Living with change, leading with liminality

It was great to spend three days in Tangier at House of Beautiful Business with leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, philosophers, activists, game-changers and more.

Next to great input on AI, Climate change, impact business, peacemaking and belonging, my main takeaway was around liminality.

” . “, John Fullerton said during the conference.

I couldn’t agree more.

Many of the leaders I work with are seeing multiple – often dizzying -coinciding transformations – from dealing with radical new technologies, changes in market dynamics, to the need to completely re-think and adapt their organizational purpose and design.

⭕ The nature of this transformation is more difficult to define than what we typically call “change.” Old solutions, logic and analytical approaches no longer work. Indeed, there’s very little familiar (and comfortable) ground to stand on amidst this sea of change.

So maybe it is time to get lost. To get comfortable with the unknown. To step into liminality.

⭕ Liminality is a powerful yet scary space. It means we have to deal with dualities that are shaping today’s world. Destruction and construction. Disorientation and re-orientation. Unmaking and re-making. Unlike the old “change” we know, where it is all about “surviving” in the change until the new state arrives. The skills needed are no longer about managing ourselves and our people to get through it more quickly. Liminal time requires leadership who themselves experience liminality.

Liminality is about how we grow and are transformed by the time spent in liminal space. It is in liminal times leaders can have their greatest impact. But for that we actively participate and play our part in shaping the future. I believe that we often find change hard because we cannot see ourselves in the future.

So maybe it is time to ask some tough questions:
✔ How do we want to live in 10 years?
✔ What business landscape do we want to have?
✔ What is your part in a corporate world for creating a desirable future?
✔ How do we want (or even need) to balance contribution vs. profits?
✔ What does luxury and status mean for us? What matters most?

Of course, we can choose to sleepwalk through this time and avoid the feeling of chaos and discomfort. But then again, we will stay in situations that no longer serve us, missing out on the experience of working inside this powerful time, the change of era, alongside those forces that help to shape us, as individuals and leaders, into the more evolved versions of ourselves.

What tough questions are you asking yourself?

World Economic Forum 2024: Change, innovation and adaptability

With the World Economic Forum underway, the past days we have seen many companies rushing out new research, feeling the pulse of business. Here are some things that caught my eye:

  • In business we hear it all the time, yes, the pace of change is faster than ever. Accenture’s Pulse of Change: 2024 Index found the rate of change to have risen steadily by 183% over the past four years (33% in the past year alone) and 88% of CEOs anticipate an even faster rate of change in 2024.
  • What’s driving change? Technology seems to be the top driver (it was still least mentioned only in 2022). We probably can credit that to the release of ChatGPT in 2023. However, 47% say they are not fully prepared for the accelerating rate of technological change.
  • Pair that with PWC’s Annual Survey, showing that 45% of global CEOs believe their companies will no longer be viable in ten years’ time if they continue their current path.
  • Speaking of technology: interestingly this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer shows that public trust in innovation is declining.

Here are some questions for you as a leader:

How can you as a leader become more transformative in your approach to make sure your organization continues to thrive?

What can you do to build trust in and foster innovation through involvement, removing concerns around poor management and job displacement?

How will you cultivate adaptability within yourselves and your team, encouraging a mindset that embraces change as an opportunity for growth rather than a threat?

The world’s first org chart: putting people first

Supporting a client on their global strategic restructuring recently , I have seen many, many org charts the past few months. Full of squares, triangles, solid lines, dotted lines, big boxes, smaller boxes.

What if we designed charts that reflect what organizations are: not some rigid pyramid, but ecosystems made up of people and relationships?

The world’s first ever organizational chart: When Brigadier General Daniel McCallum took over the Erie Railroad Company (which with over 500 miles of tracks was the largest than any railroad company at the time), he found it disorganized. Recognizing a need for a different way of managing staff and operations he created the world’s first organization chart.

What I love about this chart:
Foremost it reflects what an organization is all about: people.
It shows how they work, who is part of it, where they are, what they do and their relationship to each other. Not just who they report to. Leaders are not on top, they are actually at the bottom. McCallum placed them there, right at the back, empowering the front-line workers to deliver on the mission, on taking decisions. Plus, I appreciate its beautiful, aesthetic design.

What does your organizational chart look like? How could it reflect the true dynamics of your teams?

 

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Ways to re-energize your team when morale is low

When organizations face multiple tough changes at once, it’s hard for morale to stay high. Leaders often ask me what they can do to re-energize their teams. These 3 R’s may come in handy:

1. Revitalize – constantly emphasize why the work your team is doing matters. What is their contribution to reaching the set goals and vision.

2. Repair – with tough changes in the organization, relationships can break down. Make time to listen, forgive and then recommit.

3. Refocus – sit down with your team and ask the following questions:
•What can we do better?
•What do we need to let go of?
•What is truly essential for achieving the work that we really believe matters?

And of course, as a leader make sure to also take care of yourself in those changes. If you’re burned out, you can’t help others.

