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#046 – The Ambiguity Advantage: How Leaders Can Embrace Change (with Kerryn Fewster)

Podcast Summary

We live in a highly ambiguous world where change is accelerating at an alarming rate, yet we are not equipping ourselves, our teams, and our leaders with the skills and mindset to adapt to this environment.

Kerryn Fewster is my guest today and her perspective on managing change is both unique and highly effective.

We chat about the key challenges being faced by leaders and companies, the major factors missed by most change management initiatives, and what leaders can do to embrace the opportunities that ambiguity and change present. Keep listening, it’s going to be awesome!

Welcome to episode 46 of the Working Well Podcast, the show that explores the rapidly changing landscape of work and wellbeing. Each episode, We dive into the hottest topics in leadership, employee wellbeing, and the future of work! I’m your host Tim Borys.

Before we get started, here’s a bit more about Kerryn.

 

Episode Links & Resources

Podcast Transcript

Please note: This transcript is generated by computer and may contain errors

Introduction and Guest Welcome

Karen, wonderful to have you on the show. I know we were chatting a little bit beforehand and we’ve got a great topic today to discuss, but before we dive in, how have you been? What’s new in Brisbane? I have been fabulous. It’s always good because the sun’s really starting to come out in this hemisphere, this part of the world, and the warmth is beautiful.

I just think people in general are in a better mood. When the sun’s out, the sky is blue and we can be outdoors. And we’re getting closer to Christmas. I know we’re a little way off yet, but it feels like it’s not too far around the bend. So it’s beach time in Australia and that’s always good times.

Perfect. Great to hear.

Understanding Change Management

And this topic that we’re going to dive into on ambiguity strategy change management is that a lot of nuances to it. And you’re an expert in the field. And after reading some of your information, I’m so intrigued to hear what you have to say and your take on a lot of the challenges that companies are facing these days.[00:01:00]

And so I guess the big question is why do change is constant, but why do organizations They also comment rapidly and often at the, at this change process. Look, it’s the million dollar question, to be honest.

The Human Side of Change

And I believe that it’s because we underestimate the human side of change. So you are right.

Change is constant and we’ve been doing it forever. And as, as the individual, we’re not too bad at it. We’ve evolved, we’ve learned, we’ve grown, we’ve developed, and that’s what we continue to do. Change itself has got all the complexities of emotions, all the complexities of what does this mean for me?

And what we try to do is often put together a good looking plan that takes us from A to B to C to D, which we can do. What we actually fail to really take into consideration to the depth we need to is [00:02:00] what is the impact on the individual and the person. That’s what happens at the end of the day. So yes, we can implement a new system.

Yes, we can relocate, an organization of 500 people from building one to building two, whatever that change might be. We can merge, we can demerge all of that happens, but ultimately no change is effective unless we’ve got the people, the hearts and their minds. coming along as well. And that’s the, that can be messy and a bit ugly and a bit difficult.

And so I think we tend to go, let’s just keep on moving through and manage the process change or the system change. But of course it doesn’t really stick unless the people are using the process and the system. I love that you brought up the process aspect, because when you look at, especially change management theory methodology, there’s you’ve got all these steps and there’s these nice models and people with the, those, that education are like, yes, we’ve got the system to do.

But when you said is [00:03:00] the people part of it has to be there. And when people are too focused on the process, people get lost in, and I guess what that impact on people is. That takes me back to that saying is like, everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten, it’s it’s not rocket science that I’m just going to impact people and let’s listen to people.

Look, that’s exactly it. And I think, look, largely, people do understand that change is about people, but the effort and the action required to really get people to come along, it is significant and we can’t brush over it. And the thing about change. Is it is an emotional process, whether it’s good change or bad change.

For example, if you even think about, if somebody is engaged to be married, and you assume that they’re making this informed choice and that they’re happy about that, and that is a change. There is still a grieving process of the life that they had. It’s different now, even [00:04:00] though. They’re the one who’s saying, let’s go forward and this is the change I want.

We still have a loss of some description when change happens in a workplace. People often feel like it’s being done to them rather than with them. And so that engagement of making sure, that we’re asking the questions, we’re taking the time to hear their input. We’re being incredibly inclusive and really understanding what other people want and what they see, what they need, what they think the best outcome will be.

Sometimes we just race through that because time is precious and the system has to be put in place or the business case is ready to be delivered or the budget envelope says we’ve only got this amount. So that’s how we’re allocating it. And all of those factors are true. I’m not dismissing any of them.

I guess I’m saying that we, we can’t. We can’t make a choice where the human side of change comes second all the time. It has to at least be parallel because otherwise it won’t be embedded to the [00:05:00] degree that you want. You won’t get the returns. Yeah. Said.

The Importance of Trust in Change Management

And I think a lot of that comes back to trust in the organization and you can make change happen quickly.

