Many organizations have identified the need to drive culture change to adapt to evolving business needs and strategies and new ways of working and retaining talent. The need is clear, and the desire is there. So, what gets in the way of actual change happening?

Most culture change efforts start with a lot of energy but quickly lose steam.  We start seeing the tell-tale signs that we’re not moving forward:

  • Senior leaders dedicate less time and focus
  • Culture activities get cancelled or postponed
  • Initiatives are superficial and there’s no real effort to change mindsets and behaviors that get in the way
  • Focus is on storytelling, but not on “story doing”

As time goes on, it gets difficult to remember why we were doing this to begin with. Because we don’t know what got us here, we wonder, can we really change? We start focusing on all the reasons why we can’t change instead of what we are missing by not changing — what other possibilities could exist.

Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a shock to the system, a call to consciousness to make us focus back on culture – an incident that publicly exposes detrimental behaviors permeating the company and tarnishes the brand, talented people leaving due to burnout and disengagement, crippling bureaucracy or missed growth opportunities.

If you are a leader or culture champion, you may be wondering: How can we jumpstart the culture change? How can we spark renewed enthusiasm and support? Instead of looking for a recipe for success, we encourage you to address the challenge with curiosity, one conversation at a time.  Contemplate who you need support from to reenergize the process and how you can best engage them in discussing the following questions:

  • Who is in? Who is indifferent? Who is out? Why is that the case?
  • Are we clear on why culture matters to our business?
  • Are we aligned on what needs to change about the way we do things today?
  • What is holding us back from making the necessary shifts?
  • How can we quickly demonstrate that things are changing?
  • As leaders, how do we need to change to ourselves?
  • What commitments are we willing to make?
  • What support do we need to fulfill those commitments?

Conventional wisdom is that change takes time; in reality, what it takes is intention and practice.  Culture changes one conversation at a time.  If your culture journey is stuck, jumpstart it by creating a safe space to discuss the questions above constructively.  It may sound counterintuitive, but instead of doing more and going fast, it may be better to focus on less and take time to reflect.  Don’t get discouraged if things don’t happen in the first conversation. Change requires intention, inspiration, a simple plan, and practice.

What would the corporate world look like if there was no curiosity at work? What if we stopped being inquisitive about the world, others, and ourselves? In times of disruptive change, individuals and leaders need to embrace both: running the present and preparing for the future. Those who are good at both will thrive in the 21st century. Curiosity is preparing for a comeback. According to LinkedIn data, there has been a year-on-year 90% growth in the use of the word curiosity in job advertisements.

As many leaders can attest to, there is a difference between complicated and complex problems. Complicated problems are what dominated our 20th century — they could be solved with technical expertise, in a methodical and relatively more linear fashion. The reality of the 21st century is that our world, and our problems, are VUCA — that is, volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. We cannot solve our problems with just the expertise and experience of the past because the variables are constantly changing. Solving complex problems require openness to new realities.

Due to these factors, the human dimension of life and work has become even more profoundly important. While humans have always mattered, the focus in the 20th century was on efficiency and production. Now, due to the complexity of our problems, there is more focus on the greyer area: the human dimension, of which curiosity is one of the central drivers of.

Today, research by SAS.com has discovered that nearly three quarters (72%) of managers believe curiosity is a very valuable trait in employees, with more than half strongly agreeing that curiosity drives real business impact (59%) and that employees who have more curiosity are higher performers (51%). Other research by SurveyMonkey found that the key ingredients for companies to weather economic downturn during COVID-19 were Curiosity and Agility. At a personal level, the Global Curiosity Institute (GCI) has established that curious professionals and leaders make faster careers and take home higher salaries. GCI has also found the need for a symbiotic positive relation between curious professionals and curious organizations. Curious organizations are those who embrace curiosity intentionally and ensure curiosity is celebrated throughout through their positive culture, processes and practices.

