Throughout The Secret Sauce for Leading Transformational Change Panel with C-Sweet, we explored the success factors that lead to transformational change and how to develop a highly dynamic organization. Each of our esteemed panelists shared their own unique experiences, thoughts, and practical advice on this topic to help leaders not only deal with periods of large-scale transformational change but also thrive throughout them. Here’s a recap of our live webinar with C-Sweet and seven actionable pieces of advice from our panel:
1. Identify the need for transformational change
One of the core themes of The Secret Sauce for Leading Transformational Change is that while all transformation is change, not all change is transformational. In fact, it takes careful discernment to identify the need or opportunity for transformational change to take place.
“The number one problem is that there’s lack of alignment on what the problem to be solved or the need even is,” Cheryl Perkins, CEO and founder of Innovationedge, shared, citing the results of a recent Pulse Survey she conducted.
“It’s true in all fields. A new technology comes out and people think they need to use it. It’s this kind of shiny new object syndrome,” Helen Norris, VP and CIO at Chapman University, observed, using the popular AI program ChatGPT as an example of a technology that leaders around the world have quickly adopted, perhaps without having a true need for it.
Tom Rosenak, Leadership Communication Strategist at DiamondMind Enterprise, LLC, echoed this sentiment, stating that “technology, innovation, all of the things we’re talking about should be serving us and our vision, but we can become a slave to it because you just think, ‘Oh, this is cool. I have to have it.’ But nobody says why you have to have it. And now you’re spending five hours trying to learn to use a tool that you’re not even sure is going to serve you.”
So how can leaders take a step back to identify whether there truly is a need for transformational change?
Cheryl stressed that before we make a decision, “we need to spend more time upfront, creating alignment around our goals, objectives, and the real problem that needs to be solved.”
Some questions inspired by Helen’s suggestions about this first phase of the transformational change journey include:
- What is it that we’re trying to address?
- Is there a reason for us to be looking at a new technology or solution?
- Does this align with the organization’s mission and strategy?
- What are our strategic goals and how does this change fit in with them?
- Is this a change we should embrace or simply watch out for?
In other words, start from the need of the organization and don’t get distracted by technology for the sake of technology, innovation for the sake of innovation, or change for the sake of change.
And at a leadership level, Sophia Kristjansson, Founder and Principal at Lexicon Lens, shared some additional questions we can ask ourselves to hold true to our personal values:
- What do I stand for?
- How do I talk about it?
- What’s my transformation and how am I going to tell that story?
2. Embrace the truth
Another core theme throughout The Secret Sauce for Leading Transformational Change is to embrace the truth as a leader. “It seems like human beings have this limitless capacity to deny, deflect, and dismiss data or facts that do not reinforce our preferred view of the internal or external environment. And we all do that at our own peril,” Ian Ziksin, President of EXec EXcel Group LLC, noted at the beginning of the panel. “Our inability to face and deal with truth really slows us down and sets us back.”
One powerful example of embracing the truth as a leader and organization was shared by Randi Thompson, CEO, President and Co- Founder of Kidsave. For context, Kidsave is an organization dedicated to finding families for foster children. Prior to the war in Ukraine, Randi was working with Kidsave in this region to assist with child placement and mentoring programs. When the war broke out, however, everything changed.
“I would like to pretend that I was brilliant enough to say this is a great opportunity for transformational change. However, that would not be the truth — and we have to start with the truth,” Randi admitted. At the time, Kidsave was working on a pilot program with 117 kids and families in Ukraine, so the first concern was getting them out of combat and to safety.
And yet, over the course of a year, Kidsave moved 30,000 people out of combat. Today, they continue to feed 35,000 people in Ukraine every week – and this has been a big change for the organization.
In fact, some people were starting to ask whether Kidsave’s mission was still to support foster children. “We had to stop and pause and look at where there was opportunity,” Randi explained. “For the first time ever, the world is really on board for Ukraine, but the war will end someday and what’s going to be left? One thing we know, there’s going to be a lot more orphans when this is all over.”
And that simple truth helped Kidsave integrate its efforts in Ukraine with its overall mission. “We’re starting to shift the discussion by asking what do we do to heal the trauma pretense? And what do we do when this is over? How are we going to get children into families?” Randi explained.
“We have to deal with the presenting issue. We can’t just do positive thinking and say every crisis is an opportunity,” Tom chimed in. “That’s all well and good, but we have to feed the kids like in Randi’s story or whatever our version of this is.”
3. Collaborate and foster relationships
If there truly is a secret sauce to leading transformational change, one of the key ingredients we can’t leave out is collaboration.
“It’s really about working with people and listening to what they have to say when they see change coming,” Helen explained. She shared that during the pandemic, Chapman University faced a significant challenge when it came to switching to a remote environment. As a traditional university, Chapman never intended to move classes completely online, so this was a huge transformation Helen’s team had to pull off overnight.
“One of the reasons we were successful at our change and transformation is because we built collaborations before we needed to, so you have to build collaboration first,” she shared.
As someone who has always worked on transformation, crafting business strategies, and building strategic capabilities, Cheryl expanded on this topic by highlighting how important it is to “place the right people in the right places to make things happen and get sustainable growth.”
This involves identifying the early adopters “who will stimulate the program or initiative,” as Sophia shared. Then, give them the tools, strategies, and processes they need to thrive.
“We view collaboration as the glue between internal teams, internal to external teams, and external ecosystems. It’s what makes things work. As long as people are able to collaborate and leverage that glue, they’re going to be successful,” Cheryl shared.
