Only Forward – A Multi Disciplinary Conversation

by | May 27, 2020

Clockwise above, from top-left: The Communicator, Melissa Dark. The Philosopher, Tim Rayner. The Psychologist, Hayley Lewis. The Change Leader, Jen Frahm.

Jen Frahm:
Welcome to a Conversation of Change with Doctor Jen Frahm, where we talk all things leadership, change and transformation.

And hello everybody, welcome to a rather unique Conversations of Change episode. This one’s pretty special and I’m rather chuffed to say that I am bringing you an exceptional panel of expertise to focus on helping managers and leaders think about what they need to do as they move into the next phase. Whatever we want to call that. 

And to be honest, I’m not really sure what we do call that at the moment. So I’m hearing re-entry, re-boarding, re-integration, the new normal. I’m hearing all these kinds of terms and I don’t know which one to pick up on at the moment, but one of our guests, Melissa Dark suggested that the name of this podcast episode be Only Forward, and the optimistic action-oriented person that I am absolutely loved that.

In the spirit of doing things differently and change, for those of you who are listening at the moment, we’re trying something a little bit different with this podcast and we’re actually recording it, video recording it and we’ll be posting it on YouTube and through our social channels. 

So if you hear some slight awkward pauses, I will endeavor to translate some of the faces that are being pulled at me if you’re actually not watching this on YouTube at some time in the future. But as I said, we have assembled an exceptional panel of expertise. It is a version of a communications expert, an organizational psychologist, an innovator and a change consultant walks into a bar. And I’m going to go around the panel now and ask each of them to introduce themselves. 

Melissa, over to you.

Welcome to our Only Forward panel.


Melissa Dark:
Thanks Jen. And thank you for organizing this and bringing us together. I have been working in organizational change and engagement, sorry, organizational communication and engagement for more than 25 years now and been consulting for about 15.

 I have recently become a bit more involved in stakeholder engagement and collaboration, both internally and externally, particularly with infrastructure projects. And along with Jen, I’m the founder of Busting Silos, which is a program that increases collaboration skills in organizations.

Jen Frahm:
That’s terrific, thanks Melissa. Tim, our innovator in the mix, tell us about yourself.

Tim Rayner:
I am an erstwhile philosopher, philosophy academic, now entrepreneurial educator. I teach at UTS Business School and a couple of MBA programs there which is a great privilege and a lot of fun. I’m a startup enthusiast, innovation advocate, design sprint facilitator, and I’m just like a hardcore generalist really, I live on Twitter.

Jen Frahm:
Not a bad place to live. Now, speaking of on Twitter, we have from over in the UK Hayley Lewis, some of you may be familiar with Hayley on Twitter for fabulous content on organizational psychology. Hayley, over to you.

Hayley Lewis:
Thanks Jen.

So my name is Hayley. I’m here in good old Blighty, so in the UK. I’m an organizational psychologist by profession. I’ve been in the profession for over 20 years. And in relation to change, I’ve been on various sides of the table. 

So I’ve supported organizations as a consultant. I’ve been in the other side in operational management and leadership roles having to actually lead the change. I’ve got the battle scars to prove that, and like Tim I also lecture at several universities on organizational change and in particular culture change and the factors that enable that to succeed.

Jen Frahm:
Fabulous. Well, welcome aboard. Now, Melissa, you were the brains trust with the idea for this conversation. Can you tell us a little bit about the origin of where the idea came from?.

How did this conversation come together? 


Melissa Dark:
Sure. I was talking with a friend of mine who works in state government and has a large team to manage and she was just saying to me that she just wished that somebody would come along and tell her what it was she needed to do to, to take her team forward and to move through the next coming weeks and months to really help people and get the best from everybody and from herself as a leader.

And I thought that was a really interesting challenge and certainly, it’s something we’re all facing. And also I could think of a few things myself. 

I also thought that it was very much a bit of a cross disciplinary problem that needed input from a lot of different spaces. And so I came and had a chat with you and we had a bit of a talk about who we thought might be some good people to join us for a conversation in responding to that question and getting people thinking on this topic.

Jen Frahm:
Fabulous. I’m thinking we’ve got the four of us have wandered into a bar thing, how about we pop around the bar and see what people’s initial impressions are and responses to your friend’s question and challenge. So Melissa, I’m curious, did you respond to her in the moment? Did you give her a set of “here’s what you should do?”.

How do you answer that


Melissa Dark:
I didn’t actually, no. I think that’s a very good question. I need to go and think about that. To be honest, I have been continuing to think about it because it’s a big problem, or a big question, I mean, and can be answered in so many different ways when you think about sort of the minute kind of detail through to the more high level approach. 

I guess, there’s two things that have occurred to me that really are the things that I would advise. The first one is don’t be too quick to move into the “everything’s okay now” phase, even once everyone is back in offices perhaps. I think it’s going to take a long time before everything is okay again. 

We need a transition period and we need to be very understanding and cognizant and kind about people having that transition period and the fact that people are going to have different transition periods.

There are some people who will be just extremely grateful to have a job and that will be their motivating factor. There will be people who are still extremely concerned about the environment and they’re going to be worried about what it might mean for them. So that’s the first thing. 

The second thing is, I think it’s a great time to revisit purpose and to really think about the purpose of the organization, of your team, of what you’re trying to do, what you’re delivering to your customer or to your stakeholder. 

And that’s a great thing to motivate people around again. It’s just to be clear about that and to be sure that everyone has a shared understanding.

Jen Frahm:
Lovely, lovely. For the benefit of those listening there’s a lot of nodding going on with the panel at the moment. I’m curious, Tim Rayner, how do you think that you would have responded in the moment to Melissa’s friend?