To enable this, what sort of culture must be created? People cannot be afraid of being wrong. They cannot be afraid of telling difficult truths. And they must feel psychologically safe. In other words, there must be cultures of learning, and where a player mindset is safe and encouraged. A player mindset is when faced with a situation, we concentrate on our own behavior and our ability to respond — focusing on factors within our control and what can be done to improve the situation. In a mindset like this, we are naturally curious, because we are constantly aware of our own actions and reactions, and can take positive action. The opposite of a player mindset is a victim mindset, where we hide behind factors outside of our control. Cultures where blaming abounds encourage victimhood, which drives curiosity and learning away.

A second mindset linked to curiosity and conscious business is key: “the learner mindset”, as opposed to “the knower mindset”. Being a knower is not about being knowledgeable, but about the concept of Truth and how we interpret the reality around us. The knower thinks the way that they perceive reality is THE Truth. The learner, on the other hand, understands that their perception is ‘their’ truth, and that other truths may also exist. Being a learner is about accepting different perspectives: the knower holds expertise with certainty, while the learner may have expertise also, but holds it with curiosity. These are not permanent tags; a person can shift from one mindset to the other at will. In a learner mindset, being curious does not mean we become unproductive or indecisive. On the contrary, engaging in difficult conversations as a learner instead of a knower is more effective.

So how do you start the journey of culture change?

Anabel Dumlao; Partner, Axialent: People who belong to a culture act how they think they are supposed to act. They will try to belong, or leave the culture if they feel stifled. The first step is to realize that culture is built — that levers do exist. In other words, it starts with awareness. If you don’t realize this, you will end up with a culture by default and not by design. Culture changes when behaviors, symbols, and systems change consistently over time. When it comes to curiosity, this means that you will observe behaviors like leaders asking sincere questions, symbols like people whose ‘productive failures’ get them promoted and not expelled, or systems like learning and development that track what people learned more than the hours they spent training. The culture designed should be one where people can thrive and delight customers. And we must remember, the shadow of a leader is long. Leaders who lead by example and show up with curiosity, invite the team to follow their example. Those who don’t, stifle the team.

Stefaan van Hooydonk; Founder of the Global Curiosity Institute: Awareness is indeed the first step towards action as it paves the way for taking positive and intentional action to do something about the status quo. Intentionality is therefore crucial for companies to embrace a culture which celebrates both exploitation and exploration, both celebrating the past and embracing the unknown future. Curiosity can be measured and be managed. You can measure the status quo, and derive action plans from there. When it comes to training people, some companies focus on changing their environment, while others focus on training mindset and habits, some do both. In any case, C-suites are becoming acutely aware that what worked in the 20thcentury does not necessarily work in the 21st century. The 20th century was stable, and we didn’t require too much focus much on creativity, curiosity, or innovation. Companies like Microsoft have changed the paradigm with leaders like Satya Nadella, who inspired his management team to shift from “know it all” to “learn it all”.

Our awareness and how we approach change makes the difference between how reliant we are on past solutions, versus how curious and adaptable we can be to this VUCA world we now live in. Today, we need to be learners and problem finders. Problem-solving is when we use our current skill set to find a solution. Problem-finding is when we predict what could go wrong, which requires a much more open, curious, and imaginative mindset.

I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the pandemic a few weeks in advance and to be able to act based on the signs, intuition and experience to face a challenge that we did not even imagine what it would finally be like.

The signs were the cancellation of a project in Germany and the anger around the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The intuition, that we were facing something unknown and devastating. The experience was that of my colleague Thierry de Beyssac warning me that in the face of real crises, the “worst-case” had to be “really” a nightmare scenario.

Today, two years later, I know that surviving would have been impossible without the trust of our partners and the support and ability to sacrifice of all of us who comprised of Axialent in March 2020. Practically our entire operation was face-to-face with our clients, and involved travel throughout Europe and America that was cut off to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

That was the situation.

The first thing I perceived was fear — fear in our people, fear in our clients, fear in our families. And I understood that the first thing we had to do was to overcome fear.

I set myself three priorities to transform fear into hope.

The first: guarantee the survival of the company. We did it by renegotiating the financial structure, expanding the capital base and applying very tough cost management that included pay cuts up to 50% in the highest salaries and eliminating all non-essential expenses.

