If we are going to experience change at all (which we’re bound to, whether we like it or not), we might as well change confidently. Senior change management professional, Phil Buckley drives this message loud and clear in his award-winning book, Change with Confidence. Having managed 32 large-scale change projects all over the Anglo-American world, Phil inspires leaders to embrace change as an opportunity to grow. In this conversation with Melanie Parish, he discusses the role of experimentation in managing change, especially in these fascinating times. He also discusses the value of feedback and co-creation in effective leadership. Phil is making a new book set to come out next year as well. Find out what to expect from it!
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I am here with Phil Buckley. He's a senior change management professional with many years of experience enabling leaders and their teams to drive performance through change across global businesses in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. He's managed 32 large scale change projects, including co-leading global change management for the $19.6 billion Kraft Foods acquisition of Cadbury, which included a team of 40 change leads across 60 countries. He held senior leadership positions including Global Organizational Change Director, Global HR Director Commercial, Americas VP of Global Change, Vice President of HR Canada, and Americas Director of Organizational Development throughout his career.
He's the author of the award-winning Change with Confidence: Answers to the 50 Biggest Questions that Keep Change Leaders Up at Night. It provides complete actionable answers to the burning questions that leaders routinely ask about how to manage change successfully. He's been featured in Forbes, Businessweek, Globe and Mail, and many other business publications. His second book Change on the Run will be out in May of 2021. I'm thrilled to have Phil on my show.
Phil, I am excited to have you here.
Melanie, thank you for having me on your show. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss experimentation when managing change.
What are you up to in the work that you do?
It's a fascinating time for change because all organizations have to deal with the external factors of COVID, shut down, and moving forward. In the first three months that people were experiencing it, I found that the organizations were focused on the immediate safety concerns for their employees both public and private organizations, which would make total sense. They're moving on trying to understand how they best operate as a hybrid model. What I do is I support organizations to help them remove barriers for them to successfully manage change and go forward.
There are huge barriers with hybrid organizations and that's where some of the people are working remotely. Some people are working in an in-office or on-site space, and they're perhaps doing both. Three days a week, they're at home, two days a week they're in the office, and how to manage it. I found that the skills to do that well are quite different than the skills if you had your full team in front of you every single day, and helping people based on the culture that they have. How do you do this successfully? People are supported and they're as productive as they can be.
The times are interesting. I think that the evolution that people are having as COVID deepens, I don’t know what we call that thing that’s softening. I'm curious about timelines. What are you seeing in the way that organizations are thinking about timelines in terms of change?
What I see and within change, it's important to have an end state in a timeline because if you have that, then you can create a plan to get there. In typical times, “We're going to bring on this new system and it's launching in February. We're going to be changing our structure and it's launching in December.” This is a unique time. There's not enough factual evidence or a fact-based that suggests where things will be progressing more smoothly because there isn't a vaccination yet. It's unclear whether you can experience COVID twice. What I find is it's leaving people in limbo and a lot of organizations are making the wise decision to say, “We're not making any defacto decisions when we can move on,” because we don't even know what we're moving to. However, what we can do is that we can move to a medium state where we can still operate based on what we know with the full permission to change as we go and get more information
In the coaching industry, which is my world. I have many colleagues who at the beginning of COVID was like, “We need to stop this.” They paused coaching programs and professional development, but that's all coming back. I noticed the timelines are short in my world. We need workshops and I float the idea of December, January, and they're like, “Could we start in October?” They want that short turnaround because they know what they need now. They can't project what they might need in January.
I think part of the inspiration for doing that is there's a vacuum right now. Like all good leaders, there’s a desire to move to action. Since we don't know where we're moving to, can fill it in with capability building. I'm finding the same thing. It's like, “How to lead change, how to manage in uncertain times, how to be resilient or how are you Tuesday of next week?” It suggests that we're doing something, but I pushed back to say, “What are your objectives?” Help me understand why next week is better than the week after where we can co-create this with people so that we're understanding and supporting the needs that they have. Through those dialogues, people are a little bit more willing to say, “We could wait if we had better value. Can I tell people we're doing something and we'll get back to them in a couple of weeks?” You can. Communication is important, but it's that immediacy, I too am finding it.
I haven't had this thought before. I always get tickled when I get a new thought in these interviews. I'm noticing how this set of circumstances, we call them time spirits in the organization and system change work that I do. COVID is a time spirit. We've all gone through it at the same time. It's putting everyone in a startup mindset in a way that's different. I haven't thought that. Startups have that agility, the ability to move quickly, decision-making, everybody jumps on the problem and works on it. It makes me wonder at this moment like, “What's possible from there?”