Tim Rayner:
Well, historically, pandemics have been the triggers of wide scale change and really our economies and organizations have been moving towards some kind of inflection point for years and years now. 

I feel that the pandemic and the trauma of the virus plus the recession, which we’re only just on the brink of now is… it’s a wake up call.

And I think it’s necessary for leaders to reflect on, well, two things in the first case, the first being that this thing is not over, we’re just at the beginning of it. There’s no vaccine at this point. They’re saying 12 to 18 months away and the health authorities are well aware that there is every chance that we’ll see a second wave of infections which could just lead us straight back into lockdown. 

What I’m saying is that as we enter back into work life, we have to keep in mind that this is not over. The risk is still there and we have to behave as if we are in the middle of the crisis even though we’re getting back to some kind of supposedly normal.

The other thing that we need to be aware of is that the recession is going to be big and long lasting. KPMG are predicting a U-shaped recession that could last up to 2022 in Australia, and that’s assuming we don’t see a second wave of infections. I think leaders need to be thinking about how to make their organizations lighter and faster, more agile. 

Again, this was a direction that so many organizations have been heading for years, but I think that the Coronavirus is a real inflection point and a moment that demands change.

Jen Frahm:
Some sobering stuff in there. Handing over to Hayley, I will share with the listeners who may not be watching us on video that she most helpfully does have a coffee cup saying keep calm, which is kind of what you would want in someone in her field. Hayley, over to you. What’s your response to Melissa’s friend?

Hayley Lewis:
It’s really interesting because I have an analogy in my head as you and Melissa were sharing Melissa’s friends kind of question. So speed how fast or slow, and subsequent changes on the other side, whenever that may be, whatever that might look like is crucial. 

And the analogy I have in my head as Melissa speaking was I’m not a diver by the way, but we know that when you come up from a deep dive, you shouldn’t go too fast because you get hypoxia, getting bends, and that’s the analogy that I had in my head. You can’t shoot to the surface and come up for air too fast. There’s something about the pace that you set for the organization, but also yourself as a leader. 

And so that leads to my second point around self-compassion.

I’m working with a lot of leaders and managers who are driving themselves so hard and we need to be mindful that they’re not just driving themselves hard for their organizations or their teams, they’re also supporting family members and doing all that other stuff as well. So there’s something about being compassionate to yourself. 

The third thing that kind of sprung to mind, we know that organizational values tend to reflect the zeitgeist, the age, if you like. And so I can’t help but wonder, and I suppose it relates to both Melissa’s and Tim’s point around this pandemic is something that is unlike anything certainly either I’ve ever seen, that I think any of us have ever seen. And what will that mean in terms of a shift in society and what matters and doesn’t matter to society, and therefore, what will the ripple effect be in terms of values and new values that organizations need to instill in their workforce?

In forced change. Be Agile. Be light. Pause. 


Jen Frahm:
I think, from my perspective, in I guess responding to Melissa’s friend, and it’s a live response of the moment for me and for a lot of clients, is the recognition that the period we’ve just been through has been considerably a large piece of forced change, which has been quite widespread. 

Typically, when a company goes through forced change, it’s usually for very grim reasons. You might be lucky as a worker to be in one of those companies in your lifetime whereas now, the majority of our population have been through this process. And with the call to agility, which I totally hear, Tim, what you’re saying, that we need to be lighter and more agile, is the recognition that the agile methodology approach philosophy has a lot of rituals in it, which were about stopping and pausing.

And perhaps this ties in Hayley with what you’re saying about with the pacing and the not going too fast, that my advice to Melissa’s friend is as you reenter, whatever language we’re using, the workforce is actually to take a moment to pause, to do a retrospective, work out what we’ve loved, what we’ve longed for, what are we going to take with us going forward, to be mindful about it as a change event that has been forced change. 

I think that’s what I would have said. It could change from day to day.

We threw it out on the socials to get some questions in from people who are listeners and we got a lot of questions. So we’re going to do our best to get through as many as we can on this. But I think one of the things that came up was this notion about trust and transparency, psychological safety. 

What does performance management look like in this world post COVID? Particularly, it was in context of people are continuing to work from home. 

I’m curious, is there anyone in the panel who wants to pick up those themes and what that means for a workforce? Hayley.

Performance management in a post-COVID world.


Hayley Lewis:
The main people that I work with on a day-to-day basis are middle and senior managers, and I think lots of people particularly in the Western world, our identity, our sense of self-worth gets wrapped up with our job. And the higher up we go, the more power we get that kind of inextricable link between our identity, our power, our position, et cetera. 

And again, kind of gets more emerged. And I think issues around trust in particular are, and “I can’t see for myself they’re working from home or wherever they are, they’re fortunate enough to work from home, some can’t, and I can’t see them and can’t interact with them in the way that I have been in the past. And so what does that mean for me in my role? Am I redundant?”

I think we’re going to see some really interesting stuff around what it means to be a manager in particular in the 21st century on the back of this pandemic. So the old notions of what it means to be a manager that stem from Taylorism in the 20s et cetera, which we’re still carrying to now, I think we busted that wide open. I’m already seeing some identity crises with some of my coaching clients.

Jen Frahm:

Melissa Dark:
I think it’s probably more of an observation than a conclusion at this point, but a couple of the organizations I’ve been working with I really observed that what this has done has been to reveal in a very incredible way the underlying DNA of the organization and what kind of organization it really is and what its values and purpose really mean.

