The Wicked Podcast

Kathryn Simpson: Leading for Change

May 18, 2021 [email protected] Episode 46
The Wicked Podcast
Kathryn Simpson: Leading for Change
Show Notes Transcript

We talk to Kathryn Simpson, advisor to the C-Level on how to better lead for change in turbulent times.

Author page: http://www.kathrynsimpson.com
Book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1781334870

The Wicked Podcast:
Support us on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/thewickedpodcast
The Wicked Podcast website: http://www.thewickedcompany.com/podcast/
'The Wicked Company' book on Amazon.co.uk: https://www.amazon.co.uk/WICKED-COMPANY-When-Growth-Enough-ebook/dp/B07Y8VTFGY/
The Wicked Company website: https:www.thewickedcompany.com

Music:
'Inspired' by Kevin MacLeod
Song: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/3918-inspired
License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Marcus Kirsch:

Welcome to the wicked podcast where we read the business books you don't have time for. I'm Marcus Kirsch. And I'm Troy Norcross, and we are your co hosts for the wicked podcast.

Troy Norcross:

We're gonna get into the Wayback Machine. And we're gonna pretend like it was one hour ago because you had to go to a podcast. And it wasn't this one.

Marcus Kirsch:

No, I had a podcast before. And then I was on some conference thing. Actually, design ops global By the Way, Peter fostex. organising this great thing over not a Manchester virtual this year. But check out design ops global, really good stuff.

Troy Norcross:

Right. So you did have something else to do you were doing and being fabulous somewhere else. And so we delayed our intro recording, which is what we're going to do now. And enough of all this nonsense are we talking to?

Marcus Kirsch:

So today, we have the lovely Catherine Simpson, and her book called leading for change.

Troy Norcross:

And what were your takeaways, Margaret's

Marcus Kirsch:

so my takeaway, because we talked about change by a lot, but there was she had some really lovely stories there. The main one for me was where she was talking about having been in a change project for quite a few months. And having had the impression that she had communicated well, because communication is really important. And then when she had a follow up meeting, people were going, Yeah, can we please talk about why we have the teams we have and why we're doing this month into the project. And she was bit shocked, but at the same time, learned really well about the fact that you really, really should tell people, and help them understand why you're doing what you're doing. Because the second they understand the why they're more likely to go with you, and actually implement transformation and change. So that was my biggest takeaway, because I think, you know, I like to believe that 50% of success and transformation and changes, communication, probably same as leadership. And she just confirmed that with one of our anecdotes. So that's my main takeaway. For me, she

Troy Norcross:

also said during that story, that it's important that you don't forget what you know. I mean, she was actually failing to follow some of her own advice for leading change. But it allowed her to spot that and immediately correct that had moved from the role of a leader to the role of facilitator and to really uncover and explain the word why. My biggest takeaway was the idea that you really should working into diverse group, make the most of differences. And the best way to do that is ensure that all voices get heard, and that there's a safe space for people to be able to share views, whatever those view may be, whether they're agreeing or whether they're dissenting sort of views. But you have your views, I have my views, I bet she has her views. So what should we view?

Marcus Kirsch:

We should view and listen, and then, like, comment and share on the interview. Hello, everyone. Today we're here with Catherine Simpson. Hello, Catherine. And thank you for joining us.

Kathryn Simpson:

It's great to be here, Marcus.

Marcus Kirsch:

So as usual, we start at the top. So Katherine, please tell our listeners who you are and why you wrote the book.

Kathryn Simpson:

Okay, well, I'm a practical consultants, I would say, because I've walked the line between organisations and consulting in my career. And I finally landed on the consulting side of the line, I have a scientific background. And that's really enabled me to build on my strength in creating roles and logic and process and structure. And then all of that has been built on when I realised that actually what makes the difference is people. And, you know, that is the change that people make that really sticks. And that's the side you have to work on to meet to make change happen. And one of the things I really value is that collaboration with the great clients I work with, and I love to be able to live leave them with the skills as well as the practical results that are very important to me. I've lived in Canada, as well as the UK and I have two grown up children who now Teach me much more than I teach them, which is absolutely amazing. Why did I write the book? Well, originally when I set out it was all about, you know, this, everybody told me that this will build your business. This is a great way to build your business. You should do it. You've written a lot of blogs now. Put those all together. either write a book. So that's how I started. And then as I was writing it, it transformed a bit because I thought what I'm doing is actually celebrating with some amazing leaders who I've worked with the great projects that I've done. And so, you know, very grateful to and worked with such amazing people. And so it was, it was great. And so that celebration has been a part of it for me. And, again, feedback that I've got from people who I've worked with has meant an incredible amount to me. And then I guess the other thing that's also important is to be able to share with upcoming leaders and those future leaders, maybe some of the practical tips so that they don't have to wade through lots of theory and try and figure out how that all applies. I really enjoyed, you know, just being very practical and very simple.