And Even at some point, not necessarily connect the human part of the change. But if you’ve built a lot of trust previously, you have that bandwidth to work with and I’ve seen companies make rapid change and do it well, but because I think it’s because they have that trust built up ahead of time. So they are able to get people on board faster and they understand the impact on that.

Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more without the trust as the foundation in anything, by the way, in the workplace, you’re always up against additional challenge and potential barriers. Having the [00:06:00] trust, which is if I say I’m going to do this, I will do this. And if something changes, I will let you know that speaks volumes for people because I’m not sitting around thinking about what’s really going on.

Why aren’t they being transparent? I’m not racing to the water cooler or, via the zoom water cooler to say, what have you heard? What did you say? So I’ll. Our spider senses can settle down a bit. We’re not looking for what’s going to go wrong because we have got that trust. And we understand that the change can be difficult, but the change is necessary for the betterment of the business or the industry, individuals, whatever that, whatever the driver, the why behind the change, if that’s clear.

And I trust the person who’s telling me that. And I trust that I’ll be kept informed, then it’s a significantly easier pathway. And as I was saying before, if we’ve got the map to show what the change looks like, and I’m being kept informed and I can see progress, I tend to be more comfortable. [00:07:00]

Embracing Ambiguity in Change Management

The challenge I think we have increasingly now, and you mentioned it earlier, is it’s not just pure change.

The pace of our change is significant. The complexity of change it just continues to grow deeper and therefore this is really what ambiguity is. We are faced with that overall level of uncertainty. We’re in unfamiliar environment. So many new pieces of data being presented to us at pace that we don’t yet know how to utilize.

There’s a whole lot of, and this is, it feels sometimes really quite chaotic and that, that fog around you, which is, I can’t see clearly. And so that’s when. Trust is even more paramount because if I’m feeling overwhelmed, scared exposed, worried, I really want to hook into someone who is a bit more solid for me that will help me find the way forward.

And I don’t mean it has to be a one on one relationship all the way, but if you’ve got that leader, who’s got that [00:08:00] capacity to have connected with people and that they are the face and they’re the voice of the change. It really helps to clear the path through the fog of all of that ambiguity. But I love how you use the word ambiguity as well, because that is not a, it’s not a word you hear often in the corporate context, but it’s so relevant to what is happening.

This change is increasing rapidly, but you can have change that’s happening, but see the outcome and have a clear vision of the outcome. So it’s not as. Stressful or impactful, whereas when you change is happening all around you and you can’t see what’s going to happen, you can’t fathom it, or you think this is going to happen and something different happens that’s something I think that’s missing a lot in the discussions that are happening in organizations, how do we deal with that?[00:09:00]

Not knowing what the future is going to look like. And the five year plan we put together is blown out of the water three months down the road. What skills do leaders and people need to build to, be more comfortable with that, to embrace ambiguity? Absolutely. And the way you’ve described it is really why we started to get involved in research and understanding more about what actually happens to us when we’re in that state of ambiguity.

We need to. There’s multiple skills.

The Role of Mindfulness in Managing Ambiguity

First and foremost, if you look at, and the research that we’ve undertaken with the university here in Queensland, Australia Queensland University of Technology, the key finding in terms of the skill most highly correlated to being able to perform during ambiguity and maintaining your wellbeing during a really ambiguous phase.

Is mindfulness, which is really interesting in [00:10:00] itself, because although increasingly we do hear a lot of that word in the corporate sector, the practice of it still is a little loose really, how’s this going to help anything? But fundamentally, if you can still your mind, take away some of the noise that ambiguity absolutely create some of that chaos, some of the panic, some of the room among green, all of those, aspects, which are trying to take control of our thinking, if we can still our mind and focus on what’s happening right here, right now, being very present and focused, it enables us to work out what’s the first step I can take because being decisive. In a highly ambiguous environment is really fundamental standing around and waiting for clarity.

It will trip people up all the time because that might happen in change, but it infrequently happens in ambiguity. We have to find the way forward. And therefore, that takes me to another skill, which is courage. [00:11:00] It takes a lot of courage to take a step forward when, as you say. I actually don’t know what the outcome is, or I thought we’ll go down this path and suddenly I’m going this path and I don’t even like that path.

I don’t know why I’m on that path. And so being able to take that step forward so you don’t get stuck is really critical.

I think that builds into the trust that we talked about earlier, trust in yourself, but also trust in the vision that you’ve set, the people you have around you and supporting you as a team. A lot of that missing these days from what I’ve seen and more I’ve seen leaders. Go inward and close themselves off.

I think it just makes, it’s a spiral effect across the organization that makes ambiguity greater, degrades trust, and then makes the change management process that [00:12:00] much more difficult. I love your perspective. I think it’s it’s good. As we’re talking about that, you obviously are doing things a bit differently than call the general change management industry.

What have you seen?