The second: talking to people, honoring our values and proposing a pact to socialize sacrifice so that no one would be left behind in circumstances in which uncertainty and vulnerability were total. The tsunami had hit us in the middle of the sailing and all of us on the Axialent ship deserved to reach port together, safe and sound. So we agreed, so we did. It is what I am most proud of as CEO.

The third: to talk to our customers and offer help and support with the ship afloat and the crew weathering the storm. They were just as scared and perplexed as we were. It was the best we could do — we helped each other. We designed new services together that helped them in a complex and challenging scenario, and because of this we were able to reinvent ourselves beyond what we would have dreamed of without the pressure of the coronavirus.

The implementation of these three priorities brought us an unexpected gift, which was to accelerate innovation. Almost without realizing it, we began to do remotely what we were doing in person. The need helped us to make possible what we previously saw as impossible — and for which we had brought a team to the company whose presence at that time was critical. Thanks to this, we found ourselves giving new answers to the new problems that the pandemic brought to the table. At the same time, none of this was easy. And although today I see these two years as a vital and invaluable learning experience, the truth is that we all suffer a lot and still continue to suffer consequences of COVID-19.

At some point, we used the tools we use with our clients to see how we were working in the midst of chaos and the result overwhelmed me. I heard things that I did not like, and it helped me to see things that I did not see. All of this helped us to correct course, and taught me how the humility to admit mistakes is the best ally to create the confidence that is needed to act and lead in uncertainty.

When they ask me what my keys as CEO were for Axialent to survive, I answer that I listened a lot and made quick decisions at the service of the people. Decisions to empower, remove obstacles and protect with an armored umbrella those who were on the front lines helping our clients, containing the budget, or reinventing our services. And underneath the armored umbrella manage the storytelling without essentially missing the truth and remembering that “a team is a state of mind” as my friend Jorge Valdano says. I considered that some bad news or explaining in detail the size of certain obstacles would only serve to increase the distress and discouragement of the team in the midst of the greatest challenge most of us had ever faced in our lives. I sincerely believe that this selective transparency, and sometimes with an optimistic bias, helped us stay on course and reach port.

The pandemic brutally showed us the difference between what we can control and what we cannot. Knowing how to make this distinction and focus energy on what is under our control is what we call at Axialent “unconditional responsibility” which, next to caring for people, are the keys to getting out of a crisis like the one we are experiencing with more awareness and wisdom. Is important to know it now since we also know that this is not last crisis we will have to live.

No one would argue that work landscape has changed significantly in the last years due to covid-19.
According to a Mercer report, 71% of employers said last year they were going to adopt a hybrid model. And, an Accenture report noted that hybrid workforce models are embraced by 63% of high-revenue growth companies.
Although there is no exact definition and it can vary according to each organization, hybrid work is understood as the possibility of alternating (fixed or flex way) working from home, from a remote location and a central hub or office.
While there are many advantages for organizations and employees in adopting a hybrid model, it needs to be planned and consciously managed to offset some of the disadvantages hybrid work has revealed in the past years. Let´s look at the main drawbacks people have expressed after forcefully adopting this new way of working.

  1. It diffuses Human Connection: although technology platforms and collaboration tools have taken a quantum leap facilitating access to virtual experiences, human connection and sense of belonging have been diluted. In a virtual configuration, we tend to jump from meeting to meeting focusing on the task and results while investing little time on hanging out and mingling. Some people tend to experience weariness, loneliness, and disconnection.
  2. If not carefully planned, cross group collaboration can drop dramatically, and organizations might become more siloed: some organizations are already reporting an impact on sharing collective wisdom and innovating. Although spending face to face time is a possibility, it´s not always assigned to becoming more collaborative.
  3. Remote vs On Site Mindset: There are different shared beliefs by remote workers vs on site workers. Often people working from home can feel their career development is being impacted due to a lack of connection with their peers and/or leaders. We sometimes tend to believe we need to be “visible” to be considered by people who have decision making power in our careers. This might drive some additional tension to the implementation of the working model.

Human connection and sense of belonging are key to create a trusted environment and develop a high-performance culture.
So how can we as leaders, foster belonging in a hybrid environment?

