This week, I had the chance to speak with some major change and transformation powerhouses about what it means for businesses to have a “Made-for-Change” mindset.
Ginny Clarke, leadership and recruitment expert and former director of Executive Recruiting at Google, Beth Davies, leading L&D expert and former director of Learning at Tesla, and Angela Yochem, chief operating officer at Novant Health, all agree that being made for change starts at the top.
When leaders align on a common objective and model a culture of intentional flexibility and psychological safety, innovation and creativity will thrive.
Here’s more from our conversation:
“I believe that becoming an athletic, growth-oriented executive is really about understanding and building an appetite for change – leveraging change events to build differentiated capabilities.”
As Angela Yochem put it, being made for change starts with the leadership team. Leaders must rally around a clear objective or desired outcome rather than initiating change for change’s sake.
Beth Davies shared that at Tesla, the mission was the burning platform.
“It’s incredibly expensive to start a car company and there isn’t a lot of runway to make mistakes,” said Beth. “Reiterating our mission, which for Tesla is to drive the world’s transition to sustainable energy, galvanized leaders and their teams in the right direction. All leadership decisions were based around whether they would help us accomplish that mission.”
Organizations must also consider what kind of leaders are best suited for making change a Way of Working (WoW).
“Raw intellect isn’t always going to be enough,” Ginny Clarke shared. “For instance, effective communication skills, ability to build inclusive teams and problem-solving capabilities are examples of the 60 leadership competencies Google screens for during hiring. And organizations should expect and evaluate these behaviors from leaders on a continuous basis outside of just the hiring process.”
A Culture of Intentional Flexibility
Once leaders are clear on their change mission, they must deploy an intentional method for flexibility – one that drives value and manages risk through frequent, iterative change. At North Highland, we use the term "little and often" to describe this pattern of change.
Intentional flexibility is a framework for trying new things and “failing fast.” This is where innovation happens – it's how we continue to get better.
“It’s about the system,” says Beth. “If risk-taking is the desired performance, you must look at everything in the system and make sure it’s driving that behavior. For example, what are executives talking about? What stories are we telling in the organization? Has our performance review been recently updated? What are we measuring and rewarding our employees for?"
“At Novant, we’re very familiar with trying,” Angela shared. “But we don’t call it ‘failing fast,’ we call it ‘testing and experimentation’ through the scientific method. Being able to test, then pivot accordingly, makes us incredibly nimble and allows us to thrive through changing landscapes, even in extremely challenging times.”
And, to encourage this culture of innovation, leaders must create and model a safe space for employees to try and fail. Mindset is top down – recognize that employees may have a fear of failure. To combat this fear and encourage teams to show up the way you expect them to, it comes down to trust, transparency and empowerment.
“Fear is the enemy of innovation,” Beth says. “Being in a high fear state where you just want to please the boss kills personal creativity. Recognize how powerful fear is and hire emotionally intelligent leaders who can minimize or eliminate that risk. If we put ourselves in the shoes of the people on our teams, we can help eliminate fears and pave the way for innovation.”
“Trust first comes to mind,” Ginny added. “Trust is demonstrated and perceived. Leaders must model trust and ensure there is zero tolerance for bad behavior. It's also about respect. As leaders, our job is really to activate the humanity of each member of the team. Make sure to look people in the eye and understand who they are, not just what they do.”
Parting Words of Wisdom
I’d like to leave you with my made for change mantra, which is “progress over perfection” – creating in little increments each day and learning to get better. Our panel also shared some parting words of wisdom:
“Embrace an evolutionary mindset, Beth shared. “The world is constantly changing, and we must evolve with it.”
“Drive a culture of learning, so that as the world changes, we are able to adapt and overcome,” said Angela.
“Don’t need to wait for the organization to fix everything to activate a change,” Ginny said. “We each need to be part of that change. Start asking questions, leaning in, and offering solutions. That’s where the genius is resting.”