Trust is the key for an inclusive workplace

While many companies have been focusing on DEI for several years, there is still room for improvement. If this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer’s results show one thing, it is that there is no doubt that the current trust dynamics create an opportunity for leaders to step up on issues that affect society such as diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

Having worked in and with various industries for many years, I know that diversity doesn’t mean a thing if company’s do not offer an inclusive workplace. Diversity is the who and the what, and inclusion is the how. What makes people feel included in their organization? Many things of course. Trust is definitely a key component. And trust comes down to leaders, because what leaders say and do makes the difference on whether an individual truly feels included. Why does this matter? Because when we feel included, we speak up more, we collaborate more, and we go the extra mile making a difference to the organization’s performance. (read more on how you can become a more inclusive leader)

After a rough start to my career, experiencing severe sexual harassment in my first job straight out of university (and without any support from peers or HR, leaving me no choice but to leave the company and that in the middle of a recession), I quickly became aware of the value of trust in my next jobs. Yes, I was young and female, but this never mattered to my managers because we all were working towards the same goal. They recognized my talents and showed me they believed in me, leaving me feeling included. These trusting relationships helped me grow and explore my potential. I have been blessed to work with leaders who possess humility, empathy, ambition, and audaciousness.

So how can you – as a leader – become more inclusive? 

  • Have the courage to hold brutally honest discussions. Ask for feedback on your behaviors that support or inhibit inclusion. Things like: Do you give equal speaking time to all meeting participants? Do you acknowledge everyone’s ideas and input? Do you make sure that people are not interrupted when talking? Do you refer to just one gender when giving examples? Leading this conversation is a first step in achieving change, getting an accurate view of your inclusive leadership capability and shows that you are putting people first.
  • Recognize and openly address biases. We all have them. Share stories about your growth, what you have learned about diversity and inclusion. The positive and the negative. This shows your humility and, with it, builds trust. Ask others to share their stories too.
  • Become more accountableon how well you are faring with diversity and inclusivity within and outside of the organization. And remember that there is a difference between activities and actual outcomes. Data is a great place to start. Noting the recent Edelman Trust Barometer, PwC US Chairman Tim Ryan explained in a blog post why his company has taken the somewhat unusual step to make its data on diversity public.
    “… I’d suggest that with trust in business running high, there has never been a better time to be transparent about our data as a way of holding ourselves accountable for the progress we seek to make…There’s no substitute for clear, widely shared information in that endeavor. Uncomfortable though transparency may be at first, I’m convinced that vulnerability is a necessity if we want to lead effectively on diversity—and as the business community has the greatest share of trust we’ve had in recent memory, now is the time.”
  • Leverage diverse thinkingin your organization. Immerse yourself in uncomfortable situations, spend time with people outside of your usual “group”, address DEI topics even if they make you feel uncomfortable, ask more open-ended questions, take time to raise your self-awareness (for instance through executive coaching or psychometrics). There are many things you can do as a leader to expand your horizons and disrupt pre-conceived ideas.

And overall, don’t forget to ask yourself regularly: “How do I inspire trust? And how can we all enable mutually beneficial conversations that allow us to continue to grow and flourish?”

2021: The Future of Work

“As leaders we tend to be an unusual group, far more resilient than the average bear. Don’t assume others have your strength. Go beyond your own experience. A bit of empathy and creating psychological safety for others goes a long, long way”
– Carol Kaufman, Assistant Professor Harvard Medical School and Founder/Executive Director of the Institute of Coaching

 In 2020, we saw the greatest shift in the way we work. Hybrid ways of working are now becoming the norm, bringing great opportunities such as flexible working models, better work-life balance and giving access to talent pools around the globe. The pandemic truly fast-forwarded the ‘future of work’ by years. There is no going back. Now we need to make hybrid working “work”.

 Part of this means, that leaders need to recognize the connection between productivity and wellbeing. While productivity was up last year, research shows that a majority of employees are experiencing severe levels of stress. This is no surprise with lines being blurred between work and personal life, lack of connection creating isolation and many of us dealing with uncertainty. It should also not come as a surprise, that wellbeing is an important factor that affects an organization’s bottom line. To drive and sustain, human potential, well-being needs to be part of work.

 2021 will be a great opportunity for leaders to move away from falling back into a pre-pandemic pattern. It will mean making the changes needed to become more aware of their team’s needs. This includes being more transparent, being compassionate (i.e. having a deep understanding of yourself and others), helping people construct meaning to their work and open channels for feedback. Psychological safety plays a key role in creating and nurturing the new culture needed for wellbeing. We all know that a team can only be highly effective if there is trust and respect. These are the two qualities that allow people to speak up, share ideas but also concerns, challenge the status quo while supporting each other.

If the pandemic has shown one thing: at the end of the day, organizations are all about people. The success and wellbeing of both, in 2021 and beyond, are closely intertwined.

There are many reasons not to change

 

I came across this nice picture the other day, showing us the many reasons against change. But my questions back would be “what is the risk of not changing?”.

Take some time today to reflect on what is stopping your company from making the needed changes.

Grow through experiments

Practice makes perfect. Who hasn’t been told that at some point in their life? But is it true?

I like Adam Grant’s take who believes that what separates the good from the great is the willingness to try new things. You may be successful the way you are, but regardless of whether you are a company or an individual if you follow the same thing, the same routine, the same strategy over and over again you are more or less standing still, it means you are not growing.

Especially today where our world is changing at an incredible speed we need to have the willingness to experiment. To experiment with what you already know, and to experiment beyond that.

As Adam Grant said in a recent interview with GQ:

“..I would love to see every individual, every group try at least one experiment every week. Whether that’s shifting the structure of your meetings, or rotating around the leader for that decision—you can make a long list of what kind of experiments might be relevant. But to me, that’s kind of the big lesson of organizational psychology: the people who are willing to try new things beat the ones who don’t.”

How can you break your silos of your own built routines and start to experiment?