowledge that change is hard. People naturally resist change, especially when it’s imposed on them. But there are things that organizations do that make change even harder and more exhausting for people than it needs to be. First of all, leaders often wait too long to act. As a result, everything is happening in crisis mode. Which, of course, tends to be exhausting. Or, given the urgency, what they’ll do is they’ll just focus on the short-term results, but that doesn’t give any hope for the future. Or they’ll just take a superficial, one-off approach, hoping that they can return back to business as usual as soon as the crisis is over.

Sustainable change and transformation requires inclusive leadership that inspires through purpose, develops people and builds a culture of continuous learning.

Here are my sketch notes summarizing the key insights from the talk.

 

Related Posts/Sketchnotes at QAspire:

Symptoms of Organizations on the Cusp of Change

The purpose of an organization is to enable people in doing meaningful work that delivers value to the customers and hence to the business.

Organizations start purely with this promise but when they scale, they end up stifling people’s ability to deliver value.

In his insightful post titled 8 Symptoms Of Organizations On The Cusp Of Change, Mark Raheja says,

“In theory, organizations are meant to enable us — to make us faster, stronger and more effective than we’d be on our own. And yet today, in listening to my clients, it feels as if the exact opposite is true — as if the organization is actually getting in their way. The symptoms of this are many and may sound familiar: Siloed teams with misaligned incentives; bureaucratic processes governed by inflexible policies; paralyzed decision-making strewn across way too many meetings. The list goes on.”

The post further offers 8 symptoms of organizations on the cup of change. I recommend reading the full post to get a view on how organizations today can become more responsive and less bureaucratic.

And here is a sketch note I created while reading the post.

46_cusp

What Business Transformation Really Means

Change does not always mean transformation, but transformation by itself changes everything fundamentally. At a time when a lot of people use terms “change” and “transformation” interchangeably, it helps to know the difference  between the two (and my sketch note on the same topic may be helpful).

I have seen people in process improvement use the word transformation quite often (in fact, I have been guilty of using the word “transformation” when I was only tweaking or improving the ways of working).

What do real business transformations look like? Scott Anthony’s post “What Do You Really Mean by Business Transformation” at Harvard Business Review may help you understand different kinds of transformation efforts. After I read the post, I was able to put different transformation initiatives going around me into the right frame.

I attempted to make sense of three kinds of transformation effort described in Scott’s post through a sketch note. Do read the original article at HBR.

Natural Laws of Organizational Transformation

Organizational transformation initiatives come in many forms – restructuring, cultural transformation, service transitions, rapid innovation, process overhauls, turnarounds and acquisitions to name a few. Studies by universities and consulting firms suggest that 70% or more of transformation initiatives fail.

I have been a part of systems that were transformed, companies that were acquired, companies that could not pull of a successful transformation and the ones that did. My observation is – a majority of transformation initiatives fail because of lack of system thinking.

With discrete initiatives across the organization, you may get change. Transformation requires systems thinking.”

As you think across the connected components of a system, you see interconnections that you did not even know existed. Taking time to map these interconnections is vital to create a well defined transformation context.

Natural Laws 

I stumbled upon a 1993 McKinsey article titled “Leading Organization Transformations” which offers some timeless lessons and approach on how to lead organization transformations. I particularly liked the section “Natural Laws of Organization Transformation” which provides a broad guidance on the underlying principles. I feel that these natural laws are as relevant today as it were in 1993.

The authors say,

“Effective management “conversation” about performance improvement achieved through transformational efforts reveals that the specific techniques employed matter less than does adherence to a set of underlying principles.”

If you are planning an organizational transformation or undergoing one (which is very likely), I recommend you read this classic McKinsey article.

While reading the article, I create a quick sketch note to make the sense of these principles.

Pitfalls To Avoid During Organizational Transformation

Disruptive forces compel organizations to undertake large scale transformation initiatives to stay relevant. The speed of executing these transformations is as crucial as the initiatives itself and a lot is at stake. In such situations, it is easy to get carried away by the enormity of task at hand and lose the sight of what could go wrong.

If you are undergoing a large scale transformation or planning for one, I highly recommend ThoughtWorks article titled “Seven Pitfalls to Avoid During Organizational Transformation” with insights from Anupam Kundu and Tarang Baxi. This article also features my sketch note summarizing the ideas presented.