The Impact of COVID-19 on Change Management

What types of changes have you seen over the past few years, particularly since the start of COVID? In terms of the change management industry? Yeah, and how change management is involving. Sure. Look, I think that there’s a really healthy level of appreciation that if we don’t have the skill of adaptability, then we are becoming potentially irrelevant in the workplace.

And I know that sounds tough, but if you’re not able to adapt to the the pace of change in an organization, you will get left behind. I also think there’s a greater appreciation that. We don’t, we certainly don’t have the five year plan. We have the line on the hill that we’re hoping to get to. And I think there’s a acknowledgement that having a really [00:13:00] detailed plan is something of the past.

What we need to do is have the skill. To plan for when things move in a direction we didn’t expect them to, but being wedded to a plan can be really problematic. So I think that level of agility and flexibility around let’s put together some, indicative milestones and deliverables and dates that we’re aiming to get to, because we need some structure.

Humans are better when we have a routine and we know what we’re supposed to do and when we’re expected to do it. The key, however, is that plan is not chiseled in concrete. It is very much written in pencil, so we can rub it out as we go and say, we thought that was going to happen. It’s not right, or it didn’t work out how we hoped it would.

So we need to adapt and change. So I do think there’s a greater appreciation of that. There’s also recognition that, and you mentioned There’s been no, no better experiment in the world in terms of looking at [00:14:00] how do we respond under pressure? And that was everything about ambiguity was the pandemic.

We had no idea what it meant. We were frightened for our own health, our wellbeing, those who we love. We can’t go to work. My routine is totally gone. I don’t even know how to use this thing called Zoom or Teams or whatever it might have been. So the requirement to learn was significant. Therefore we felt out of our depth.

And when you’re in that place you again have some choices. Am I going to sit here and let this happen to me and wash over me? Or am I going to find my one way to take a step forward? And that might’ve been tidying out a room and kicking the kids out and setting up your office in their playroom, whatever it might have been.

But we had to continually take steps to create a way forward. I actually think one of the, and I have. Clients where this has happened, the learnings in the pandemic. I think of the [00:15:00] richest, it’s like a free MBA and those who didn’t learn there, I want to feel sad for. But secondly, we’re race.

I think we’re not holding on to the learnings well enough. Certainly here in Australia, there is an increasing expectation of full return to work. And so hybrid is becoming. Less, less of a way. It still certainly exists, but I think the negotiation skill that the employee had in terms of I can work anywhere.

So hybrid is an effective way of operating given the cost of living and the global economic situations. I think that the relationship power has shifted a little bit and if an employer wants to employ you back in the workplace, they seem to have a little bit more.

The Future of Work and Change Management

A little bit more pull that’s actually how we’re going to operate moving forward.

And I actually think that’s potentially a loss of one of the key learnings of the benefit of flexibility and hiring talent from anywhere around the [00:16:00] world, because the right person could be sitting here in Brisbane, in Canada, in Budapest. We don’t know. But if we’re looking at five days a week sitting in an office, then I think we, we lose the richness of the global talent.

I agree wholeheartedly. I just had a great conversation on actually a previous podcast that just got released today about that software entrepreneur who had his company was all in person up until right before COVID. And they started experimenting with a little bit, and then people think, oh, software, you can do it all over the place.

But that was. His company was bricks and mortar up until that point. And he went through it himself and he’s I would never go back now. It’s we’re attracting talent from all over the world and amazing people. And any talk of bringing people back to the office that was like, why would you do it? We don’t need to, we’ve [00:17:00] thrived over the past few years because we’ve set the systems and structures and helped our leaders adapt to.

How to communicate and how to engage people in a remote environment, and it can be done, but I think, as you said, there’s a lot of leaders that are not seeing that opportunity. They’re trying to stick to the. What worked before and not adapting to change. I agree with you. And there’s a really strong argument and I totally agree that us humans are better when we connect, we’re a tribal tribal mob and we do to be.

Connected. There’s different ways we can connect so that we’re not excluding. So if you even think about if I think about in Australia, we’ve, we essentially as a nation live on the coast, but we’re an enormous country [00:18:00] and there is a lot of other talent that sort of, even if it’s only a hundred kilometers inland, they’re not going to be able to get.

On in a car. I could every day and commute. What does that do for a person? Yet they might be able to really contribute something quite significant that because they choose to live, near the mountains or wherever they might be, does that mean that they cannot be included? And I think that in itself creates another challenge.

So having a way that we do connect as humans. Coming together for, milestone events or, social activities, or even having that hybrid where it is a balance so that the culture we don’t lose the culture. I do think that’s important and I also think it’s important to say that a way of working is our cultures can also be inclusive.

Of remote working and hybrid working because it just provides a better level of inclusivity. And so I’m all about that. You and I are sitting [00:19:00] in opposite hemispheres at, I’m at the beginning of my day. You’ll be at the end of the night, the day before. We’re having an easy conversation and we’re not prevented from doing that because of where we live.