And so for one organization, which is a very values-based organization, they have responded to this situation in a way that’s very much in line with those values. So there hasn’t been a lot of issue with trust when it comes to remote working because the value of the organization is that good people will do the right thing and so they’ve just believed that the good people will do the right thing. And so that’s just how it’s been.

There’ve been people doing all kinds of things with their work hours, some people working morning and then stopping for the afternoon to do childcare and then going back in the evenings, and that’s all sort of been absorbed really quite easily. Another organization that I’ve worked with much more traditional, much more command and control and they’re really struggling. They’re struggling so much with this because the command and control kind of breaks down when that communication channel is not there, which is typically checking to see if people are sitting at their desk.

I think what it’s going to mean if I sort of take this a step further is that perhaps those organizations that had the more traditional structure, which they have sometimes for very good reasons, it’s not just because they’re rigid or old-fashioned, sometimes there are reasons for that. They’re going to have a harder job finding a way to make this new way of working work with their culture.

Jen Frahm:
Indeed. Tim, have you got anything to add to that?

Tim Rayner:
Yeah. I’m getting a little dialog box that says my internet connection is unstable, so please excuse me if I sound unstable at any point.

Jen Frahm:
Good excuse.

It’s being human-centred. It’s about trust. 


Tim Rayner:
I really resonate with what Melissa just said about the struggle that organizations with an old-school command and control culture are having at this point and will have managing employees who are working remotely and that’s not amenable to being micromanaged in the usual ways. I think this is the moment for organizations to really deliver on the talk of being human-centered and wanting to build a human centered organization because we do need these organizations for the agile future that is coming and trust is just a key part of it.

Trust and transparency have this uneasy relationship with one another. You don’t create trust by insisting on mandatory transparency, rather is the other way around, if anything.  Trust happens, when you say, “Well, okay, we’re not going to monitor you and we’re not going to manage you, but we’re just going to believe in you because we think you’re great.” 

Just as a little anecdote, my sister, she’s quite high up in a culture in the Marriott chain and she spent the past two years building up these amazing teams all around the world and now she’s in the terrible position of basically having to explain to them why they’re being furloughed and maybe losing their jobs. She herself is working without pay and has been doing so for months, but that’s not a problem for her because she genuinely loves what she’s doing and she employs people who also have that passion for the work. And if you can find those people and bring them into your organization, you don’t need to micromanage them because they believe in your values, they believe in your purpose. They’ll work for your organization because they really believe in it. That’s what leaders and organizations need to be aspiring to.

Will people still be driven by purpose?


Jen Frahm:
It’s interesting that we return to purpose because I know that one of the questions that was raised was, will purpose still matter post COVID or with the pressure to, the financial pressure, the recession that you spoke of, the U-shape, will we revert or move to a model where we get very, very transactional around what skills do we have? Is there still a place for purpose or is it actually let’s get really, really focused on what skills we need to survive? I guess. Tim?

Tim Rayner:
If I just leap straight back in. I think that purpose is more important than ever. I think customers and consumers demand it. They’re well aware of the great challenges that we’re all facing as societies and civilizations, and organizations have a huge role to play in that. Companies that just revert to the old kind of, what’s in it for me mindset? Really are not going to be looked favorably on, whereas those companies that really double down on purpose and culture, I think they will be the companies that people believe in, they want to work for them, they want to shop with them or buy from them. So I think purpose is very important.

Jen Frahm:
Melissa, you looked like you wanted to chip in there and have something to say?

Melissa Dark:
I forgot to put my hand up. I was just going to say that I actually did listen to a leader doing a talk, virtual town hall, recently, and he was basically saying that it was more important than ever to remember what the organization was known for and to stick with that and to not go chasing things that weren’t relevant or not with the core business or undercutting with price or trying to just win stuff for the sake of it.

Because previous experience, even though obviously this is a bit unprecedented, but previous experience had always shown that doing that didn’t work out in the end. That chasing after things that didn’t align with what you’re trying to achieve was not relevant and not worth doing.

So again, I think it does really come back to what we’re saying earlier about purpose and about how organizations who really know who they are, really best placed. They’ve got a competitive advantage here.

Jen Frahm:
So the manager’s role then is to connect their employees to purpose, keep that as their touchstone going forward perhaps, more so than they would have in the past.

Melissa Dark:
I agree. And I also would say that’s very easy to say and quite difficult to do.

Jen Frahm:
Indeed. I think one of the other questions that came forward, and Hayley I’d be keen on your view on this – it was in the context of change. In any organizational change, we have a wide range of positions on what the change is, from, “this is absolutely the best thing in the world to do, we should have done it years ago” versus “this is absolute bollocks”. 

And so part of our role in change is to navigate and negotiate those polarities and things like that. And I’m kind of mindful that what we’re going to see in our workplace is a representation of the public discourse, which ranges from, “we’ve gone too far, we’re too restrictive, there’s sites out there that tell us that we shouldn’t be doing this” versus “our people matter”. It’s actually important to do this on behalf of marginalized groups and safety comes first of people.

How do you think we navigate those different positions in the workplace which have the potential to be a real source of conflict? And kind of mindful that it’s not just going to be our people, it’s going to be the leaders who’ll be taking those different range of positions around whatever we choose to do in the organization.

Dealing with conflict – negotiating the new (and old) spaces. 


Hayley Lewis:
One of the things that I always was really mindful of when I worked in government for a while was employees were residents too. I think sometimes organizations forget that their employees are also their customers at times. And so that kind of weaves together, and can impact how… so your experiences and employee could impact your perception of the customer and vice versa.

I think that’s a really tough question to answer and the reason it’s tough and it’s a conversation actually I’ve been having with my husband quite a bit. He studied economics and history, so he’s really interested in capitalism. I think it’s been really interesting looking at some of the narrative I see put out on social media and I know that social media would have an echo chamber. 

