I hope the year is treating everyone well so far - with those in the Southern Hemisphere enjoying summer, while those of us in the Northern Hemisphere deal with cold dark days!
I'm excited to announce something slightly new for the Change Management blog which I'm calling 'The Interview Series'. My plan is to interview people from various teams, roles and organisations about change related topics. So today is the first of those interviews - this one with Thomas Davies, Global Director of Partnerships, Google for Work, where I speak to him about change leadership.
Kim: You’ve been working in the Enterprise business for 18 years and at Google for 8 years. During that time you must have worked with a large number of C-level executives and decision makers, based on your experience has there been a change in the profile of technology decision makers?
Thomas: Five years ago technology decisions were made largely by IT Directors and CIOs. Today there is a need for organisations in every industry and across all international markets to digitise, meaning CEO’s are now more involved in IT decision making than ever before. Today's employees and their customers are also globally connected and mobile. This provides both an opportunity and perceived risk for CEOs.
CEOs are increasingly being asked to review and decide on transformative projects, because the success or failure of these initiatives can make or break a company. The stakes are high.d across all international markets to digitise, meaning CEO’s are now more involved in IT decision making than ever before. Today's employees and their customers are also globally connected and mobile. This provides both an opportunity and perceived risk for CEOs.
Historically CEOs and their Board members have been in their industry for a long time. This means they are typically more senior and more conservative, but it also means that they have an enormous opportunity to provide strategic value to their organisation through technology. This is the group that holds the highest authority on IT spend, yet has a cautious view of its value. Engaging with the C-suite has become an essential factor when it comes to influencing IT decisions, and it is increasingly important for all of us that interact with this audience to be able to articulate how technology can positively impact customer channels, processes, data, operating models, culture, incentives and hiring.
Kim: What mindset and personal attributes do you think that leaders need to have in order for large change projects to land successfully and be embedded within an organisation?
Thomas: The key word here is embedded. Leading transformative projects that deliver high value is not about launching a single application, it is founded on organisational design, cross-functional collaboration, getting the right skills into the organisation, giving employees the support they need to embrace change, and above all, pivoting product development and process improvement around the organisations’ customer journey.
In terms of mindset and attributes, the most successful leaders I’ve worked with have a few things in common:
- They are comfortable developing and sharing a compelling vision to their senior peers, the C-suite, line of business and technology leadership
- They work at pace and are able to ‘see around the corner’ of technology trends and consumer insights
- They communicate directly with employees about WHY the organisation is changing and involve people in decision-making
- They sponsor and encourage rapid product development and process redesign
- They lead by example and actively demonstrate new behaviours
- They are able to deliver both short-term cost savings projects as well as develop high-profile next-generation applications.
- They hire great people and work with partners that have diverse skill sets including technical marketing, data science, mobile, CRM, and development skills.
Kim: During your time working in this business, have you seen a change in the way that organisations help their employees deal with change? If yes - what have these been?
Thomas: 10-15 years ago traditional big bang implementations and upgrades of ERP or CRM projects were pushed top-down to end-users with minimal change management other than possibly a bit of classroom based training. The increased pace of technology advancement has turned this approach on its head. Now there are more frequent and iterative product releases both in the consumer world and in the workplace, but very few organisations I’ve met have a new ‘learning’ operating model that matches the pace upon which they need to bring people and teams up to speed.
More so than ever before, organisations are deeply interested in the theory and the practical application of successful change management programs. In fact, I’d say this is one of Google for Work’s core strengths. Along with our partners, we’ve supported organisations of every different size, shape and industry to understand the value of change management.
Kim: What are the most common mistakes you’ve seen organisations make as they embark on digital transformation programs?
Thomas: As more technology projects become aligned with different parts of an organisations business, there is a need to engage multiple stakeholders for a project to be successful. I’ve seen examples of CIOs and CTOs launch fantastic applications that they’ve developed within the IT team, only for the marketing, sales, C-suite or HR team to put the brakes on them because they hadn’t been a part of the design and launch journey. The softer skills of influencing, negotiation and diplomacy are becoming critically important skills for technology leadership.
Kim: Should leaders be concerned about employee resistance to change? How much attention should they pay to it?
Thomas: Yes, they should pay attention to it, and ensure the right programs and support are in place to support employees, but they shouldn’t let resistance stop them from making the right decisions for the business. The first thing to do is to acknowledge any resistance and to lead by example. Simple, yet highly effective ideas to help land new change projects include things such as the CEO posting on the new social platform, being open about their investment in reverse-mentoring, and calling out that innovation and product cycles are strategically important to the future of their business. The CEO of one of Google for Work’s partners in the Nordics talks about ‘clock speed’, the imperative that every person, every team and division increase the speed at which they operate to become more competitive, I think this analogy is very relevant.
Kim: You have 30 minutes in front of a senior executive to persuade them of the value that Google Apps can bring to their business or team, what would your advice be?
Thomas: Leave the product descriptions at the door. Executives care about what other organisations have accomplished in their industry. The easiest way to overcome hesitancy is to tell the story of what other customers have achieved and the value they continue to gain from their technology investments. The very best influencers are storytellers, they’ve captured the underlying core need or challenge, articulated a vision, and mapped other successful engagements into their narratives. If there was one skill that I would urge everyone to practice it would be to be able to tell meaningful and engaging stories based on value.
Kim: Being a Director at Google and having led multiple teams yourself, you must also have a lot of experience of leading others through change - what are your top tips for people managers as they help their teams through periods of change?
Thomas: The moment you allow your team members to feel they are a part of decision making, you’re a long way to helping them deal with change. In my experience people want transparency and to feel they are actively engaged in defining any future roles and responsibilities and decisions that impact the way they work. I’d also say that being as accessible as possible before, during and after organisational change is important, you need to be at hand to have those informal ‘water cooler’ moments, they count.
Kim: Lastly, how do you personally cope with change? Any insights you can share?
Thomas: What I've learned is that personal resilience can be tied to an individual's investment in self-authoring their career and personal development. My lightbulb moment came in 2014 when I decided to take control and accountability for my own career and skills. If there was one quote that I would say describes my view on change it would be “We may not always be able to choose what happens to us, though to a large extent we choose this as well, but we can always choose how we respond”. Change is a way of life and dealing with it has become very important to me.
Thomas Davies bio: Thomas joined Google in 2007 and has held a variety of roles including leading the UK + Ireland Google for Work team, being the Director of Google for Work for Northern and Central Europe, and in January this year became the Global Director of the Google for Work’s Partnership business.