And I think that’s the case. Everywhere that we, we continually need to look at how do we be inclusive regardless of where people choose to lay their heads.

Yeah. And for the record, I would love to go to Brisbane and work there. And I’ll have it that way, especially at this time of year in Calgary. The weather’s getting colder, although it is ski season coming up. So it’s not all bad. The skiing in Brisbane is not near as good as it is in Rocky Islands. Not even close.

Helping Leaders Embrace Ambiguity

So when you’re working with leaders and companies, how do you yeah, how do you help them see that bigger picture perspective and to understand that opportunity versus a threat, how do you get to, to [00:20:00] embrace that ambiguity and use it as an advantage? I love that question. If I can just tell a brief story, we were working with a tertiary organization here in Australia, and we were looking at so much uncertainty.

And this is probably just towards the back end of the pandemic when students were no longer coming to the campuses, there were significant channels to learning and you didn’t really need to come in with your books and listen to a lecturer. Sitting in a room, etc. And also the global market was shut down.

Certainly we, we have a strong international student base here in Australia, and that was closed down, obviously, during the pandemic. From a pure commercial perspective, the tertiary sector really struggled here in Australia and most likely globally, I’m assuming. What we were working with the the team about, we were looking at all of the uncertainties, at all of the ambiguity.[00:21:00]

And because there’s a fairly traditional way of, education is a fairly traditional industry I think has always been, and there’s room for a little bit of change there in that industry, another story, but because they’re relatively traditional, they were quite stuck in terms of trying to look at different ways of doing things or trying to be creative to solve these new problems.

And so we looked at the, really Commonly understood terminology of VUCA. So what’s a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. What are some of those factors that are impacting the industry at the moment? And then we said, why don’t you flip it? Every other tertiary sector in this country is a tertiary organization.

So in this country is also experiencing that. Imagine if you were the ones to say, and what’s the advantage from this situation? Because by just continually looking at these, the challenges, these, the problems, there’s so much uncertainty. We can’t resolve this. How do we make a decision? Haven’t seen this problem before.

That is [00:22:00] all a fact. And then there’s the opportunity to say, and so how do we look at this through the lens of What opportunities does this present for our industry or our role in this industry? And I think it’s just, there’s very few industries that are not going through significant beyond change upheaval, whether it’s consolidation, whether it’s, we’ve certainly had when you have a Royal Commission investigation into, whether the governance is appropriate in a certain industry or whether the cultures operating as one would expect when there’s an investigation and you identify that there’s gaps in the way that we’ve been operating for some time. What that means is we just necessarily have to improve and change. And rather than looking at it as a audit list that, is longer than you can possibly leap over of all the problems, what’s the benefit?

Of actually implementing something positive and doing it differently. And so we help people by [00:23:00] understanding initially as an individual, what is your tolerance level of ambiguity? How do you respond when you feel overwhelmed that gush of uncertainty hits you in the face? And we have an assessment that we have developed with Queensland University of Technology to measure that your individual levels and also your teams, your level of.

Tolerance and that just as a starting point, data is really useful when people have some insights. Most people think they’re probably more efficient, more effective more proactive about ambiguity than what they actually are. At the end of the day, we give people some data. We help them understand what does this mean for me?

And then we just start to work with them in terms of how can we think differently about this problem? How do you need to focus in this particular area to make sure that you’re going to resolve something today, not just sit in it and go, it’s another day [00:24:00] of uncertainty. Absolutely. It’s a day of uncertainty, but where could you get some clarity today as a result of focusing on something nice and tight, so we.

are constantly looking at ambiguity, change, their facts, humans aren’t built to love them. But the fact of the matter is humans are pretty extraordinary. And if we make a choice to look at this from a positive perspective, then really the world’s your oyster. You can do things incredibly differently and take advantage.

Love that.

The Role of Mindset in Embracing Change

And that actually aligns quite closely with the model or philosophy I use in the coaching is that mindset shift has to happen first is logically you can say, yes, I get this, but then. There’s those emotions behind it, the feelings, the subconscious talk that’s happening. And how do you balance that out?

Because the more you try and push that [00:25:00] logical change without managing the mindset shift, that’s going to enable that. It makes it that much more difficult for people to embrace that ambiguity, but also the change process itself. It does. And we’ve got that little voice in our brain screaming at us and saying, get away from this change and this ambiguity.

It is not good for you. It’s not healthy for you. And so the fear is very real. It’s not a made up thing and it’s not a weakness and it’s not a failure. It’s giving us a message. The challenge is that the fear is normally beyond what the potential impact is of this uncertainty. So what we need to be able to do is understand, recognize, I am currently feeling frightened or overwhelmed because of the degree of uncertainty.

That is a fact, that is how I’m feeling. Okay. So what is one thing I can do to settle that down a little bit? I need a bit of [00:26:00] clarity. Okay. How do I find the clarity? What question can I ask? What document can I read? Which person can I connect with? How do I keep myself informed? So I’m not a victim of all this uncertainty and ambiguity.