  1. Make face-to-face time count: no virtual experience can replace the physical connection, so plan and invest purposefully your time together — it´s precious and needs to be taken care of. Building and growing your “WE” into trusting and collaborative relationships is the best use of your time. Plan for formal and informal gatherings to strengthen your bonds and get to know each other.
  2. Get to know your people — plan for 1:1s: We all come from different places, are immersed in different contexts, and have different needs. Let´s not approach our teams with a “one size fits all mindset”; ask your team what they need to feel more connected with you, the team, and the organization in this configuration. Make connection and sense of belonging part of your ongoing conversations and periodically assess with each team member their level of connection.
  3. Encourage mentoring / peer sessions: Developing a mentoring program creates a safe container for people to come together and share own experiences, wants, and needs. People feel heard while being challenged to adopt new mindsets. Mentoring has proven to be a great mechanism to help people grow in all 3 dimensions (I / WE / IT).
  4. During hybrid meetings, start with remote workers: Hybrid meetings can be messy and ineffective; it´s harder for remote workers to follow through and for onsite workers to be mindful of those who are accessing virtually. Before starting the meeting make sure you have the right technology in place so everyone can clearly hear the conversation that will take place in the room and in each virtual space. During the meeting periodically pause and check with the team how are they experiencing the meeting. Make sure you always give priority to remote workers to voice their opinion first without being overran by others. Setting clear ground rules is key for leading effective meetings.
  5. Foster vulnerability & authenticity: showing up and being seen as who we truly are with our own strengths and opportunities bring us together. Embracing others without judegment and with compassion creates an inclusive culture. As leaders, we have a key responsibility in role model an inclusive leadership inviting others to do the same.

Implementing a successful hybrid work model requires more than ever creating an inclusive environment where people feel connected and have a strong sense of belonging.
It´s not about making the model itself work, it is about consciously managing our culture and creating the right conditions to enable people develop to their full potential in any given working environment.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is one of the top trends that is shaping organizations in 2022 and beyond.1 Best practices in DEI have been talked about for decades, but how much change have we actually seen? Recent surveys have shown that we still have a gap in turning intention into impact.  According to a recent study, four in five (80 percent) of senior leaders think that their actions show that they are genuinely committed to greater DEI, while only three in five (58 percent) individual contributors say the same.2
Much of the traditional DEI efforts have been centered on corporate messaging on the company’s commitment to DEI, implementing HR policies to attract, retain and promote diverse employees, tracking DEI-related data and conducting mandatory training for managers to promote awareness of unconscious biases. These top-down and HR-driven actions are important, but not sufficient. In many cases, what organizations see as DEI challenges are underlying organizational cultural problems manifesting themselves as DEI issues.3
For example, the global pandemic has shown us that we need to think beyond traditional definitions of DEI and help people in organizations have more authentic conversations and conscious interactions. These day-to-day interactions are greatly influenced by the unwritten values and behavioral norms which guide the way we approach our work, interact with others and solve problems. In other words: the company culture.
For example, consider the impact that the following culture norms could have on team members feeling included, heard, and valued:

  • We are expected to come to our bosses with only good news
  • We shame people for making mistakes
  • We have a bias for action and value quick consensus over constructive debate
  • It’s not ok to disagree with others in a meeting
  • We only share business performance information on a need-to-know basis

Culture norms like this exist in every organization. They guide and regulate what is acceptable behavior in a group. The problem is that in many cases, these norms were not consciously defined in the first place, and we may not even be aware that they exist —they are “just the way we do things around here.” To drive culture change, the first step is to identify and name these unwritten norms, and discuss what may be driving them and whether they may be helping or hindering our journey to be a more diverse, inclusive and equitable workplace.
This process will be more effective if leaders work on adopting a learner mindset. When we shift to a learner mindset, we actively treat our views and opinions as our subjective interpretation, acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers and that there are multiple perspectives. This creates a positive snowball effect – we can better uncover and understand the culture norms that may be holding us back, benefit from the perspectives and ideas of others to drive the culture shifts, and visibly role model inclusive leadership behaviors.
A learner mindset also helps us to acknowledge that we will never be ‘done’ when it comes to understanding the context and experiences of others. By entering a space of humility and being willing to be vulnerable, we can better invite others to also be vulnerable and to openly share how they feel. This creates psychological safety: a space where people feel free to fail, to say ‘I don’t know’, to admit their mistakes and to be vulnerable about their feelings and experiences. It also encourages people to share their ideas, challenge others, raise issues and constructively disagree. Creating this safe space is the most important first step to creating a culture that truly values DEI.
This is an invitation to pause and reflect on what has and hasn’t worked in the last couple of years and to encourage ourselves, our leaders, and our employees to consider:

  • How can we facilitate more constructive and honest dialogues around what we need to change to drive representation and belonging?
  • Where are the gaps in our own cultures and behaviors?
  • What are the best experiments we’ve seen or experienced to drive a more constructive and inclusive culture? Why did they work? How can we refine and replicate those actions in other parts of our organization?

Creating a constructive culture that fosters DEI is a journey that will never end. Once you become more aware, you realize that there is much more to learn, unlearn, explore and do. We need to treat change as an ongoing process and experiment; not trying to get things perfect but working with conscious intention on making things better each day.
 
 

111 Trends that Will Shape Work in 2022 and Beyond (hbr.org)
22022 employee experience trends // Qualtrics
3 The limits of “Cultures for…” the latest or most urgent organizational problems (humansynergistics.com)

When we were kids, we learned so many things from having zero knowledge about them. For example, how to speak our own native language (and then others’), names to call people and things by, who are adults and who are children, what is an animal, the good and the bad, the why of everything 😉 and the list goes on.
Learning these things was a joy. We actually enjoyed the process of going from zero to then being the holder of some information that was going to help us process our experiences in the world. We were hungry to learn more and more and had thousands of questions about everything. We already practiced the 5+ why’s, often annoying our parents.
We loved to learn and to grow, and the changes that learning brought to our lives were for the most part welcomed. The big question is: what happened when we became adults that change became so stressful and anxiety generating? Why did learning and growing and getting out of our comfort zone become something to avoid?
The answer is, we probably learned something we didn’t realize when we were kids: that society didn’t always reward changing. Change became synonymous with risk, fear, and unsafety. Learning something new and growing did not always mean that there was no risk in doing so. If you made a mistake on the way to learning, there could be consequences for that. As a result, we became “knowers” who don’t admit what they don’t know. We started to take less risks, and to become more comfortable and bound by some secure circumstances and certainties we created for ourselves. Within these boundaries, we would generally repeat similar cycles but not truly seek transformative growth or change.
The trouble is less risk-taking leads to less innovation and growth. In order to enable a culture of innovation and growth, we must be willing to inspire and encourage a safe culture of risk-taking. The agile methodology to this is to take a lot of chances, and to make quick, limited impact mistakes. By testing things again and again, you then know what you can continuously improve. This environment mimics the type of circumstances we had as children. Knowing that we can be wrong, that we can make a mistake is a characteristic of psychological safety. Feeling psychologically safe allows us to feel confident in taking risks, managing, and mitigating them, and ultimately learning and growing from what did and didn’t work. We take away the fear of what might go wrong and switch our mindset to one of — even if something does go wrong, that’s good because now I know what to work on.
What is working against this approach is that many aspects of leadership in our current world are based on fear. The predominating leadership style is arguably still one of carrots and sticks: of control, domination, power dynamics, and inducing fear in the direction of some desirable carrot (monetary, title, status, etc). On the bright side, there are many organizations that are now progressing along the curve to being more psychologically safe.
As kids we were vulnerable and innocent, something we were not allowed to be as adults. This is a big mistake that agile organizations in a VUCA world are changing with an intentional culture made of vulnerability-based trust, benefit of the doubt, open-authentic communication and learner mindsets. Particularly high-tech companies, startups, and Fintech companies have created a system of prototyping, testing, and rapid iteration. The smallest companies are starting to eat up what were once the biggest ones through rapid growth and innovation. Key to this is culture and conscious leadership.
The question now is, how can you promote a culture of psychological safety this year — in your family, community, team, and workplace? By inducing a safe environment where people can tap into the child-like play and curiosity they once had, you may likely begin to see outsized results in learning, development, and growth.
Good news: we will finally reverse the course of time and rejuvenate ;-)!

