Winning Hearts and Minds: Navigating Change in Turbulent Times

We are navigating an era marked by profound transformation. The ramifications of climate change, rising living costs, and global conflicts touch every facet of our lives, reshaping markets, supply chains, and organizational directions while impacting the lives of employees. In the past few years, the pace of change has not only intensified but shows no signs of slowing down. Organizations that previously struggled to drive change are now asking themselves, ‘How will we build a platform for continual adaptation?’

Change is universally difficult, and for many organizations, transformation is essential. Whether the transformation pertains to technology, performance, or diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, deep culture change is imperative to survive. At the same time, organizations face a variety of barriers, from entrenched cultures and rigid structures to varying degrees of leadership commitment. However, one of the most significant and often overlooked obstacles is the human element. Unlike project management, which is structured and predictable, change management is predominantly about people — unpredictable, complex, and often resistant.

“If you want to make enemies, try to change something.”

– Woodrow Wilson[1]

True transformation necessitates both behavioural and attitudinal shifts. If individuals are unwilling, the path can be laden with mines and punitive measures may only deplete your workforce. The true challenge lies in winning the hearts and minds of the people you wish to influence.  As with everything that pertains to the human condition, that begins with empathy.

“Nothing so undermines organizational change as the failure to think through the losses people face.”

– William Bridges[2]

As we walk through the strategy planning process leveraging all the change management tools available, we can also look to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to understand and potentially anticipate resistance. For instance, we can start by asking ourselves, ‘Will this change affect someone’s job security, their ability to provide for their families or their social connections at work? Will it foster fears of demotion or hinder personal career aspirations?’ Often, the answer might be ‘yes’ to a few of these questions; so, how will you create buy-in?

  • Be real: Addressing these concerns head-on is crucial. Leaders must articulate the ‘why’ behind the change. Why is it necessary? What risks do we face by remaining static? What opportunities might we miss if we resist change? What benefits does the change hold for everyone involved? Clear answers to these questions help clarify the personal stakes for each employee.
  • Share the vision: It is essential to paint a compelling vision of the future. Leaders are not just implementing a change; they are selling a vision and capturing people’s hearts and minds in a way that makes them eager to join in shaping this new future. This vision should be informed by the rationale behind the change and detail what success looks like. How will it improve the lives of employees, customers, and the community?
  • Engage, consult, and empower: Effective change management involves more than just announcements via email or at town hall meetings. It requires active engagement with employees, inviting them to co-create the vision and participate in the transformation. This approach not only reinforces buy-in but integrates the change into the organization’s culture through continuous dialogue and feedback. Questions such as, “How do we define inclusivity here?” or “What do I need to successfully implement this change?” are vital in keeping the conversation relevant and focused on personal and organizational growth.
  • Dig in: Change is a long game. Many transformation agendas falter due to fading momentum and lack of widespread adoption. Ongoing measurement, course correction, and consistent engagement are essential. As Winston Churchill famously encouraged, “Never give in.” This mantra should inspire persistence and resilience in the face of the challenges posed by organizational change.

In summary, the key to effective change management lies not just in strategic planning or project execution but in genuinely engaging with and winning the hearts and minds of those involved. It is about understanding the human aspect of change and addressing it with empathy, clarity, and vision.

“Never give in.”

– Winston Churchill[3]

 

About the Author

Carol Kotacka

Carol Kotacka is a results-oriented strategist, specializing in transformational change and strategy execution in local, national and international markets. Holding senior leadership positions in industry, healthcare and NGOs, her background reflects a deep understanding of the nuanced approach diverse cultures and stakeholder groups require, with proven results driving change time and again through work in North America, Europe, the Middle East and, most recently, South America.  During her career, Carol has had the privilege of co-creating strategic vision and system wide transformation with organizations, residents, employees, government entities as well as first responders. Carol’s undergraduate studies include Social Sciences and Public Affairs. Post graduate work includes Strategic Business Leadership from the Rotman School of Management and an EMBA from the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University.

Carol is the lead facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Organizational Transformation program.

 

[1] https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/woodrow_wilson_109722

[2] https://quotefancy.com/quote/1711428/William-Bridges-Nothing-so-undermines-organizational-change-as-the-failure-to-think

[3] https://winstonchurchill.org/publications/churchill-bulletin/bulletin-160-oct-2021/never-give-in-4/

Organizational Transformation: Why it’s So Hard, Why it Matters, and Why You Should Start Now!

If there is one thing we’ve re-learned over the past few years, it’s that change is constant, whether we like it or not. The COVID-19 pandemic has often been credited for being the catalyst of changing the way we work, but it was only a reminder of how quickly people can adapt when they need to—and how resilient they can be.

Today, adaptability and resilience are required on a regular basis. Market volatility has made strategic transformations essential for some industries to survive. Critical and topical initiatives like equity and inclusion, digital transformation and building a future-proof workforce represent massive shifts, particularly for organizations where culture has remained unchanged in decades.