I’m actually taking some accountability and stepping into it. You’re right though. I need my voice to stop screaming at me for a moment so I can see clearly. And so one of the things that I like to use with my coaching clients is. Listen to the voice, write down what’s it telling you, and then go through a really simple exercise of, is that a fact or is that a story?

Is it a fact that you’re going to be unable to operate in this new world? Is it a fact that you don’t have the skills that people are talking about you, that you’ll be left behind? Is there any evidence that’s true or is that just this voice? And if it’s not true. Park it on, put it on the other column and let’s deal with what we can actually tackle.

And that I think helps people as well, because it [00:27:00] brings a bit of clarity for them. Yeah. And I already envision lots of leaders that you probably work with being like, this sounds too touchy feely to me, this whole like mindset, mindfulness feeling side.

Managing Perception and Embracing Emotions in Leadership

How do you manage that perception in this process to bring on what we call maybe.

Old school leaders or people that are uncomfortable with that discussing feelings aspect of leadership. I’ve met one or two. Do you know what I often do Timmons?

The Importance of Human Connection in Leadership

I will find out more about the human, the person. Are you a mom or a dad? Are you an auntie or an uncle or a brother or a sister? Some way that there’s a connection who is somebody in this workplace that you have recruited and you’ve really helped to develop, you’ve coached, you’ve led them, et cetera.

So I want to, I look for that human connection and then I simply ask them. What advice would you give [00:28:00] your 15 year old daughter at the moment, or your 22 year old cousin? What would you say to them? Because we know it’s very true that we’re much kinder to those that we love rather than being kind to ourselves.

And so if you’re offering that advice to those people, which part of that advice might apply for you right now. And it’s just to get them to a position of understanding that.

Emotions: The Core of Who We Are

We basically are made up of emotions and they’re great. They’re there to warn us. They’re there to encourage us.

They are who we are by trying to suppress them. It’s one it’s, I believe it’s impossible and exhausting and, but people generally speaking can more readily and more easily speak about somebody else, particularly someone who they care about, or, who they love. Also, most people choose kindness. So I also ask them if you could be as kind as you possibly could to yourself right now, what advice would you give yourself?

And people might say, [00:29:00] give yourself a break, just, take it easy for a little while or remind yourself that. You’re sitting at this table, this executive table because you belong here. They will find a way as opposed to me saying, I know you’re feeling frightened and overwhelmed because that even though that may be true, sometimes that is too big a language for people.

And I feel like, Oh, hang on, you’re saying I’m weak because unfortunately that’s still seen as a weakness in for some people. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying you’re and so be kind to yourself. So you can then ideally find some clarity, speak a little bit more clearly and feel a bit calmer. So you can take that first step forward.

I love that. Yeah.

The Role of Emotional Intelligence in High Performance

And one thing I, you brought up that I think a lot of people miss is the call it touchy feel, if you want, but this emotion based emotional intelligence, positive intelligence, that [00:30:00] doesn’t necessarily mean low performance. In fact, it’s. Connect intricately tied to high performance, being able to tap into that, recognizing that we’re humans and that we have emotions and that we want to connect with people.

As you said at the beginning, the human side of change management often gets forgotten. And that is really understanding that we are human and that there’s a something we have to address there in order to make sure our performance is high and we’re able to accomplish what we want. And that’s, I think there’s, especially in the call of the old school leaders, there’s that mindset that, Ooh, that’s going to take away from the objectives we’re trying to reach.

What I hear you saying, it’s absolutely not.

The Human Element in High Performing Teams

Just this week I was coaching an executive, a CEO who was speaking about. His team of [00:31:00] high performers, and I asked him to describe why they were high performers. Every single one of those that he spoke about was in terms of their task, their deliverable, their plan that they work on.

And I asked about how they develop others, how they collectively come together as a team to problem solve, how they’re. Try it. Because this organization is trying to have a positive impact on the broader industry. How do you do that? As, as a high performing team? How do you test and challenge each other?

So you’re not going down a rabbit hole and then being really belligerent and saying I’ve always done it this way. And it’s the right way. It was very interesting because he. And this is what I love about coaching. And I’m sure you do as well when someone has an aha moment and they literally say, Oh, okay.

That’s an interesting way to look at it. That they’re not mutually exclusive. They can’t be, how are you a high performer in terms of delivering an outcome? If you haven’t brought people along with you, [00:32:00] if you haven’t engaged with stakeholders, if you haven’t actually listened to what your customer, your member, your student wants you have to have that human element of performance.

Otherwise it’s purely. Delivering on task and task is important. And that’s more about the management aspect of our ways of working. If we’re talking about leadership, it has to include engagement, listing, communication connection, belonging, curiosity, creativity, all of those things that we have. And they’re innate to us.

