Article: Kate Sweetman on managing change and the right mindset for success

Talent Management

Kate Sweetman on managing change and the right mindset for success

In this interview, People Matters talk to Kate Sweetman, co-author of Reinvention: Accelerating Results in the Age of Disruption on how organizations can navigate the wave of digital transformation
Kate Sweetman on managing change and the right mindset for success

Kate Sweetman is the President and Chief Client Officer for SweetmanCragun, a leadership research and development firm based in Boston. She is also a global author of repute, a management consultant, trainer, and a speaker on topics of business relevance. Kate is the co-author of a recently published book ‘Reinvention: Accelerating Results in the Age of Disruption’

What is your perspective on the digital transformation that’s underway?  How is this wave of disruption different from earlier technological transformations? 

Business environments have undergone significant technology-driven transformations in the past. For example, the retail sector underwent an upheaval from the dominance of mom-&-pop stores to that of organized malls – a speedy change that impacted a huge population and changed the very economics of retail. But that is nothing like what we are seeing now.

Today’s change can be best described as “instantaneous”, it’s happening much more quickly and on a much larger scale. Consider tech-enabled messaging platform, Snapchat, it has changed the very paradigm of communication. “So big, so fast” seems to be the mantra for digital transformation. 

We need to understand that such transformation comes at a cost. This is why there is a dire need for enhanced adaptability and organizational management. Today, a whole range of mechanisms for taking in information are available and must be leveraged for effective and efficient change. It is then only that digital destruction shall add value to business. 

Change is the only constant, and agility to adapt is important. Are there tools to help measure the ‘willingness to change’ and the ‘ability to manage change’? 

As far as ‘willingness to change’ is concerned, it’s basically a personality orientation. There are a number of personality-based tests that are available such as Myers Briggs, DISC and so on. In my experience, these may not help you arrive at one definitive right answer, but it can help you know your employees’ orientations. SweetmanCragun’s intent for personality assessments is not to ‘label’ anyone but to gain insights into how these traits affect the professional environment. And this is best done as an external observer or assessor.

I remember when I was interacting with one of our Indian clients and they were discussing the future roadmap of the company. As an observer, I saw that the team members weren’t even talking to one another. While some were saying ‘We’re doing great’, the others pointed out that the world was changing, and that they had to change. In such a situation, personality assessments can help segregate people who are future oriented from those with a focus on the short-term. It is important to create awareness in people about where they are coming from and how they can bank upon these deep traits to gear up for change. That’s a core competency to imbibe willingness to change. 

On the other hand, dealing with complexity essentially equals dealing with ambiguity. In today’s complex world, you can never know everything, there will always be an element of intuition that you may have to turn to. At the same time, you are expected to take as many factors into account as possible. This is the modern management dilemma- striking a balance between knowledge and intuition. Self-awareness can go a long way in mastering this. Know your strengths, and team up with someone with a complementary skill set. Organizations must recognize that when we put complementary capabilities together, a potent combination develops. 

That’s an interesting insight into how competencies and change go hand in hand. Are there any particular personality traits that can help you manage this complexity? 

One thing is very critical – the ability and willingness to network, both in-person and through digital tools. Be a person who understands how to connect with other relevant people who are knowledgeable. In the cutting edge business field today being able to just talk to people, helps. You shouldn’t just take from a network, but you should give back too. Ask yourself, ‘How do I develop and contribute to my own valuable network?’ A whole new world of opportunity will open up. 

Knowing when to pivot is critical in this age of dynamic change. How do you know when to pivot? 

That’s a million dollar question! It is very important to take an analytics-based decision, and at the same time, it is equally important to tap into other people working through similar issues as well. 

While there is certainly a role for technology to play, one way to get this information is through other people. I make it a point to attend the right conferences and network with people who are also seeking the best connection. We have really good relationships that we’re willing to share.

You’ve spoken about the importance of having a mindset for success. What can companies do to enable this mindset? 

Carol Dweck’s work on the growth mindset is really persuasive.  Success is not just about brains and talent. We know a lot of people who don’t take off in their careers even if they have gone to the best of schools. On the other hand, other people, who may not have had great opportunities or are not considered smart, make it happen. In short, success boils down to a mindset that says- ‘Success is something I want, not because I am smart and talented, but because there’s so much that I can put in to determine the outcome’. 

Those with a fixed mindset are more satisfied with who they are. And in the growth mindset, dedication, hard work and a love for continuous learning feed success. Moreover, it is when things get difficult, that it’s important to change gears and become innovative. Finding a way around challenges by putting in time and effort, reaching out to people, and thinking out of the box, is the mantra for making it big in business and leadership. 

In the context of the automation wave, there seems to be a need for skills refresh. How do companies tackle resistance to change? 

Leaders need to look at their own behaviors, messaging and ways of operating. Resistance to change is inevitable, it may be an outcome of a person’s personality traits. For managing resistance to change, we do not need to be too self-critical. But we must share and collaborate, have the right conversations. 

The first step towards positive change is to assess the current state of the organization. Change management failures are not just a result of bad messaging or lack of conviction, it runs much deeper. A person with a drug problem is first moved from their environment. If he or she goes back to the toxic environment, the chances of a relapse are high. Similarly, an entire environment-turnaround needs to happen at every level of the organization, and this can only start with organizational self-awareness. 

It is the duty of leadership team to foster a culture of change by asking questions such as 1) Are we doing the right thing? 2) How can we get the buy-in to do something different? 3) What are the requisite skills we need to implement this new strategy and how can we build these skills? The idea is to elicit new behaviors from across the organization. 

Also, accept that people are not perfect. Remove the element of fear so that people can open up to change. This is not easy and requires much leadership commitment. But it is worth the effort.

On leadership, you’ve pointed to the importance of challenging the status quo. What else should be the role of the leader in this digital age? 

A few years ago, we did a survey that looked at leadership in South Asia. The objective was to see whether there were commonalities between the Western and Eastern paradigms of Leadership. We found that there were differences, but one underlying tenet prevailed i.e. when people are more enthused when led by a mentoring person, rather than a Commander-in-Chief. This emerged as the overriding human-theme irrespective of cultural differences. 

We observed this even more in potentially creative people, they were the ones that thrived on nurturing their growth. It is clear that if the leaders can get their followers to know themselves and develop themselves that would make a huge difference in the way organizations function! And it would be really great when that happens! 

Was there anything that surprised you in the course of the research of your book “Reinvention: Accelerating Results in the Age of Disruption”? 

The most surprising thing was the reaction to our book. We had co-authored the book with a business audience in mind, considering that we have a natural orientation towards business. We were amazed at the range of organizations that found our book relevant, having received queries from such a diverse audience- Working Mother Magazine, Catholic Church and so on from corners of the world. This points to the universality of the principles that our book espoused, generating a response much beyond our immediate sphere of influence. It was a great feeling indeed.

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Topics: Talent Management, #BookReview

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