At the very beginning of lockdown for a lot of countries, you have people saying, “I’m never getting involved with this company ever again because they behaved abominably to their staff, et cetera. And I think that’s really easy at the height when our emotions are heightened, but when the fabric of society, particularly from a capitalist perspective, we’re so reliant on the systems, et cetera.

I’ll give you an example. It’s really easy to talk badly about Amazon. 

We know there’s been programs made about how Amazon treat their staff, particularly in the packing facilities. And so you’ve had lots of people going, “I’m not using Amazon,” and yet we all use Amazon because they’ve made it easy to get stuff that we need or we think we need during the pandemic. 

So where am I going with this? I think our memories can be quite short and I think when we come out the other side, whenever that might be, I think we’ll forget some of the behavior we’ve seen from some organizations and some of their leaders for the sake of convenience.

 And so what does that mean for employees? I can’t help but wonder actually how much things will change or how much they won’t because there’s a bigger thing at play, bigger societal structures. I went quite deep there and all over the place. I haven’t answered your question, but these are things that I’ve been thinking about.

Jen Frahm:
I think we’re all thinking about them because to your point, we’re going to see workplaces that have really, really stringent safety measures and protocols for when people come to work and when they don’t, et cetera. Rostering people on every second day, all those kinds of things which will potentially slow down the economy with that. We’ll have other companies who are actually quite laissez-faire about it and willing to take the risk of what that might do to the population at large. Melissa, I’m curious, what’s your messaging about this to your workforce from a communication perspective?

Bridging the gap between fear and conspiracy.


Melissa Dark:
I think it’s actually one of the most difficult things to answer because everyone has their own level of comfort with their own personal safety and what they’re prepared to risk. 

As Hayley was saying, everyone’s sort of maybe come from a perspective of having heard, the political angles and the conspiracy angles and all of the news stories that have been sort of pouring over the top of us over the last few weeks and potentially have very different ideas about what should have been done or what could still be done. I think managing those in the workplace is going to be quite tricky. What if you go to work and person three desks down coughs, what happens?

I think the challenge for leaders here is to try and make compromise, try and find compromise between, especially if there are extreme views, you might have one employee who’s absolutely terrified of anything virus related and one employee who thinks it’s all a conspiracy and complete fraud. How do you bring those people back together and, and focus, particularly when actually coming to work plays into those mindsets? So it’s tricky.

I think this is going to sound a bit twee, but I think it comes back to kind of kindness and actually just being accepting and giving people some space and some kindness to feel the feelings they feel, allow them and then sort of reason them back to a moderate place. 

I don’t know. Hayley is a psychologist. You probably got more ideas about how you go about that, but that’s sort of where I would go.

Jen Frahm:

Hayley Lewis:
The suggestion I’ve made to lots of the managers I’ve been working with…so they’re all trying to answer these questions themselves. The questions that where we’re trying to endeavor to answer on their behalf, they’re trying to come up with the answers themselves, and I’ve pushed back and said, “Why don’t you talk to your people about where their heads are at, about what they think they might need?” They might not know, but it’s the act of asking. 

Just because you’re in a position of power doesn’t mean you’re this omnipotent being that has the answer to every… you’re the oracle. Ask your people, that’s the simplest suggestion I can make and it’s the easiest thing to do. 

And lots of the managers and leaders I’ve been working with, I’ve been blown away by how blown away they’ve been with the kind of information they’ve got as a result, which has actually started to give them a bit of a roadmap to how they bring staff back together who might have opposing views about what work might look like moving forward. So that would be my plea is ask, ask your people.

Jen Frahm:
I think the thing for me that comes out of this from a change perspective is if it was any other change, we eventually get to a point where those people at the polarities, the far extremes have to make a call. Do they stay with the organization or not? Is this policy? Is this process? Is this culture? Am I willing to spend the majority of my day in this organization that embodies those? And so I do think there is a point where we actually have to have the conversation, which is are we right for you? Are you right for us based on where we’re now at? Tim, what’s your thoughts on that in terms of what you’re seeing?

We’re all in this together. 


Tim Rayner:
Just to take a step back, I think that the thing I found most inspiring about Australia’s response to the pandemic is this sense they get from everyone, which is that we’re all in this together. And everyone seems to be, well, most people seem to be doing their best to play a responsible part in ensuring that the virus doesn’t spread and we get a grip on it. And Australia has done phenomenally well at that. 

I think we should give the whole nation a big round of applause because we’ve just done a tremendous job of just pulling together and I think Australia will come out of that with a sense of pride for the future.

I like to think that something similar can happen in organizations and perhaps should happen too. As an organization you’re a collective and you’re playing a collective role in ensuring that this situation does not get infinitely worse. And so leaders should be promoting this mindset of “we are all in this together”.

Maybe what we need is some kind of charter of principles that could be crowdsourced for the organization and worked out. We could agree on some set of principles and rules that everyone was happy with and everyone could just sign up to it and say, “Yes, I’m going to abide by these rules until we have the vaccine and we’re out the other side of this.” If people aren’t happy with that, as you say, Jen, perhaps they’re just not a good fit for the organization.

Jen Frahm:
It also begs the question for me though, and I’m mindful that a lot of our listeners do come from the change space and the agile space. What does this all mean for change management going forward? Or even the agile movement? Do we have winners and losers out of this? Tim.