And somewhere along the way, we squash them because somewhere in our education system, it gets, reduced. I do think it’s changing. I absolutely think it’s different. That we are welcoming all of that positive ways of thinking and encouraging people to have their voice in that way. And you’ve referenced a few times, some of the old school leaders, and absolutely they exist.

And absolutely there’s industries that are still [00:33:00] focused fundamentally on task delivery over that focus on leadership and bringing people along as well. They’re not one without the other. There’s no point in having a fantastic person who’s fun and engaging and clever and curious who can’t deliver anything.

They’re your friends. That’s great. Cheers. I’ll hang out with you, but we don’t want to necessarily have you in our team though, because we need to get things done, but they’re not one without the other. They absolutely when you get them hand in glove, that’s when I believe you get the absolute high performance.

Absolutely. Yeah. And then. There are lots of ways to accomplish a task. Some of those set you up for long term success and build a great culture and build a great team and a flywheel that will produce great results over the long term. Other ones tear it down. So you have a couple people that are just pushing, hammering through results by ripping everyone else apart and to use fairly blunt [00:34:00] words, but I’ve seen it happen in organizations.

You get those. High performers quote that put up great numbers, but there’s a wake of destruction in their path, turnover rates in the organization, engagement rates lack of trust, all those things that happen. And it’s extraordinary. And I think it’s easier to see those people now because you do see the the devastation I leave behind.

And I think that there’s some certain industries and there’s functions where. We think, oh, we just need to tolerate this for a while because gosh, they are delivering that really complex, difficult project. They’re the first, project manager or program lead that’s come in and delivered that, that complexity on time and on budget.

But again, delivering a new system or a change. On time and on budget, but with people being stepped on all the way through it or the loss of talent, because people are saying that’s [00:35:00] not what I signed up for here on time and on budget are totally irrelevant if we haven’t got the people that are going to activate that.

Project at the end. And I think that there’s less and less tolerance for that way of operating. And I think that’s hard. There’s some people who really have held onto that because that’s what they’ve been rewarded for all the way through their career that, you continue to deliver, you’re outstanding, you do long hours, you go above and beyond all of those things.

There might be a certain time when we’ve got to dig deep and roll up our sleeves and we are doing crazy hours and we are just really. Focused on a deliverable, but I don’t believe it can ever be at the expense of that relationship. It has to be going together. So that’s why, the whole concept of psychological safety gets such such a big role in our organizations now that if we haven’t set up an environment where people can provide feedback, can offer an opinion, can have a difficult [00:36:00] conversation without fear of repercussions, then again, we’re just focusing on delivering a task without actually.

Getting an outcome, which is sustainable and will be embedded into the organization moving forward. Yeah.

The Impact of Technology on Leadership and Management

And that brings up I guess the technology aspect we’ve talked about being human and connecting with people yet. There’s such a trend to implement, especially in reporting processes and dashboards and all this technology that it’s tracking metrics.

How do we take the best parts of analytics and metrics tracking, use them to be more human focused? Yeah, look, I think that’s really interesting just even watching obviously the rise of AI, and I feel like every day it’s going to be, and we’ve done this, and we’ve done that, and do we really need humans to add that human flavor to that [00:37:00] report, to do the analysis, chat GPT can do that easily, et cetera, and there’s a bit of an argument going both ways.

I fundamentally believe that the human element of. Looking at that data, understanding that report, you need to apply it to case in point, to our organization, to our team, to what we see happening based on our culture, based on our narrative, based on where we’re at in a particular a program of work or a change activity.

We absolutely need to embrace, it’s not going away. So those who are hoping that AI is just going to drift off in the background. I think that’s probably I don’t think that’s a useful mindset because it’s here. So how do we work with it? So we get curious about it. We try and understand how that can help us, how it can save us time, how it can add some richness that we just haven’t had time to access, or we don’t know how to access that new,[00:38:00] that new content or something from that perspective.

But then how do we partner with it essentially, because it’s going to be here anyway. So we might as well work out how we’re going to add our value. And I think our value is that it is that interpretation and application to the environment, which only we can see, sense and feel. AI or chat GPT, if I put in a question, it doesn’t know that there’s, that the age force might be a sorry, the workforce might be aging, or you might have an issue with diversity or the fact that the the industry is a dying industry.

I can put all that information into a search engine, but it’s not going to customize it for what’s happening to the human at that particular time. It’s going to give me. Good, solid, largely factual information and information is power. There’s no doubt, but the application of it is where the real value and the wisdom comes from.

So I think that we have to continually be human [00:39:00] with our technology. We can’t outrun it. Don’t even try. You will be exhausted. So find out how you can jump on board and partner with it to really. To give us back some time, we know we work too long. We know that we spend too much time, worried about the things that we can’t solve.