To take the analogy of that startup, it's almost a bootstrap, “Let's get in, dive in, and fix the problem.” One healthy component of that is the belief that everyone can contribute based on their experience and their skills. It doesn't have to come from the leadership team. We don't have all the answers. It gives us an opportunity to celebrate people that puts their hand up and says, “Why don't we do it this way? We've never done it before.”
As a business person, a change-maker, and a consultant, what are you thinking about in terms of how you experiment with the work that you do?
It's great for practice like yours or mine, since experimentation is seen perhaps as more permissible, you can even push it forward. A few years ago, I made a fundamental mistake where I wasn't the experimental leader. I was someone who wanted to create the answer that is perfect and it was a global change. It was changing the operating model for an organization. I was leading a change globally. It was how the global teams would connect with the regional teams and with the business units for innovation. I thought what was needed was to get the winning plan and went into a dark corner with the head of the strategy and created this plan. You would've loved it, Melanie.
It was good that no one could understand it because it didn't incorporate it. I remember presenting it to the commercial leadership team and a new member of the team who is leading market research globally said, “Phil, I don't get it.” At that time, I had an epiphany of, “Of course you don't, I've created something unto myself.” From that moment, the ability to test and learn and co-create, which is such a fundamental part of my practice which I'm doing more now so that instead of coming as the quote, “I know change. I’m going to leverage my expertise.” I'm flipping it to try and leverage the expertise of the clients that I have and act more like a facilitator.
I know when you test and learn and people give you feedback, you're transferring ownership from you from the plan of how you're going to move forward to those who are providing feedback. The buy-ins there because they're agreeing with their own information. They own it. They commit to it and they expend extra energy to support it, which is the best way to mitigate risk with change. I’m moving away from, “Let me tell you what the potential answer is and you test it,” to, “Let's co-create what you think the answer is.” Given COVID is here, it is a beautiful time where there's no perfect answer and people are more willing to co-create, but also there's paranoia. If they don't, it won't work for them.
I love this idea of co-creation in design. The longer I work, the less likely I am to try to fake it. I love the, “I don't know how to do that but what if we talk about it? Let’s see what we can come up with and if we come up with something together that you're going to love, and I'm going to love bringing to you.” That skill of producing feedback loops is powerful for creating programs that speak to programs and learning interventions. Anytime you're doing an intervention, you want change to happen. That's why you're doing it. There's a dream of change and finding out what that dream is, and then digging deeper and deeper. The solution speaks to that dream is a powerful conversation for an organization.
The feedback loops in that co-creation and what are people's dreams, sometimes the leader's dream is different than the people that they're overseeing and supporting to understand the culture and make sure that it's aligned. What I'm finding with the whole feedback loop and setting it up, it gives the opportunity for me and others to reward people's ideas, to recognize their contribution, to validate that they have meaning in their work. In a more pronounced way that is, “We aren't sure, and I'm not sure which way to go. What do you think?” Someone says, “Why don't we try that?” I spend more time at the moment saying, “I liked that idea. This is what I like about it and this is going to help us even further as I can see us progressing.”
It's this spirit of contributing to making it successful. This is a great role that you're playing, you're playing the leadership role and it gives people that validation. At the end of the day, when you're trying to help people move forward, it's what they say when they get back home to their loved ones around the kitchen table of how supportive they feel and how enabled they feel to contribute. If you can give people recognition, I'm not sure, Melanie of your finding with some of your clients. The pressure is great that the people are forgetting to acknowledge their team members for what they do.
That's true. I also think that there's this invisibility in our world. What I'm thinking about is my husband who's a university professor. He's speaking to a blank screen because all of his students turn off their cameras and they mute themselves. He's talking and not getting that recognition or communication back. Usually, he'd get to see their face and get a smile, or he would tell a joke and they would laugh. I don't always laugh at his jokes, but students sometimes do. It feels lonely, but I think the students are having that same lonely feeling. He becomes the target of frustration in a way that's different because there's no feeling of community in those classes. There's a real missed opportunity there for requirements to turn on your camera because you would see other people's faces, so you wouldn't feel isolated. I imagine that there's the next level of experimentation around some of the online stuff and the way that we do things so that we learn how to use online tools to meet some of the needs that we usually meet in person.
There's been a lot of feedback of, “I have Zoom fatigue. It's not working. I'm burned out from this type of environment.” I think it’s a creative point to say, “What would have to be true to make a distance-learning interesting, whether it's breakout groups or whatever?” I agree that it’s going to push the boundaries of what we typically do and move from there to say, “What could we do to replicate the in-person experience or that innovation that's important to the learning experience?”
I feel like I was more innovative and more curious several months ago. Maybe it'll bubble up again around technology. First, I was like, “What could we do with this cool tool?” I was then like, “I'm tired of this cool tool.” I had been on Zoom for a long time, but it's been different when everything's on Zoom, technology, MS Teams or whatever it is that people are using. I'm wondering if we'll get curious again and what that pattern of curiosity might be over time.