Tim Rayner:
Certainly, I think. That’s a really interesting question. I hadn’t thought about it to this moment, but it immediately makes me think of a fascinating article I read in the McKinsey Insights magazine recently about the post pandemic organization. And I highly recommend you look it up if you haven’t read it already, but the authors of that article start by making the point that large companies all over the world are kind of agog at how quickly they have changed in the past 12 weeks. And they’re saying, “Wow, if we could actually do this, why can’t we be doing more of this?” 

And so I guess the question which I would throw back at you is if organizations do wise up and realize that they are actually capable of radical accelerated change, is there a role for change management or can organizations just do it themselves?

What happens to Change? 


Jen Frahm:
I think this is one of the things that I’m looking at is are we going to enter a very dark phase where people say, well, we don’t need any change management support at all because you’ve changed fast enough when we needed you to without that support or will we see that those companies that really flourished are those that used principles of change management and gee, if we could have a bit more of that, then we would benefit with much greater returns. I don’t know, Melissa or Hailey, do you have a view on that? Hayley?

Hayley Lewis:
Just as we’re talking about organizations and how they need to change, I wonder if change management, whatever you want to call it, I know some people don’t like change management or change as a profession and how we teach it needs to fundamentally change now as well. As well as looking at now and how we help organizations, we need to look at ourselves as practitioners, and our skillset, and our values. 

And that leads to my second point, one of the amazing things that I’ve seen here, so you take the NHS, our beloved NHS here in the UK, which before the pandemic was known as hugely risk averse, the amount of forms and steps you’d have to go to just to get permission to change is well-known and yet they managed to swim through that with clinical trials and so on and so forth.

And so as well as thinking about change and how we do that in the future and how we support organizations, we also need to rethink our views of risk. I’ve seen lots of organizations and organizational leaders absolutely rebrand. Not only how they think about risk and what’s risky and what’s not, but about how they go and handle that. I think that again, that’s really interesting for us as practitioners, to anybody teaching this stuff, that there’s lots of thinking and there’s lots of research that needs to be done now and we need to take a good look at ourselves in the mirror as practitioners.

Melissa Dark:
I think building on that actually at the risk of using this term, not quite correctly, but the burning platform of COVID-19 is very different to the burning platform of the new performance management system. And so I think we need to be careful that we don’t conflate the ability to change that’s happened in this instance with other kinds of change because there’s just not the same rationale or-

Hayley Lewis:

Melissa Dark:
… Urgency, absolutely. So from that perspective, I personally think that change practitioners have still got a pretty safe job because organizations are still going to have to do changes that are not urgent or seen as critical by employees. 

“Who really cares if you have to change my performance management system that I use? I don’t care”. That’s a change you want to make. I think there’s still a role for people who need to guide organizations through that process. But I do like Hayley’s point that one of the things that hopefully this situation has taught us is just how important the emotional and human connection of change is. We need to take care of people in organizations.

Risk and the mindset of change. 


Jen Frahm:
I think there’s two questions jumping out for me at the moment of what Hayley said. And so there’s, bear with me while I work them through, the first one is, Hayley, you talked about our relationship with risk and I know Tim, you’ve got some interesting thoughts on how do we see risk different like how does I guess the corporate see risk versus the entrepreneur, which I think would be really interesting to tease out. 

Also, I’m really curious about your comment about us personally having to change, and so that raises for me the question of what is the mindset change that we want to see in ourselves as practitioners? What’s the mindset change that we need to see in our leaders to go forward? Perhaps can we pick up the risk question? I always say change management is great risk mitigation, but tell me the thinking about the difference in how we see risk and what might be the most useful lens now going forward?

Tim Rayner:
This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. And in saying that, I don’t mean to suggest I have any kind of clear perspective on it, in fact, it’s the opposite because I find the deeper I go into questions, the more confused I became about the issues. 

But certainly, I think it’s clear that there are two very different ways that people talk about risk in the business world. Established businesses have a lot to lose and so when they talk about risk, they’re usually thinking about somehow working to prevent losses, whether it’s customers or revenue or reputation or whatever. 

When you go to a startup hub and you talk to a startup founder, they’ll say, “I risk for breakfast.” Everything’s incredibly risky, but they’re excited about that because when they talk about risk and think about risk, they’re really thinking about, they’re driven by desire, they’re driven by aspiration. And the big risk for them is that they might put a lot of effort into trying to achieve something and it won’t come off. 

So for them, risk is the risk of trying something and doing it wrong. Making a big foul-up and having a mistake.

I think it’s interesting for leaders to think about these two kinds of risks because at this moment, leaders need to be looking at their organizations and their business models and saying, “Well, what is the risk of what we stand to lose here and how can we protect ourselves?” That’s the kind of the mindset of fear. That’s the defensive posture. 

But at the same time, they need to clear away space to enable innovation teams, let’s just say innovation teams, to go in there and say, “Look in the middle of all this chaos, there’s a new opportunity here. Wouldn’t it be great if we went after that?” That creates this new kind of risk. The risk that you might invest a lot of money, time and effort in trying to pursue this opportunity and do it really badly and fail.

So really to manage this problem, you need a whole different set of management approaches, different sets of metrics, different kinds of incentives and rewards just to get people’s mindsets right. The people who are trying to fend off the cataclysmic risks need to be serious about what they’re doing, they need to make that work. 

Whereas, the people who are trying to seize new opportunities, and reduce the risk inherent in that, need to be driven by aspiration and desire to create something new. So it’s a whole different kind of management structure in each case and I think leaders need to be really clear about distinguishing those management approaches and implementing them.

Jen Frahm:
So many thoughts going through my brain at the moment. Melissa or Hayley, do you want to respond to that or do you want to pick up on the mindsets that we require? Because Tim also beautifully segued into mindset change then. Well done, Tim. Hayley?