Let the technology do some of the heavy lifting for us. It’s built that way. And the fact is it’s better at it. So let us be great at what we’re great at and let the technology be great at what it’s great at. And I only see an upside actually. Yeah I do as well. I tend to be more biased toward our pro technology, but it is I, my approach is it is a tool.

And like any tool, you need to know how to use that tool. And it is not an entity in its own. It is a tool that humans use at this point anyway, until they fully take over. We haven’t hit the matrix yet, [00:40:00] but but yeah I was just at a coaching event the other day and it was fascinating to hear people’s perceptions on, we were talking about AI and the workplace and AI and coaching, and there was just polar opposition.

Some people are like, bring on the AI overlords. I’m ready. And this is amazing. And other people like I’m scared, petrified of it. I won’t even look at it. And then, of course, you have people in the middle, but to just hear this, and these are top level coaches and business people and. There’s still this diametrically opposed viewpoint.

It’s interesting, isn’t it? I was just reading in the Australian Financial Review, the AFR here this morning in Australia, that there is a significant shift in terms of the use of consultants. And part of that’s being driven by the fact that we can access technology. Organizations can access technology more readily to solve some of the more complex problems.[00:41:00]

But the shift in terms of also that reliance on bringing in expertise to solve what really a lot of people could solve if they had more resources. So often, it’s, we need more people, more brains to solve this problem because it’s too big whilst we’re, whilst the organization is focusing on, either BAU or the plant or the strategy moving forward.

Technology is similar. We’ve been using. The consultants forever and this article indicates that across the before, PwC Deloitte looking at McKinsey, other areas and how they’re reducing the numbers and it’s creating a fear in the industry, but those who are being clever about it are recognizing that.

One, the economic situation that many industries are in at the moment just actually means people need to make some choices about which projects will slow down, which ones we just simply cannot afford to do at this stage. And therefore we’re not going to invest in the money with the [00:42:00] consultants.

But it’s also because that industry is. Absolutely being exposed to change, like they’ve been I guess several of them have been investigated as to maybe not operating to the level of the way we would quite like them to be behaving in terms of some of the decisions or some of the ways they’ve gone about their work.

And they’ve been held accountable. And so that industry is changing in terms of the expectation of how they behave. But the other thing that’s happening in that industry is that technology. Is replacing some of the work that they’ve traditionally done. So how does that organization adapt really quite rapidly?

And I think that when you talk about it from the diversity of people’s viewpoint of, I don’t even want to look at it through, bring it on. We’re seeing it happen in real time right now. Those who are saying, I don’t want to even look at it. They are the ones I believe who would just get left behind, they will get stuck or they’re probably already [00:43:00] stuck and I can’t take that step forward to be the pioneer, at the bleeding edge, well done, be brave.

Someone’s got to be out the front and I’m happy to watch, take a few steps back from there and then learn from you. And I think that’s what I say. We’re seeing that in real time that the management consultants. Of maybe even just a decade ago, they have to redesign themselves because technology is replacing a lot of what they could have done and what they were being engaged to do.

There’s a lot of brilliant minds that can be utilized. It’s just the how. And if we’re not looking at that partnering with technology, then I think that, that increases the likelihood of irrelevance for those individuals and those firms. Agreed. Yeah. There’s the past few years, the pace of change has just been off the charts and yeah, there, I still see companies with their head in the sand saying, let’s just go back to how it was and that’s not going to happen.[00:44:00]

And it’s the awareness is out there right now in terms of all these changes happening from a skill standpoint for leadership and even employees. You had mentioned the ability to adapt as being one of the key skills, I guess we’ll call it. What, outside of that, what other skills are, the top ones from a change ambiguity standpoint that are going to be most valuable?

The Role of Creativity and Curiosity in Leadership

Absolutely. So creativity, which is thinking differently to solve modern, unforeseen, wicked problems. So how are we going to explore different avenues? Curiosity. I actually think there’s a profound lack of curiosity as we move further up the tree in an organization, because there’s this perception that we’re supposed to know, supposed to have the answers.

If anything, the curiosity should increase. Thank you for asking. Great. open what [00:45:00] if questions or imagine if type questions. I think they invoke such wonderful conversations, but also the to let go of the past. You’ve just said it there. We’re not going back. So those who are ruminating and wishing and holding onto it, that’s a real hindrance to people being able to take that first step forward.

And so to recognize and respect and love the past, learn from it. And then recognize that we’re in a different place. So I would say it is around that curiosity, that creativity, being flexible in your thinking. How are you going to look at this perspective or take in a different perspective? Even the simple skill of entering into a debate where you absolutely believe black is black, white is white.

But you take the contrary view because it’s a skill, it develops that skill set about if I really had to argue that black was actually a shade of gray, how would I go about doing that? And that actually keeps the brain [00:46:00] active and we can do things from a different perspective. There’s also the concept of being really quite focused and being able to work out.