Oseas Ramírez Assad, ex-Cisco, has been named Axialent’s new CEO.
Our former CEO, José Suarez Arias-Cachero, will become a board member and will continue to be a strategic partner.
We are excited to announce the appointment of Oseas Ramírez Assad as the company’s new CEO. For the last 3 years he has been holding a strategic position, leading the development of new solutions. He has brought the Optimal Me methodology — based on how to ignite an effective personal growth journey focusing on mental and physical energy — to multinational companies.
Oseas Ramirez Assad, a native of Mexico and a resident of New York, has extensive training at prestigious universities such as the Thunderbird School of Global Management with the Fulbright program, and is an accomplished serial entrepreneur and intrapreneur with a 20-year track record leading the innovation both in new companies and within large established companies.
In the heart of Silicon Valley at Cisco Systems, he led three initiatives: developing the company’s top 2% of talent worldwide (focusing on senior managers), creating a program to bring innovation best practices from startups to the corporation and, finally, the creation of the innovation strategy for the worldwide network of Cisco innovation centers.
Passionate about the intersection between technology, human development and entrepreneurship, Oseas is part of the board of directors of the companies he co-founded, advises large corporations internationally on innovation issues and is an international keynote speaker.
Today he starts a new path: aiming to delve into unexplored channels and developing processes that will enable the company’s purpose to be taken to new contexts and markets and achieve a positive impact on many more people.
Currently, after having successfully led the pandemic period and achieving an internal digital transformation at Axialent, José Suarez Arias-Cachero, from Asturias, is leaving his position as CEO to be a board member, from where he will try to leverage his experience at Axialent to strengthen the connection with other global companies to meet its strategic objectives.

Not long ago I posted a series of myths and realities about Agile on my LinkedIn account. While many in the business world talk about Agile ways of working, how accurate is the information we think we know? Are you confusing an Agile myth with reality? In June, I shared an article on the Agile Mindset and what a person needs to truly be agile. I would like to follow up by sharing my top 6 Agile myths:
agile myths debunked
 

MYTH #1: AGILE IS A SET OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT FRAMEWORKS

REALITY: Agile is primarily a culture, a way of thinking and acting.

  • The biggest and most common mistake and the reason that many fail at implementing Agile in organizations comes from focusing on the DOING Agile without working on the BEING Agile.
  • Implementing Scrum, Design Thinking, Hackathons, Lean, Kanban and other Agile frameworks will not be sufficient to be Agile.

 

MYTH #2: LEADERS ARE NOT NEEDED IN AGILE

REALITY: True…and false.

  • Agile needs leaders, but not where they might usually spend their time and energy.
  • Their role is to drive and foster the appropriate ecosystem and culture. They must genuinely inspire themselves first and then their people with a compelling Purpose, Vision, and Strategy that can guide decisions and actions. This is not a minor role. An Agile organization could not exist without these leaders.
  • In Agile, coaching leaders to empower their people by decentralizing decisions, control, and accountability to the point closest to action.
  • To put it in other terms, leaders move from the pilot seat to the co-pilot one.
  • Top management is often unconsciously the main barrier or intentionally the key enabler of BEING Agile more than being directly involved in Agile projects.

 

Myth #3: AGILE IS BETTER AND FASTER. Its role is to increase the speed of decisions and actions.

REALITY: Speed of decision and action is part of a predefined daily and weekly planning but is not a goal. Value delivery to customers comes before timing.
 

Myth #4: AGILE IS ABOUT PRODUCING MORE, QUICKER, AND CHEAPER

REALITY: Big mistake. Agile optimizes value delivery and customer satisfaction first, not just productivity and efficiency.
 