Sophia shared some tips to help leaders foster these relationships. “It’s very important to show transparency, candor, and humility. Part of that may involve being able to say, ‘I don’t have it all worked out. I don’t know all of the answers. But here’s what I’m doing well, and here’s where I need some help.’ That builds trust with the people that work with you.”
And when we take a step back to look at the big picture, we see that this collaboration needs to take place at every level. Often, we focus on changing as individuals, teams, or organizations, but as Tom pointed out, “you can’t do these three things without being concerned for society as a whole. If you want to have better work, you have to have a better world.”
4. Seek out different perspectives
“Building a resilient organization is really dependent on leadership and vision, but leadership to us is not a title. It’s a responsibility, and that responsibility is not on one person’s shoulders,” Cheryl noted as the panel opened up the conversation to discuss the importance of seeking out different perspectives.
As a leader who has worked in DEI strategic HR consulting throughout her career, Sophia shared that part of the secret sauce is a two-part process that involves “building a culture that will be inviting for people, that will welcome them to stay, and to grow. And building a learning culture that’s collaborative, and iterative in its nature.”
One way to create a safe environment where people feel okay sharing different perspectives is to recognize this is uncomfortable for some people more than others. It’s important to recognize that not everyone has the same communication style.
For example, Tom shared that “to somebody very extroverted, collaboration might mean we talk everything through.” But collaboration for someone more introverted might involve them ruminating on a question and then coming back to talk about it. We need to be careful not to think that if someone doesn’t show up the same way we do, they’re not valuing it. And we need to be aware of our differences.”
When it comes to building a culture that embraces these differences, Sophia introduced the idea of creating a tapestry of belonging. On the one hand, there needs to be “that sense of knowing that you’re included in something,” and on the other hand, an acceptance of personal uniqueness. “It’s the appreciation and the acknowledgment that we are all different. By building upon this idea of both belonging and uniqueness, you create a sense of inclusion.”
5. Work with the resistors
Of course, not everyone is going to be on board with your vision for transformational change, even if there is a clear need for it. It’s natural for people to resist change and it’s important to look for opportunities to work with these individuals.
“I’m always looking for the point of resistance and what is right before that–before people say, ‘No, I’m going to sign off from this.’ What will they accept?” Sophia shared.
For Randi, working with resistors is essential for progress. “There have been many times through my career when I’ve said I would never work with any of those government people again because they’re frustrating,” she acknowledged. “But they are the keepers of the kingdom.”
Randi went on to share how it’s crucial to create as many collaborative partnerships with different people in your space as possible and then have the tenacity to continue to do the work.
“To build a resilient organization, you need to create these strategic partnerships or alliances, and sometimes you even have to create them with organizations that you might view as the competition,” Cheryl chimed in. “We call it co-opetition because we’re cooperating even with competitors in order to do what we need to do.”
Cheryl suggests getting clear on your vision, then assessing your internal capabilities and competencies. Often, when we look at what it takes to deliver on our objective, we quickly find that we don’t have everything we need to do it ourselves. “Creating strategic partnerships and alliances allows you to move more quickly and minimize your risks much more effectively.”
Related: 5 Tips to Become a Resilient Leader
6. Communicate your transformational change vision by tapping into core values
“A lot of the work that I’ve done my entire career has been really working to get people, organizations, and governments to change closely held values for the benefit of society as a whole,” Randi shared as an expert in social marketing.
“When I discovered the issue of children growing up without families, it was natural that I apply my background to it. We’re looking to change the way that people view kids, particularly older children who are growing up in orphanages and foster care.”
The trick? “First, they have to be seen.” And this is part of Kidsave’s mission–that these children are seen, heard, and find family so they can thrive. It sounds simple, but as Randi pointed out, it’s a very large thing to tackle. “We’re really looking at closely held beliefs about kids that are damaged goods, kids that can’t succeed, and kids that it’s too late to find families for. We’re working to change the narrative about these kids so people start to see them as resilient, as deserving, and as needing families.”
A huge component of this is setting the stage. Cheryl explained, “we always push as far as possible to make all change as transformational as the organization is ready to accept.”
One way to do this is to make it personal. “Whether you’re talking about organizationally, individually, or societally, the change has to affect us personally. We have to figure out how to tap into that piece,” Randi shared.
And then, as Cheryl highlighted, focus on “the readiness of the organization, which will evolve over time as you enable your capabilities.”
7. Remember transformational change is a journey
If implementing transformational change seems like a lot, that’s because it is, and that’s okay.
“Change is not a project. It might begin with a project, and it might include a project, but transformational change certainly has to transcend this,” Tom explained.
And if there’s one thing leaders need on this journey, it’s resilience. “Often, we think resilience just means we didn’t die. In other words, we got through it,” Tom reflected. “But you really have to put an emphasis on thriving.”
This is something Cheryl talked about a lot throughout our panel and The Secret Sauce for Leading Transformational Change book.
“It’s never just on your shoulders alone. You’ve got to stand next to other people and leverage the breadth of other shoulders, because one person, even one organization, can’t do it all themselves,” Cheryl urged. To be a resilient leader, look for the people who will stick by you and help you shoulder the weight of transformational change.
After all, “it’s about the process,” as Sophia pointed out, and “not necessarily about the destination because we’re always learning and growing.”
Interested in reading more?
The Secret Sauce for Transformational Change captures 200 voices in under 200 pages, incorporating many different voices and perspectives.
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