I’m just going to do X, Y and Z. For the next couple of hours, which is around that clarity piece. And then I’ll deal with what comes after that later, but not getting stuck and washed over with all that ambiguity is critical because it’s not going away. So inform yourself, ask a few questions that might give you a pathway forward.

Love that. Yeah.

The Future of Leadership in the Face of Rapid Change

And that speaks quite a bit to matrix organizations were spinning up project teams from diverse people around the company that might not have a background in a certain area, but they bring in new perspective and creativity. And then. As that project wraps up, those people get distributed to other projects in the organization.

And when we look at [00:47:00] the, I guess the change over the five years or 10 years, when half the jobs that we have now might not even be in existence anymore. And who like 10, 15, 20 years ago, who would have thought things like AI prompt writers would be a. In demand skill and back in the day, social media managers, that wasn’t a skill that existed 25 years ago, and we’re going to have those things now.

When we look at how leaders can really help their teams and especially senior leaders help the organizations set themselves up for success, I love how you’re saying the. Embracing the ambiguity, but also being having that creative outlet the ability to ask those questions and not know. No, you don’t know the answers and be okay with that.

It’s really, it’s [00:48:00] actually really wonderful to taking on that mindset of. Exploration and experimenting. It doesn’t, we don’t have to allocate a massive budget or a massive timeframe to it. It’s just the, what if we tried it this way? What might be able to happen? What learnings could we take on? As you mentioned, getting it, accessing your diverse network.

There are so many wonderful views and opinions and wisdom out there that Maybe I have a different job title. Maybe I have a different background, but that might be the richness that I can actually add. And I think that there is for me when working with organizations that are saying, I don’t know if I’ve got the energy to go again.

Like I’ve just come through this massive change, et cetera. And energy is a really important component of being able to build resilience and sticking and moving forward. It’s pretty easy to remind people about what they’ve [00:49:00] already achieved. And it’s quite marvelous when people just look back, even maybe a year or two ago, what was happening then that you didn’t think, you’d be able to get to this point now.

People are. Extraordinary what they can do, what they’ve got capacity to do, what they have done. And we get so busy. We race past it. We don’t actually reflect and think that was pretty remarkable that I managed to do that. I didn’t think I was going to be able to form into this new team or relocate into this new state or.

This new way of working, et cetera, et cetera. I didn’t think I’d get curious about technology and then they can reflect on that and even reward themselves by saying, well done, I did that, and now what’s the next thing I’m going to do because we are resilient and we can do a lot of fabulous things.

It’s just, we’re built initially to run from the change, run from the ambiguity. If we can take that breath and slow ourselves down and go, okay, I’ve seen this [00:50:00] before. I know I don’t initially like it, but I’ll get curious about it. Try and resolve what I can give myself a bit of clarity. And then I can start to move forward because we can do it.

And we’ve been doing it for our entire life. You’ve just described the growth mindset. Yes, you’re right. Actually, yes. Being able to be like, yeah, this is a new chance to learn and grow.

The Role of a Chief Ambiguity Officer

And so when, how long do you think it’ll be until we see our first chief ambiguity officer? Oh, I love that question. Do you know, I’ve never had that question and nor have I thought about it.

I don’t know. So we have our chief transformation office officers, obviously, who are transforming an organization, but often with a very detailed plan. I don’t know. I think we might need one. Because we have chief happiness officers, which I love, and we have, obviously our chief culture, they’re all part of it, aren’t they?

But it is about, seeing that the ambiguity is [00:51:00] Honestly, the advantage, we actually run a program called the ambiguity advantage. And it’s for exactly that, that if you are the organization, if you’re the leader that choose to look at ambiguity from as an advantage to you, then off you go, because others are looking at it.

As being overwhelmed and stuck and fearful, and that’s okay, because that’s how we tend to all respond initially, but we can make a choice to do it differently. And that’s the education that we like to help people within our work. How can you learn to embrace ambiguity? Firstly. Complete the assessment, find out where you currently are at data is always useful.

And then let’s take you through the program, which looks at the skills that you need to develop your tolerance levels with the overall objective of looking at ambiguity as an advantage and opportunity rich. Wonderful.

Closing Remarks and Contact Information

And so where can people find you? Where can people take that? [00:52:00] So they can find me Karen Fuster LinkedIn, and I have got two companies that provide a bit of an overview in both areas.

One is Change 2020 and the second one, which is where we do a lot of that work with ambiguity is called Adaptic Minds. So it’s Adapt IQ Minds. And so you can find us on LinkedIn and I’d love to check to anyone about it. Perfect. I will make sure those links are up on the show notes. And yeah, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and insight and perspective.

And I loved having you on the show. It’s been great. I love that. Your questions are great. Particularly that chief ambiguity officer. I think that’s the target for 2024. It’s great. so much. Thank you. And we will catch up again shortly. Hopefully next time I’m in Australia. Absolutely. Or I’ve got to get to Canada without doubt.

Take care.

 
 

 

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