Marcus Kirsch:

lonely. And I think that probably gets me down to my first question. So I can relate to the book writing, you know, it's, it's, it's maybe a lonely endeavour, but it sort of tends to change while you're at it. And I remember, I probably rewrote mine about three times, because while you're writing it, you realise what you're actually doing is maybe something different than you set out to do. So in terms of the leaders, and obviously, that's in the title. So when we talk about, let's talk about vision, and leaders, and you work with a lot of leaders. Tell us a bit about leadership and vision and what your experiences is what people are asking, or what you do and how you help them in that respect.

Kathryn Simpson:

In terms of vision, yeah, and it's, it's really, it's very different. Everyone comes as I've just recently done a project, for example, where the leader was very clear about the vision and where he wanted to go. And so the work that we were doing was really about, well, how can the rest of the organisation buy into that change? Because that's actually quite hard work. doing that, once you've decided that this is what it looks like, with such clarity. Other people end up saying, well, I've got a general idea, this is where I want to go. But I really do want to get the input. And I really want to have a vision that works for the, for the organisation, but also to give them a competitive advantage. So how do I combine those things? And so there's a there's a bit of, let's understand what the landscape is that you're working on. And then let's call about what how you can best realise a vision of the future and not get to the vision being a very impractical, you know, it's pie in the sky. It's an idea that has no grounding in reality, and for me that's really important is to have that grounding and have a grounding that's based on many people's perspectives. Yeah. I think it's more than the the process that we go through and to talk to people about what that actually is both their individual aspirations and how they see that. And then the talking to them about their current reality. And then blending those two things into Well, what could that look like for the vision so it's very much a conversation where you collect a whole bunch of perspectives and reflect and bring that back to people that they then get motivated and excited. Between that's that as you say, the stretch which is could be inspired, very out there. and inspiring and, and different. But it's also, yeah, I know how to take the first step and it gets starts to get practical because you talk about the where we are you talk about the future, and give it a bit of a timeline, and then say, so what is it we need to do next in order to achieve that. So having those conversations with either the leaders or the team that you're working with, is essential.

Marcus Kirsch:

I found in a lot of projects, and especially taking from the experience around change and transformation, and what kind of visions and goals are set, that one of the trickiest things is that you need to do these things while the organization's still running. Right? So the famous like, you know, trying to change the wheel while we're driving down the road. How do you how do you get leaders to not too quickly and I've seen this in a lot of scopes and descriptions of transformation ambitions, where in the end, audit was done, or the ambition only was at fixing often old it boxes or just, you know, polishing and painting things a bit in a different colour. Cars seemingly that there was all that there was what need what was needed tomorrow, otherwise, we're not going to be competitive. How do you get leaders to say, right? Yes, we know, but the bigger vision is to actually have a bit more of a step change, a vision should be further out. How do you how do you how do you help balance that? Or is that who's normally driving that idea receptive like that? Is that actually something that happens on a leadership level, but then further down? It might not trickle down like that, I don't know, what's your experience and those kind of things.

Kathryn Simpson:

And again, just berries. I'm thinking that, you know, one of the I'm thinking back to actually the challenges of doing that when I was in an organisation. So I remember the detachment to go and do the strategy, which I do think is important. So that's one of the things isn't it is kind of going into a different space, going into a different event going into somewhere where you can have that thinking that you're not sitting at your desk, almost to do that. And even online, and we can talk about that later, if you like. But it's how do you create that space to think, more long term and strategically, and so on, so that you can think that big picture, so you kind of create that space? And the reason then I was thinking, Well, that's all well and good. But the number of times that you hear the horror stories of Okay, we did all this great work. That was fun, wasn't it? We did an off site and fun came back. Oh, my goodness, now I've got a budget to deliver. Oh, my goodness, now I've got somebody who's, you know, had a personal challenge. So I need to deal with that, Oh, we've got performance reviews do Oh, we need to continue to, as you say fix the problem. We just had a problem in that customer, that customer. So we need to go over that. How do you kind of then say, Okay, well, bye. That was very nice, that stuff over there. But, hey, I've got things I need to deal with right now. So I guess one of the one of the tricks and one of the tools. And there are many, of course, but one of them is when you leave that session of the the upside, or the virtual upside, you always have, what's the very next step? And what's the very next step, because then it's practical, and then it's small. And then you can actually say, okay, as well as all of these urgent things. I've also got this little thing here that I need to do. I'll just, I'll just take that first step. And to do that. And you put in place things like well, how are we even again, at the upside? How are we going to make sure that this really happens, and to have that common understanding, we're going to hold each other accountable to this, we're going to have meetings that will be around implementation, and we don't just leave this because our job as leaders is done. You know, we've created the wonderful and great vision. Now someone else can just pick this up and run with it, which again, I've seen sometimes. So those are some of the thoughts Yeah, you hit on a really important word there. In terms of prioritisation, just so important that people prioritise. And they're able to in within that, and that goes right down from individual. I'm learning how to say no and no gracefully, because I've got other things prioritise. And the organization's saying, you know what, this is our number one priority or two. And all of these things are really lovely to do. And the rest are not there. So you asked about hiring. And so hiring, like any other skill is, for me is big on the behavioural interviewing almost, there's two components to this. But let's start with that behavioural so the individuals. So if I was in an interview situations are going back very practical to that. Tell me about a time where you had to change course, very quickly, what did that look like? What did you do? How did you do that? So kind of getting people's thinking and experiences so that you can actually you can see that and you can validate that and you can understand the size of the change and how quickly they really did have to tap to change, you can dig into those conversations. So I would be definitely building those kinds of questions. But I also think that again, it's really important for and I learned this again, in one of my organization's I took over a leadership of a team that was around operations, it was very much grounded in the status quo. And you know, low risk, we have to deliver thing we deliver training and documentation and so on. So we have to be very risk averse. And we can't quickly change on that. And then you get a leader like me who my bosses, as I have been described a few times in my life as a change junkie. So I see a shiny new Penny, and I don't buy on my way to go and change and fix it. And so there are there's this spectrum of people. And one of the things that I learned in my time leading that team is to really value those people who were very risk averse, because they can identify all of the issues with what the changes, and they will say, you know, this change won't work because our detected it. Okay, let's understand all of that. Because you need to actually manage all of those risks and figure out what those are and how you're going to do it. So it's good to have that that balance. But to your point, you hire the hire the right balance, right and making sure when you hire people who can see issues and problems and risks and are averse to change. They can be some of the one the biggest supporters but the biggest enablers, I guess, in getting a change that will actually work. So that was my one point in terms of, you know, get the right people. But there's also something where I have a little bit of a challenge with expecting people to be resilient all the time, that you know, you keep knocking people back and they have to bounce up and you keep knocking them back and they have to bands. And to create for me, I think the disrupter leaders and change role is to create an environment where it doesn't feel like it's just change after change after change. So you're coming back to your original question Troy around, you know, how do you prioritise? And that's what needs to happen is, you know, leaders just need to be saying, you know, what, I'm adding something, but by the way, I'm taking this off, and how can I help you to deliver this, what are some of the barriers, so kind of and, and for individuals to be able to rise to that challenge? So, long winded answer

Marcus Kirsch:

Thanks, good have a couple of anecdotes I guess. I think and I think you know, that, you know, I think all three can relate to the whole shiny Penny thing. And there's a certain amount of change and keep looking for the new thing, keep trying things keep experimenting in people, however, at the same time, so a couple of weeks back we had just right from the loitering. And he did a lot of research on human capital. And they just brought out a new research paper that actually showed interesting number or scary number, so to speak around the perception of leadership on how much they expect people to learn new things. And actually, and then interviewed people at the same time to enter into leadership, and people in teams of how much they're willing to learn for the job. And you know, how comfortable they are with that. And the number deviated significantly. So leadership seems to not quite expect people to be willing to learn, whereas people actually quite willing to learn not only to keep their job, but also because they want to improve, they want to have a better ways of working, so they're quite positive towards it. And there seems to be gap in leadership. So we're saying like, what, what kind of skills do you hire? What kind of skills do you on earth in your existing workforce? So what do you experience or strategy or conversations you have will lead us on that when that comes up? Because I'm sure it always comes up to, you know, keep keep them out of people, you might have to fire small and keep the training quick and effective, or hire new capabilities, right? It's always a conversation. So what do you experience with transforming who's already there? And making use of that? So So my question is, apart from hiring, the right capabilities or the right skill set in, what about activating new skill sets in existing people? What balance Do you strike or recommendations to have what what what what experience do you have with leaders and how they perceive this? And how they might want to implement it given that a study from Deloitte has shown this discrepancy between leadership thinking there's less people who want to learn, and actually people in companies more so actually want to learn? So there's a gap? What's your experience and leadership views on this?