When I read this post, it instantly reminded me of a post that I wrote back in 2010 titled “Change Management Essentials – 5 Things To Avoid” where I presented common pitfalls in change management from process implementation perspective and I believe that a lot of transformation initiatives comprise of multiple and overlapping change initiatives and process overhauls. You may find it useful to revisit the article.

Please click here to read the insightful article at ThoughtWorks Insights and here is the sketch note summary which can also be found in the original article)

Related Posts at QAspire

Mindset Shifts For Organizational Transformation

Businesses are struggling to keep the pace with rapid rate of change and disruption around. To keep up with the change, businesses try to diversify into newer areas, build products and services to cater to new market needs and innovate. Organizations on their transformation journeys cannot afford to rely only on the technology innovations because innovation is a result of something more deeper – innovation is a result of mindset, behavioral constructs, leadership and culture.

At ThoughtWorks blog, Aaron Sachs and Anupam Kundu have written an excellent post titled “The Unfinished Business of Organizational Transformation” where they outline the mindset shifts required when transforming the organizations to be more adaptable and agile.

(HT to Helen Bevan for sharing the post.)

While you can read the full post here (highly recommended), I created a quick sketch note to outline the shifts in our mindset and behavioral constructs to nurture change and enable organizational transformation.

Related Posts and Sketch notes:

Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say ‘Thank You’. In between, the leader is a servant.” – Max De Pree

Gone with the industrial age is the concept of traditional leadership where people at the top of pyramid exercise the power in a hierarchy. In a creative and connected economy, a leader’s first and foremost job is to serve to the needs of people they lead. To create an ecosystem where creative people thrive. To create trust by trusting others. To build a learning organization. To deliver meaningful results.

That is what Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of Popeyes® Lousiana Kitchen, Inc says in her brand new book “Dare to Serve – How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others”.

Why dare? What kind of a leader is Cheryl Bachelder talking about?

“This is a different kind of leader with a rare combination of traits, courageous enough to take the people to a daring destination, yet humble enough to selflessly serve others on the journey. The dynamic tension between daring and serving creates conditions for a superior performance.”

I could see the same contrast/creative tension between “dare” and “serve” that Jim Collins described as “Fierce Resolve” and “Humility” as a trait of Level 5 Leader.

What I like about this book is that it is a first hand account of a CEO who turned the business around. In 2007, Cheryl Bachelder was hired to turn around the business situation that reeled with poor customer service, dwindling sales and troubled relationships with franchise owners. In the first part, Cheryl describes the journey of transformation, challenges, setbacks and ultimately the triumphs. In the second part, she puts forward anecdotes and specific examples of how leaders can become stewards of people and organization’s mission. The book makes you think through game-changing questions that Cheryl calls as “Dare to Serve Reflections”. Exercises and quotes makes the book all the more interesting and learning oriented.

The concepts of servant leadership or the paradoxes of leadership are not new. But Cheryl Bachelder does a great job at bringing these concepts to the fore using her own transformation experience. And for that, this book is valuable.

Here are some of the other gems from the book:

Helping people who want to find meaning and purpose at work is exceptionally rewarding. It is the leader’s opportunity to leave a legacy in lives of people you lead.

For principles to matter, they have to be “in action,” not on plaques. Principles must come alive in the daily conversations, decisions, and actions of the team.

Self-centered leadership is actually a lazy path. The leader merely wields power over others to achieve results for their own benefit. This is not difficult to do. But this approach stunts performance of the people and the enterprise. It cannot deliver superior results.

If you are a leader who is at the center of transformation responsibility, this book is a must read. If you are already someone who already leads through service, this book will help you gain a diverse perspective of what stewardship looks like in real life.


Also Read: Other book reviews/author interviews at QAspire.

In 100 Words: No Strength Without Struggle

The caterpillar was turning into a butterfly. In that biology lab, the teacher explained how butterfly struggles to break the cocoon as students curiously observed this metamorphosis. Before leaving the class, she urged students to just observe and not help the butterfly.

After a while, one of the students took pity on the struggling butterfly and broke the cocoon to help. But shortly afterwards, the butterfly died.

When the teacher returned, she saw what had happened. “Your help killed the butterfly. Struggle helps butterfly in developing and strengthening its wings,” she said.

“Our struggles are the source of our strength.”

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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Photograph by: Tanmay Vora, Butterfly in the Park