I'm finding the same, whereas, “This is a new toy and it was new for everyone. There were some humor and some experimentation.” I think what's happening now including me, is that we're creating defaults and we're patterned animals and we're, “This is how I typically do a Zoom call or this is how I would run a facilitated session.” When the feedback of people saying, “It's not working anymore.” It pushes us into a more innovative space. There are some great examples now where people are even meeting outside assuming the weather's good or shaking it up and trying something new. We're at the cusp of that happening. The tried and true Zoom approach is still the default where people aren't revolting to the point where we do force ourselves to become innovative.
I read an article about a woman who had made a plan for hosting a cocktail party on Zoom. What she was missing was this little individual conversations and how people roam around a party and talk to people. She had come up with this whole idea where you could make everyone a co-host so they could move between Zoom rooms. I hosted a party like that and it was fun. It had its own little problems. Part of the problem was that everybody had a way they did Zoom. They got stuck in places and didn't move. I lost the desire to socially do those things because I do it so much for work.
It's interesting to think about the flow of creativity, curiosity, trying new things, and reminding myself maybe everyone to think about that again and start to dig in and experiment again. I think we need another round of experimentation even with the tools that we use on a daily basis. It's a good metaphor for how we need them in our regular business too. I used to coach on the phone, now I coach on Zoom. How else can I coach? How else can I deliver the value that I deliver? I think everybody should be asking those questions on a regular basis.
What I'm finding now too is there's more of a retro spirit where people are saying, “Let's have a phone call. Let's send letters or whatever.” It's almost like that desire to shake it up. If one way isn't working, let's maybe go back and experience an old way of doing things. I agree. We are at a point where how else can we do it? I think people are innovative when they need it most. It's not a casual, “Let's do something new,” but we need to do something new. That's where you get the new voices to say, “What about this? I can't wait.” If it's safe to do so because with organizations' cultures or even friend cultures, there's an acceptable way of working and how do we expand that? We learn from our experimentation and we celebrate it versus looking at it as being outside the circle of acceptance.
I noticed in myself, I will always be the person who tried new things. I was doing a new party. I noticed my own fatigue and COVID, for many months, I lost all the things I did for self-care chiropractic, massage, and exercise. In September 2020, I started swimming again, which I realized I'm not a meditator, but swimming is my meditation. As I've gotten that, I can feel the well filling in me where I have some foundation to try things again.
As you say that the feeling of becoming more yourself because you're swimming again, you feel good from that and beyond the health, but the more meditative sense that you get when you're in the pool.
I love this phrase, “You feel more like yourself.” I've noticed that the highest compliment I can give something is it feels normal. For most of my life, I've been looking for extraordinary experiences, but I don't need an extraordinary experience. I want something that feels like it felt before COVID.
That's what most people are feeling now. Our challenge is that the new normal as people have said, it's going to be different normal from what we've had before, which is in a way sad to lose certain things. Perhaps there's an opportunity to incorporate new things that we've never done before. Doing something that you used to love to do and you can do it again, whether it's going to the gym, which we can't now in our area, but that little bit of normalcy that we identify with.
I always like to ask people about imposter syndrome, especially in the field of change management like, “What do you notice about imposter syndrome? Why they suffer from it? How do they get through it? I'm not looking for you to bare your soul, but you stand in a place in the world that you might come across it.” I'd love to know your thoughts on it.
Perhaps I could talk from the organizational change, working with people's perspectives. I'd love to share a little bit of my soul with imposter syndrome because if you can't empathize with what other people are going through, you're probably not best prepared to help them manage it. What I found with imposter syndrome, I'll say with leaders, but at any level of the organization. They feel like an imposter when they don't have the answer. It can be, “People think I have the answer and they bought it, but they don't know.” In change, it's moving to something new. I found that leaders when they're going through a large transformation just like now, their functional expertise like, “I have been in finance all my life, and I know how to do the books, or I'm a marketer.” That knowledge where they build their confidence and they know what to do doesn't translate well to managing the unknown.
When that happens, there's a panic that can go on with either they wing it or they take one person's counsel and that becomes the proxy of what they do, but they feel like an imposter. What I found that's helpful is the first thing you can do is to identify it. If you have a trustful relationship with the person where they admit, “I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know the next step.” The best leaders I found are the ones that can share that gutsy move of saying, “I don't know where we're going, but we know a certain amount of information. We all pull together as a team and leverage our ability then we will be able to move forward and be successful.” A lot of leaders would rather be silent and feel like an imposter than managing through and acknowledging it. It leads them into the territory of being actors, faking it, and making things up that isn't best.