Kathryn Simpson:

Yeah. And I guess it's often not my No, in terms of actually building specific sales, I wouldn't say that's necessarily my, my experience. But you know, I always have an opinion. So I'll give you that. And I think it's really that people, most leaders don't want to fire people. I think they want to keep because there's a lot of a lot of pain in all kinds of ways. You know, the, the people are left behind, for example, it doesn't create a resilient organisation. So I think that that's, that's the first thing. And then I think that I mean, that's really interesting, the finding from Deloitte. And it's a real opportunity, isn't it for leaders to tap into all of the skill sets that they can possibly have, and really use those skill sets for the benefit? I do think it's really important, you know, a big component of that, why are we changing anyway? That the leaders have to answer that question, and not just answer it, but help their people understand it? Because that's often why people don't change is because they don't like why why are we changing again? And I do remember, again, a story where we talked as one of the teams that I lead once we talked to the team about why and I told them why and what we were doing, it's a brand new team, brand new department. If I told them what I told them why I told them how we were going to do it, what the milestones, I thought I'd done a great job. And so we checked in about six months through the year. And I said, Okay, let's have a check in and see how we're doing against our goals. Anything else anybody wants to do on our side? And, and somebody said, Could you just tell us why this department was created? And I thought, Oh, my goodness, am I supposed to be a change management change leader here? I haven't followed my own previous advisors, as a consultants. And what we did is I stepped into facilitator mode. And we talked about the why I helped them understand, why is it that this team was and they had to think about what the external environments done, they had to think about the internal environment, they had to think of all of these things, so that they could then say, and at the end of it is incredibly gratifying because someone came along and said, Catherine, no matter what it is you want me to do you just tell me, like, you just tell me, I'll do that. And I think well, so the difference in the switch there between someone who was kind of, you know, I'm not really sure why I'm doing this, and what I'm going to do, and, yeah, I'll do what you tell me to, to all of a sudden, this is a goal, and I understand why I'm doing it, I'm going to do I could do this, and this and this. So I might be perceiving as a leader, that this person either didn't have the skills to do this, or they didn't want to learn the skills, while in fact, for what it was, they didn't really see the reason why why they they should do. So you know, that's, that's stood me in good stead. A lot of times when, you know, if we go back to the original conversation, we were having the band, you know, how do you get people to buy into a vision? That's often what, how you do it is that people have to understand, so why are we shifting with the good as we are right now, or don't really see the need of doing that. So to kind of create that internal, why not just tell people about it? Is is the is the challenge. And that's how, you know, I think as well, you build on the talent you've got.

Troy Norcross:

And obviously, the feedback of someone who's bought into the Y is very, very clear. Yeah. I've got one last question for you. And because unfortunately, we always have more questions than we actually have time. And I don't know if you've been following the headlines lately. But there's been a big story about base camp, which is in the US. And they came out with some new policies with regard to their employees and whether or not they were allowed to have discussions about political topics, kind of within the company, and it resulted in 30% of the employees resigning. Now, one of the things you talked about in your book is the importance of making differences work. And right now, there are really strong polarised differences that may or may not be productive in a work environment. What can you say about making differences work? And what might what might you say if you have been following it all the Basecamp story about how they might have done that differently?

Kathryn Simpson:

And I haven't voted. Yeah, it's a it's a really good, it's a really good question. And it's a very topical question, isn't it? I take again, you know, I come back to my pragmatic view of, you know, how do you get everybody's voices heard around the table? That's how you make differences work is Is everyone feeling like their voices are heard? So how do you do that? Well, as a facilitator, and you know, that kind of a leader is part of that, that Judo if you like, of leader facilitator over that works. One is you show that you care. And two is you can use different technologies to help to get people's input. And you do make sure that you kind of create that environment and have some rules around that environment about what would it look like to have a great meeting? And what would be our goals in doing this? And how do we have to be paid in order to achieve that and get a group agreement on what that looks like? So I don't know. I don't know I have not followed the story whether that actually would have been helpful if people And agreed, you know, what is it that we're trying to achieve out of this? And how do we need to behave in order to get to that? And what tools are we going to use? What are we going to have a facilitator? Because when it's complex and emotional, and political and all of those things, then Boy, that's really difficult for a leader to kind of contribute and share their vision, as well as try and facilitate a process. So that would those would be some of my thoughts.

Troy Norcross:

Well, that's really, really good. It turns out that in the article, they did say that they were getting an outside facilitator to come in to support them through this transition they were going through as a company. So sounds like they may be headed in the right track. But on that note, like I said, we've run out of time. I want to thank you. On behalf of Marcus myself. You've been an excellent guest, and we wish you great success with your book. Thank you very much. It's been great talking to you. You've been listening to the wicked podcast with CO hosts Marcus Kirsch and me, Troy Norcross,

Marcus Kirsch:

please subscribe on podomatic, iTunes or Spotify. You can find all relevant links in the show notes. Please tell us your thoughts in the comment section and let us know about any books for future episodes.

Troy Norcross:

You can also get in touch with us directly on Twitter on at wicked and beyond or at Troy underscore Norcross, also learn more about the wicked company book and the wicked company project at wicked company.com