Here is where organizational transformation comes in. As organizations coast to coast in Canada and around the world face external pressure to innovate and remain relevant, as well as internal pressure to improve workplace culture and nurture talent, leaders now find themselves at a crossroads. There certainly isn’t a dull moment in the new, redefined roaring twenties we’re currently living in, where organizations are increasingly defined by their ability to identify changing market demands, redefine their vision and execute that transition.

Why it’s So Hard

Any type of change is hard—that’s a fact. Among organizations, approximately 70% of all change initiatives fail.[1] If you are having trouble, remember that you are not alone. Here are some examples of change scenarios illustrating why strategies may not progress past the implementation phase:

  • The transformation is mentioned once or twice at an all staff meeting and never mentioned by anyone ever again.
  • This the third leader the team/organization has had in three years. Teams are too focused on trying to keep their jobs to get excited about this new vision.
  • There’s a high degree of comfort in established processes and relationships and absolutely no compelling reason for staff to make any changes to that.
  • The organization has identified a strategic shift in one direction but every single structural component (unit business plans, operational goals, employee performance metrics, incentive structures) are focused in another direction.
  • Staff are exhausted and have no bandwidth to lead, implement or even entertain a change of any kind.

Why it Matters 

Every organization faces the need for change at some point.  However, transformation doesn’t happen overnight. Whether your organization is looking at a complete strategic shift or the implementation of a new procedure, change is a long game. It’s about the collective commitment, communication, and collaboration to see it through until it’s done.

Reasons for Organizational Transformation

A great cultural reset can be mission-critical if you’re facing a number of challenges. If you aren’t sure if change is on the horizon for your organization, ask yourself:

  • Are employee turnover rates at an all-time high?
  • Are your revenue outcomes consistently underperforming while competitors continue to eat into your market share?
  • Are you still using legacy technology that is no longer being updated, with workarounds costing twice as much as implementing a new system?
  • Are the values of employees and other stakeholders evolving but aren’t reflected anywhere in your current organizational structure?

When done right, organizational transformation has the power to redefine a sustainable future, encourage a culture that supports it and usher you to a new era of growth and industry leadership.

Benefits of Organizational Transformation

If your organization is at a critical juncture, it’s helpful to consider the critical outcomes that can be achieved and continuously leveraged directly through organizational transformation initiatives:

  1. Your organization will have the necessary infrastructure to enable seamless collaboration among stakeholders who have all bought into a renewed, shared vision. Employees are not simply working for you, but with you, and are continuously encouraged to adopt a collaborative mindset.
  2. Multi-faceted priority growth areas are met as a result of adopting new processes, tools, and strategic frameworks. A “transformed” organization is increasingly agile and responsive to evolving market or sector demands, with flexibility and adaptability being core collective competencies that enable teams to achieve various goals and bridge gaps in current delivery of value to stakeholders.
  3. The “future of work” is achieved through a productive people and culture reset. Through a commitment to well-being and ongoing professional development, organizational transformation empowers teams to become champions of change. A highly skilled and resilient workforce can lead the charge in operationalizing strategy through high-performance execution that yields crucial results.

Before undertaking this process, it’s important to establish a solid foundation for change. Initiating organizational transformation begins with bringing all stakeholders to the table—beginning with leaders who typically start the conversation to frontline staff who will be carrying out this new mission. This process requires a 360-degree view of the organization’s current vision, work structures and results generated in order to deliver on shared goals.

Why You Should Start Now

The lessons learned from the last few years have illustrated how organizations and entire industries are now at a critical period. To evolve means to survive in an increasingly competitive market, with the support of the people that work to make it possible. Transforming the way our organization works is the key to achieving this, setting up for a successful future.

As you’ve seen, organizational transformation goes beyond initiating a change management strategy when innovating one process that affects how certain teams work. Rather, it’s a complete reset of everything we know about doing business and leading in the age of disruptive innovation. Leaders who recognize this need today and take steps towards transformation will be rewarded with: (1) low employee turnover and increased commitment to a shared vision, (2) higher revenue and an expanded footprint, (3) innovative offerings, (4) agile processes and technologies (5) and an overall stronger future.

If your organization is facing pressures to innovate or challenges in boosting employee retention and nurturing talent, you need an organizational transformation strategy to navigate this changing landscape. The Queen’s IRC Organizational Transformation program at the can help you prepare and equip you with the necessary tools, frameworks and approaches for transforming the way you work.

About the Author

Carol Kotacka

Carol Kotacka is a results-oriented strategist, specializing in transformational change and strategy execution in local, national and international markets. Holding senior leadership positions in industry, healthcare and NGOs, her background reflects a deep understanding of the nuanced approach diverse cultures and stakeholder groups require, with proven results driving change time and again through work in North America, Europe, the Middle East and, most recently, South America.  During her career, Carol has had the privilege of co-creating strategic vision and system wide transformation with organizations, residents, employees, government entities as well as first responders. Carol’s undergraduate studies include Social Sciences and Public Affairs. Post graduate work includes Strategic Business Leadership from the Rotman School of Management and an EMBA from the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University.

Carol is the lead facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Organizational Transformation program.

 

[1]Nohria , N., & Beer, M. (2000). Cracking the code of change. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved March 22, 2023, from

https://hbr.org/2000/05/cracking-the-code-of-change

 

 

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