I first experienced imposter syndrome when I was nine years old and I would have called it complete fear. I was a shy kid. The class had decided that they're going to do this debate on the different political leaders at the time that was going for election. They decided that they were going to debate agriculture policy, which I knew nothing about. I'm the shy guy that was up on the stage. The whole school and middle school were there. I found that, “What am I going to do?” All I could do is tell a story of my mom who grew up on a farm in New Brunswick in Eastern Canada like The Walton's American TV show that talked about potatoes and whatever.
For some reason I won, which was great. It was a new experience. When I got up to the microphone to accept the prize, I said, “I know you didn't vote for me.” That was the only thing I said. That experience to me transfers back to working with leaders now that when people don't feel that they have the experience to predict the future, to know what to do next, or to have the confidence. How do you help them? One thing I found that's helpful is to go back to the facts, which I know you support from the experimental mindset. They do have a lot of knowledge so that they can move forward. It’s just you can't predict the future. I'm wondering if you've had similar experiences with your clients.
I think that it is that fear of the unknown. I'm also noticing, the value of the target condition and the future reality. To know what you want it to be in the future, to put the stake in the ground and dream. It feels important because the details are experimentation. How you get there is where you experiment, but hitting something is that act of putting the stake in the ground and saying, “I'd like us to end up with something that looks a little bit like this, feels a little bit like this, or provide something like this.” That's the beacon that helps you experiment along the way.
That ability to put the stake in the ground and when you do, there are multiple alternatives. You're picking one that you think is the best for the organization. Hopefully, having the confidence to say against the naysayers and the resistance to moving forward saying, “This is where we're going.” Even if you do feel like an imposter and that it's a human condition to move past that and forward into that direction.
You have a book coming out in May of 2021. Tell us about that.
It's called Change on the Run: 44 Ways to Survive Workplace Uncertainty. It's designed for the manager or the leader who's been placed on a large change initiative. It could be something about how do we do remote and hybrid teams, how do we move forward with a new system, but they don't have any time to learn how to manage change. They might be working their day job and then doing this project job. They need information fast. What the book provides are tried and true survival strategies that will give you 80% of the results in 20% of the time. Given you don't have a lot of time, do this. A couple of examples would be how do you overcome a blocker that's stopping your team from moving forward? How do you build the team's confidence that they'll be able to move and help the organization be successful? I give you the one thing for 44 key elements of change so that people can do that and move forward because there's no perfection in change. Especially now, moving forward progressively, quickly, and getting the best results that you can is the objective of a lot of leaders.
I can't wait to see that book when it comes out. I'm excited. I want to thank you for being here. Can you tell people where they can find you?
Thank you, Melanie. It's been great to be here. You could connect with me on LinkedIn because it's a powerful community for all people. My website is www.ChangeWithConfidence.com. There are lots of free and interesting change related tools that can help people as they lead change going forward.
What a great interview this has been. It's been fun to talk to you. Thank you for being here.
Melanie, thank you. I've enjoyed it. I appreciate the opportunity.
It's been such a pleasure to have Phil Buckley on my show. I love talking with him about change management and how he collaboratively creates the programs he delivers as a consultant. I am fascinated by this idea that ideas evolve with frequent feedback loops. If we're able to respond to those frequent feedback loops, our level of what we can produce changes quickly. It's interesting talking about how timelines have gotten shorter during COVID while people are still trying to make change happen. They're more sure about what they need now than they are about what they need in the coming months. Go experiment.
About Phil Buckley
I am a senior change management professional with over twenty-five years’ experience enabling leaders and their teams to grow through transformation across global businesses in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. I have managed thirty-two large scale change projects including co-leading global change management for the $19.6 billion Kraft Foods acquisition of Cadbury, which included a team of forty change leads across sixty countries.
My change assignments include mergers, divestitures, organization restructurings, growth capability developments, efficiency drives, culture initiatives and systems implementations. Practical experience working on change initiatives in twenty countries has taught me how to help people make changes within their local environments that give them sustained results.
Over my career, I have held senior leadership positions including Global HR Director Commercial, Global Organizational Change Director, Americas VP Organization Change and Vice President HR Canada.
I am the author of the award-winning Change with Confidence: Answers to the 50 Biggest Questions that Keep Change Leaders Up at Night (Jossey-Bass). It provides complete, actionable answers to the burning questions that leaders routinely ask about how to manage change successfully.
I hold a Bachelor of Commerce from University of Toronto and a Diploma in Adult Education from St. Francis Xavier University. My work has been featured in Forbes, Businessweek, Globe and Mail and many other business publications.
I am an engaging public speaker and facilitator who has a genuine passion for helping people lead organizational change. More information about me is available on my blog, Making Change with Confidence.
A public speaker, consultant, workshop leader, author, and Master Certified Coach through the International Coach Federation, from whom she received the Prism Award, Melanie is an expert in problem-solving, constraints management, operations, strategic hiring, and brand development.