Myth #5: AGILE IS PERMANENT INSTABILITY MANAGEMENT

REALITY: Agile’s pre-defined cadence and framework are highly predictable. You know in real-time how the team is tracking against objectives with daily baby steps, one at a time, with clear objectives. This approach makes manageable permanent changes and instability with iterative adaptations, learning and improving from mistakes/successes with clear metrics from customer feedback.
 

Myth #6:  WE DON’T NEED AGILE COACHES. Agile Coach = Scrum Master

REALITY: Agile is about people before processes and the Agile Coach is here to help the team adopt effective mindsets and behaviors individually and as a team: Agile is a way of thinking, acting, and interacting.

  • The functions of a Scrum Master are to carry out all those projects that use a Scrum methodology from the elaboration of the product backlog, sprint backlog, the sprint itself, and the burndown of the tasks carried out and everything that remains pending.

 

Conclusion

Agile does not have to be a buzzword. It is what you need it to be. don’t copy/paste what others do. Find what works in your organization. BE the agility you want to see in your organization: Agile is not a destination it is a mindset and a way of working together.

For most executives we know, embarking on a transformation journey at the helm of an organization is thrilling. It’s nothing short of an adrenaline rush, like the climbing expedition we’ve been comparing it to over the last few weeks. However, journeys come to an end, and life -as well as business- goes on. Business as usual, they say. At the foot of the mountain, the heroes of the hike blend with ordinary folks and continue onward. That part of the story typically gets left out of the books because… who wants to hear about the ‘normal’? We revive that story here, in the final article of the series, The Next Normal of a New CEO.
In the first article, we laid out a roadmap for the first 100 days of a CEO and the ‘new’ leadership team that results from that appointment (from A to B in the illustration above). We continued with a second article where we explained the focus of the team’s next 100 days in its safe descent back to base camp (from B to C). We finish the series with the ‘next normal’ of this team (‘new normal’ sounds too definitive for a VUCA world).
The Next Normal of a New CEOBeginnings, or new beginnings, are exciting. They create momentum, but it’s a hard job to keep the flame alive. If the leadership team does an excellent job with the four D’s mentioned in article two, there’s a higher chance that the flame will last longer. However, they will need a sustainable fuel source for that flame because eventually, it will die out. No matter how well-intended the leaders are, their behaviors are not enough to consolidate an evolving or transforming culture. Culture needs to be hinged on systems to endure.
 

Systems and Symbols

What are systems? For us, systems are to the organization what behaviors are to individuals. They are the workflows, procedures, policies, practices (you name it) that shape collective actions. As such, they can be powerful symbols of what the company values, regardless of the words on their posters.
An example of the power of systems and symbols is how top leadership deals with ‘airtime’. What they spend time on, or whom they spend time with, sends a loud message to the organization. Take one of our clients. They decided to end their hierarchical, command-and-control leadership style because their business strategy called for swifter moves that they believed would happen with more autonomous, empowered, and customer-centric teams.
Their leadership manifesto called for them to be ‘servant leaders’. Some took on the challenge of transforming their mindsets and behaviors to become that type of leader. However, their meeting protocols remained unchanged. Front-line employees were still called to provide status updates to top leadership, which meant taking an elevator to the ‘noble’ floor, projecting the same lifeless PPTs as always, as if they were making a case in front of a tribunal waiting for the verdict.
The culture only started shifting when the executives brought the change to another level. No more status updates at the top of the high-rise corporate headquarters. They systematically took the same elevator down, attended the forums where teams did the actual work and asked questions when their turn came. Their leadership manifesto got grounded in their collective rituals, which had a compounding effect on their behaviors.
 