Mindset and self-sufficiency. 


Hayley Lewis:
There’s a couple of things that popped into my head. So the first, just taking a few steps back. I think there’s also something about the change profession recognizing that part of our role has always been about making organizations and people within it self-sufficient. 

Certainly, that’s always been my ethos when I trained, developed, coached people around change and how to manage change. My job is to step away. I failed if they’re still having to call me in. There’s something about we should be really proud actually that lots of organizations have been able to do that because that means we’ve done… lots of us have done our jobs well.

The other point that sprung to mind as Tim was talking was around how courageous, how brave we’re seeing leaders being now. I know for several of us, a lot of our work is with the public sector, with government and often decisions and how risk is managed and how change is managed is ramped up because you’re trying to work to the court of public opinion because the public feels they own you, so you’ve got millions of shareholders, not just the board of shareholders, you’re trying to please everybody. 

And so you’re trying to have risk strategies and change plans that manage all that and that can make us quite scared. It’s been wonderful to see so many of the leaders that I’ve worked with, and don’t work with, almost kind of break out of those shackles and just be brave enough to make decisions under pressure, under fire in some instances and just get on and do. The thing I’m interested in is how we keep that going, how we enable those leaders who’ve been brave at the moment to keep that bravery going.

Melissa Dark:
I think that’s great. And that’s, I guess where my brain has been going a little bit is in sort of helping leaders and managers to continue with some of this extraordinary kind of burden or emotional labor that they’ve been having to do. And that, definitely, bravery is a great word for it.

It’s also vulnerability. We’ve been seeing into people’s home lives quite literally, and there’s something a bit vulnerable about that. I know that I’ve been coaching a couple of clients and they’ve been sharing that they feel that having children interrupt them in meetings works against them if they’re female and works for them if they’re male. And as leaders, they’re struggling with that kind of “How much of myself do I show?”, and “I don’t have any choice because the child’s going to walk in anyway.”

I think there is a lot around personal risk for leaders and managers as well around their own sort of leadership competencies and capabilities and their vulnerability as having to be kind of something for everybody and for their people. 

In some cases even having to be psychologists for their staff, helping people deal with mental health issues, which is not typically something you sign up for when you want to become a manager.

Jen Frahm: I think for me there’s a really interesting piece in it, it sort of picks up on, I think what you said Tim and Hayley and Melissa in that the really successful organizations going forward are the ones that will get very clear on the concept of leadership teams. 

That we cannot under the circumstances have the mythical, heroic leader who is all things to all people and is able to calculate loss and assess risk. At the same time, have the joyous enthusiasm of an entrepreneurial. We can’t have the leader who has the agile mindset and is pivot, pivot, pivot as well as the mindset of an explorer who’s, “No, we’ll just push on a little bit further.”

There’s going to be a complete fracturing of psychological identity if we ask our managers and leaders to embrace all of these aspects of what successful organizational life might look like. 

However, management teams that get really clear on what their strengths are and what their benefits are in terms of, “okay, we do have someone who is an innovator and an entrepreneur on the team. We do have someone who has really attuned to the emotional status of the organization. We have someone who is a fabulous frontier explorer”. They’re the organizations that are really going to flourish, I think.

And I think, let me just get one more thing and then I’m jumping over to you. I promise I’m not going to hog it, but I think once I talk about that at a leadership level, I actually think that’s a model for team leaders. I think that further down, mid-level management, it doesn’t matter where you go in the organization hierarchically, but that’s actually a model that positions as well in terms of how do we as a team care for each other, think ahead, innovate those kinds of things? Over to whoever. Tell me who’s talking next? Tim?

On Heroes and Explorers…


Tim Rayner:
I’ll speak. Yes, there’s so much in what you say, Jen and I really agree with it all. I think we are seeing a lot of heroism from our leaders. I think one thing that we need to be mindful of is, heroism, can be a very kind of, traditionally is this sort of masculinist, individualist kind of virtue. 

And I know that, let me just say before I say anything more, that I have lots of American friends, but I have noted that coming out of America, there is increasing amount of kind of heroic individualism around dealing with risk and confronting the risk of the virus. Just today I was watching a Twitter video of a lawyer in Florida who was basically saying, “All you people in blue States, you’re just a bunch of wimps. Real men go out there and they party hard and they go back to work because they’re not afraid of a little virus kind of thing.”

We definitely should avoid that kind of heroism, that’s just reckless and foolish. I think we need to be rethinking heroism and thinking of it more as a kind of a team sport, something that is created through solidarity and empathy and communication. So just leaping from that to your point about the benefit of cross functional teams, I think that’s absolutely essential, particularly for the agile organization.

Look, one of the things that came to mind, and this may just be completely tangential, is Dave Snowden, the guy who came up with the Cynefin framework, has this great idea about how important it is right now for companies to be mixing up crisis response teams with their innovation teams. 

Because there’s so much innovation that’s going on within organizations at the moment, at the top and on the ground floor. Let’s not let it all just disappear as people forget. Let’s actually capture it and document it and figure out how we can turn into new processes and new cultural rituals and new business models and innovations as well.

Jen Frahm:
That raises for me, because when I think about those guys, they’ve got really specific tools, a tool set that’s very different to your BCP tool set. Can we just check in with each of our specific disciplines? Is there a specific tool that you wish that managers and leaders would use more of going forward that will be helpful to them? And you can have more than one tool, but thinking at a real tactical level, what should the managers be using in their organizations at the moment with our particular context?

