Festival of Treasury Transformation Day 1 - opening keynote

Monday 13 July 2020

Opening Keynote: leading through change

Kim Wylie, Global Director of People Development & Change, Farfetch

Change is the only constant. In the current environment we are having to deal with:

  1. Impacts of COVID-19 (personal/organisation)
  2. Industry designation
  3. New ways of working/digital transformation
  4. Impacts of Black Lives Matter movement/ Diversity & Inclusion
  5. Changes in customer expectations
  6. Changes in employee expectations
  7. Change in strategy
  8. Mergers/acquisitions
  9. Change in operating model
  10. Changes in team structure/ leadership team/ organisational design

We can have great technology, a brilliant project plan, processes and procedures in place and people still struggle with change. Why?

  • The brain is hard-wired to react as we did when we were ‘hunter-gatherers’
  • Our brain is scanning for threat and reward all the time – if we see a threat we move away: if we see a reward we move towards this.
  • Our brain has a bias towards the negative, which is known as the ‘negativity bias’ and therefore we are more prone to spot and react to a threat than a reward

Neuroscience of change

  1. Uncertainty. The worst stage for the human brain. It causes more anxiety than the certainty of bad things. We can help to combat this by bringing some level of certainty, such as highlighting what hasn’t changed.
  2. Inclusion. Being excluded from something triggers the same part of the human brain (the anterior cingulate) as is triggered when we experience physical pain. As managers, we should look at who may not feel included and what can we do to help this?
  3. Problem-solving. When we solve our own problems, we get a rush of dopamine, a natural high. By allowing your team to solve their own problems you will enable them to benefit from this as well to feel in control.
  4. Simplify. When we are overwhelmed by unfamiliar concepts it triggers our amygdala, making us feel anxiety, fear, fatigue and anger. As a manager, you need to think about how to create change conditions with this in mind.

To engage people in transformation you need to connect with them on three levels:

  1. Head: rational connection. Think about how to tie this change to the bigger picture? If you can show how it will help them/the company to move to where they need to be, it will help people to understand and support the change.
  2. Heart: emotional connection. Firstly, as a manager, you need to show what is in it for the individual/population. Secondly, you need to get them involved, engagement comes when individuals feel they have contributed.
  3. Feet: behavioural connection. This is tied to egos and personal brand and you need to give people the skills/ability to work in the new environment e.g. by providing training in new skills.

Final thoughts on how to manage transformational change:

  • Lead by example: role model the behaviours you wish to see in others.
  • Be inclusive: include people and allow them to solve their own problems.
  • Provide certainty: Provide certainty wherever you can – even if it is bad news.
  • Be realistic: be positive but set realistic expectations
  • Communicate and engage with people: connect using ‘head, heart, feet’
  • Create conditions for success: psychological safety, dependability, structure, meaning and impact.
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