The Road Ahead

Other systems and symbols in an organization are how the budget is allocated (what do they spend their money on?), whom they hire, who gets promoted, what gets celebrated and punished, and how they reward and discipline. These are the infrastructure on which the leaders keep traveling when they return from their climbing expedition. They arrive eager to reach milestones on their ongoing journey toward long-term, sustainable success in the form of robust business results, healthy relationships, and personal fulfillment. Excellent leadership teams realize that:

    1. The road ahead is full of curves. They will arrive at crossroads where the tools they gathered on their way to the peak will come in handy. The good news is that, after a climb, a curvy road pales in comparison.
    2. They can’t let their guard down. Continuing to measure how the team is doing on their levels of trust, conflict management, commitment, accountability, and results is paramount for them to keep working out where they are weaker. No matter how well they’re doing, they know that the moment they quit going to the gym, they’ll get out of shape. Staying at the top of their game is a life-long sport.
    3. They need to get rid of the inappropriate infrastructure that slows their momentum, sometimes to a halt.
    4. They found their fuel – a healthy fuel that keeps the fire (the one they kindled at the fireside chat at base camp) burning and lighting the way. Holding on to their purpose, their true North, they move not for themselves, but for something that transcends them.
    5. There is a legacy to leave behind, and they have decided what they want that to be.

We hope you enjoyed the journey alongside this new CEO and leadership team. Let us know in the comments which part of the journey you found most helpful for your own!

In high achievement cultures where people are held accountable for delivering on time and their results, there is generally a misconception about what it takes to lead and inspire others. Leaders often believe they need to “be tough” on others to drive results and get the best out of people. If we watch the way these leaders interact with their teams we can immediately know if they are leading by fear or by love. At Axialent, we find leaders who practice compassionate leadership, rather than an iron fist, are more likely to get the results they want.
The first type of leader is 100% result oriented, very focused on the task and the business results. They have a very strong opinion of what needs to be done to expand and grow. Therefore, they generally need to be “in charge all the time”, often using a very directive approach with their teams. They hand out orders to others, correcting people’s behavior on the spot, sometimes providing destructive feedback. Fear of failure (or not delivering results) is so strong and present that they undermine trust, psychological safety, creativity, and innovation.
Although these types of leadership behaviors may achieve business goals in the short term, leaders need to develop a more integral approach to create exceptional sustainable results. An approach that addresses the human dimension as much as the business one. This is what compassionate leadership is all about.
 

Compassionate leadership

 
compassionate leadershipCompassionate leadership does not mean being “soft with people” and not holding them accountable. It certainly does not propose giving up business results in pursuit of caring for people or make them feel connected.  At the heart of compassionate leadership lies the ability to recognize the potential and need of every human being and help them develop and grow in service of the business needs.
It means helping people sharpen their edge with kindness in the service of a bigger goal.
 

Compassionate leaders:

  • Develop a clear and inspiring integral vision.

They strongly provide and thoroughly communicate a clear direction to the desired outcomes and the role teams and individuals are invited to play in achieving the vision.

  • Embrace their own vulnerability and practice self-compassion.

Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen with no control of the outcome (as Brene Brown has stated through her research). Experiencing our own vulnerability and being kind to ourselves is the first step to connecting with others’ vulnerability and feeling compassion.

  • Put themselves in others’ shoes.

They invest time connecting and getting to know their team. These leaders have a genuine interest in them and the challenges they face. They build strong, trusting bonds. Compassionate leaders master the right balance between containing and challenging people to help them get unstuck and carry forward. They understand we all fail and make mistakes, and this is part of our development journey.

  • Speak their truth with honesty and respect.

Compassionate leadership is usually thought of as leaders sugarcoating messages to avoid people getting hurt. They are seen as avoiding conflicts, difficult conversations, or providing any feedback that might challenge people to consider a different perspective. In reality, compassionate leaders do just the opposite. They communicate thoroughly, provide constructive feedback, and have difficult conversations, all in the service of the growth of their people and the business.

  • Are committed to helping people grow and achieve their individual goals.

They will not withhold important feedback that can contribute to others’ development. They’ll own their opinions and express them constructively being true to themselves and being respectful to others.

  • Have a bias for action.

Compassionate leadership is not only about connecting and understanding people’s pain and challenges. It’s also about helping them see what they can and need to do to move forward, overcome adversity, grow their resilience, and encouraging them to do so.
 

Conclusion

How do you choose to lead your organization? How do you want to be remembered? What do you judge to be the most effective way to deliver your business results?
Compassionate leadership is a matter of choice. It helps create a safe container for people to feel cared for, seen, and valued while being supported to stretch out of their comfort zone and learn what’s needed to excel.