Melissa Dark:
I’ll say something, at the risk of being a bit ridiculous, I think they should be using their ears and their voices and just listening and talking. I think rather than any sort of, I’m talking specifically communication here, but rather than recommending everyone uses Yammer or whatever, I think the personal connection has been critical and I know a lot of organizations have put in place check-ins where a manager will check in with their employees once a week, just a quick phone call to check in how you are. How amazing is it that we needed a global crisis to get managers to do that, but good managers know that that’s something that they should have been doing anyway.

I think, from a communication perspective and a collaboration perspective, I think that interpersonal communication skills have never been more important tools than they are now.

Jen Frahm:
Excellent. Hayley, you were going to say?

Hayley Lewis:
I absolutely echo what Melissa just said and there’s a reason for that as well. I have become far more questioning of information and research and models and frameworks during this pandemic than I ever have before. 

In fact, it’s made me question how little I used to question stuff. And so what does that mean? I’m loathe actually to recommend some of the kind of psychological concepts or frameworks because, actually they come from a certain perspective. So often they’re driven from America by white, elitist, universities. And so from a male perspective as well, which kind of taps into what Melissa has been saying about how we judge leaders based on their agenda.

And so it’s really got me thinking about change management methodology around stuff around innovation, around stuff around teams, and what it means to have an effective team. Certainly, I find my own profession wanting, there’s a lack of diverse views that kind of are fueling and have been fueling helpful framework, et cetera, which is why I really like Melissa’s suggestion, which is simple, which we can all do, which is to listen more. But I would also add, ask more questions.

Tim Rayner:
I completely agree with Melissa. Leaders need to be listening and building within the organization. What I mean is we need to be thinking about growing new organizations, which is a process and it takes place over time. 

Culture is often seen as a kind of an architecture that you design and then impose on an organization, but really the companies that have a flourishing culture have slowly built their culture through a long process of planting and weeding and seeding and cross-planting and all that kind of stuff. I think that’s the kind of mindset that leaders need to have as they think about building more human-centered organizations that are based in solidarity.

In addition, I can’t but resist to throw in a framework. I’m really impressed with the, Alexander Osterwalder’s latest book, The Invincible Company. It’s the latest in the strategizer series. And that’s based around this idea of the dual operating system, which I think is very powerful. For a long time, leaders have been trying to figure out how to make their organizations more innovative and entrepreneurial and they’ve been placing huge demands on their staff, who are expected to be both entrepreneurs and people focused on execution. The dual operating system separates out those functions. It’s a really elegant and tidy way of thinking about how you can distinguish the parts of your organization that focused on new developments, parts of your organization that just focused on business as usual, which is the backbone of any company. I think that book’s an important one.

Threats, mindfulness, and the Agile space.


Jen Frahm:
Nice, nice. Well I am going to give three tools because I have thought about this and I think that they do respond to Hayley’s challenge. And I think the first thing for me is that people are going to be in a heightened sense of threat for some time. If I think about it, this is Hayley’s challenge to change practitioners to look at their own practice. I think as a change practitioner, if you are not scaling up and scaling up in neuroscience to understand how brains respond under threat, then your practice is going to be wanting. You just will not be particularly effective.

I think the first tool is mindfulness. How do we introduce mindfulness in our teams and our organizations, the various practices to help people maintain a state of calm and reduce the threat? I think the other thing is, “okay, this is why my business has moved more towards agile change”, and again, it’s, there are tools in the agile change toolkit that are really important. 

The retrospective, incredibly important in pausing, accessing what do we do next? I think the co-creation, the practice of co-creation, if you’re doing anything in your organizations going forward and you have not used co-creation as part of your approach and methodology, I think that’s going to be really fraught, fraught with problems. 

So that’s my thinking of tools, but I can’t argue with asking more questions and listening, listening more, speaking less. I think that’s beautiful. Just in case listeners are now trying to say, “What did you say and what were the tips?” I will include the reference links to anything that’s been spoken in the blog post that comes out of this.

Post-COVID: Re-establishing, reconnecting, and renegotiating relationships. 


Jen Frahm:
I’m mindful that we’re getting pretty close to the end of this. I did have one question which threw me and it threw me because it revealed my bias. And the question was going into the workplace or reentering our workplace, how do we as managers, reestablish relationships and reconnect? 

And why this threw me was that it didn’t occur to me that that would be a necessary thing. I felt that whatever your relationship was before COVID is probably still the same kind of relationship, and so that’s obviously a blind spot for me. I’m curious on your thoughts on this notion of do relationships have to be renegotiated and reconnected, reestablished in this new world? Melissa?

Melissa Dark:
I think they do. I think there is going to be a rebalancing of things. And I think it could be as simple as the fact that working remotely has potentially created new connections that didn’t exist before. I know in one of the organizations I work with, I’ve just found myself messaging with someone who I don’t usually interact with because she isn’t part of the same area, but we’ve just found we have things in common so we’ve got a new connection. 

I think though, sort of, if I take it a bit bigger and think more broadly, kind of putting on my amateur philosopher hat, borrowing it from Tim, I think that there’s an interesting concept that we need to think about around the sense of belonging that people have to organizations and how this has made it probably more acute in either direction. Either they feel a much greater sense of belonging or perhaps more alienated from their organization.

I think when it comes to reconsidering what the workplace is, I have been practically thinking about office spaces. We have all of these massive office spaces, if we end up with a large proportion of organizations having employees continuing to work from home, what do you do with this office space that’s just sitting there? What does that become?

And I’ve been paralleling that with, I guess, the journey that the retail industry has been going through over the last few years and thinking about, well, as business moved virtual, it became online and they were left with shops. And what did they do with those bricks and mortar stores? They turn them into experience centers where you come and interact with the brand and you get an experience and a service, but you’re purchasing perhaps happens in a different way.

So I’m wondering if officers are going to become an experience center, for want of a better word, where you reconnect with your organization? Whether that’s relationships, or cultural value, or your sense of belonging. And I don’t think that that looks the way it used to look. I don’t think it’s as simple as going back and sitting back at the same desk as we used to sit at and just picking up your tools and starting again. 

I don’t necessarily have the answer to this, I’m afraid, but I think it’s something that we should be thinking about when we go through the sort of stage return to office spaces. Even if people are going to have to be sitting distanced from each other, what does that mean? How do we make that work? How do we still make offices a place that people want to go to because their sense of belonging and a need for community and interaction when we need to keep them socially distanced. 

So that’s a long ramble on philosophical topics, but it’s definitely something that I’ve been thinking a lot about.

Purpose creates powerful culture.


Jen Frahm:
That’s great. Turning to the professional philosopher who is indeed wearing a hat at the moment for those listening, Tim.

Tim Rayner:
A philosophical beanie.

Jen Frahm:
A philosophical beanie, it’s very cold in Tim’s place.

Tim Rayner:
I think the points that have been made are just really good and I’m not sure that I have a lot to add. I feel like I just want to kind of draw out some of the ideas that have been shared. 

I think the best way to reconnect with people is to speak to their sense of value and also their sense of need. I think leaders have to keep in mind that society and individuals, we’re kind of traumatized. We’ve gone through a big shock and the shocks are continuing and leaders need to respect that. 

The whole idea of going back to the new normal, it doesn’t make sense to me, frankly. I think we should be talking about the new abnormal, the new radically uncertain and precarious and threatening and risky and upsetting, because this is what we’re going to be passing through together.

There are three things that come to mind. First, as Melissa says, a leader should give people the opportunity to speak and they should listen. I think that’s very important. Make people feel included, make them feel like they are being heard, like they’re really part of the organization and leaders want to hear their views. Build that sense or hold onto that sense of we’re all in this together. That’s the key to a lasting culture, I think.

 And it’s all about empathy, it’s about communication, and solidarity, while allowing people the opportunity to be individuals and try new things out. We’re not talking about the new communist organization or anything like that.

Finally, I really think this is the time for leaders to double down on purpose. Purpose has been this idea that’s been bandied around for so long, but it’s so key to our times and so necessary for the future. I think people will respond to that and the leaders who can really do that in an authentic way and make it central to the organization will create very powerful cultures. Hopefully, that will see their organizations through all of this.

Jen Frahm:
Fabulous. Hayley, last word to you.

Hold space and take stock.


Hayley Lewis:
I just want to pick up on Tim’s initial point and it’s a suggestion I made on another podcast, which is recognize that however you come back together, whether it’s kind of some of you are virtual or some of you are physically together, at least there’ll be a handful of you. 

If you’re a team manager, for example, some of your team will be grieving because they might have lost people close to them as a result of a direct or indirect result of COVID. So there’s something about recognizing and holding space around bereavement including your own – you might’ve experienced it yourself as well as a manager. So there’s something about respecting that which goes full circle back to my point about how to shoot back up to the surface.

From a practical perspective, I think there’s a useful exercise for leaders, anybody in kind of a leadership and people management position today, and you can do this yourself as an individual. But you can also get all of your direct reports to do it as individuals, which is in reflection in terms of my behavior or behaviors. 

“What have been the most helpful behaviors that I’ve either introduced or actually I’ve done more of that I want to keep because it will help with the sense of belonging and purpose?
What actually have I learned about myself in terms of behaviors and who I am that’s a hindrance to my team and their performance and how they gel together?
And so what do I need to stop?
Is there anything actually I’m not doing at all that maybe I should be because there’s an opportunity?”

Asking yourself and reflecting on those questions, but also getting your team members to do that and then having a conversation around that could be a helpful way, not only to start to forge a sense of belonging or reforging a sense of belonging, but off the back of that, you start to kind of get your charter and so on and so forth. So thinking about what you want to stop, start, bring in, can be helpful.

Jen Frahm:
What a fabulous way to end what has been a really, really valuable conversation. 

Tim Rayner, Hayley Lewis, Melissa Dark, thank you so much for making the time to walk into this virtual bar and answer a few questions. For those listening, this of course will be turned into a podcast like they normally are and I will make sure that any of the references that have been made will be included in the podcast, so look out for that if you want further detail. 

Tim, Hayley and Melissa are quite easy to find on Twitter. They’ve done exceptionally well because I asked them to expand more than 280 characters and they have, so it actually can happen and I’m sure if you really enjoyed this conversation, they would appreciate you connecting with them, letting them know on LinkedIn. I’ll put those details in as well.

But for now, listeners, we wish you well in going only forward, whatever that looks for you, and we hope that it is a kind reentry, reintegration, re-boarding, whatever it is, and one that actually brings you joy and success, but thanks for now listeners.

You’ve been listening to a Conversation of Change with Doctor Jen Frahm. You can find many more resources on leading change at my website, I welcome feedback on what else you’d like to hear on the podcast. Why not connect with me on Twitter @JenFrahm or LinkedIn?


Alexander Osterwalder’s latest book, The Invincible Company.

Jen Frahm – LinkedIn, Twitter.
Melissa Dark – LinkedIn, Twitter.
Hayley Lewis – LinkedIn, Twitter.
Tim Rayner – LinkedIn, Twitter

1 Comment

  1. Edwina Chapman

    Excellent conversation – thank you. Lots to think about and apply as I focus forward.

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