Most companies are reexamining their strategies and making fundamental or incremental changes to their strategic direction, organizational structure, and employee engagement efforts. Executing these changes requires leaders who are ready to lead others through ongoing change.

In this month’s Podcast episode, special guest, Sheryl Unger joins us once again to discuss Strategic Change and Developing Leadership Agility. During this episode, you’ll hear Wendy and Sheryl share insights from nearly thirty years of experience working with hundreds of clients, and how The 5C’s of Transition Leadership® can provide a structured framework to help leaders improve their change execution capabilities and more effectively lead others.

Introduction:

Welcome to the Change and Thrive Podcast with your host, Dr. Wendy Heckelman of WLH Consulting and Learning Solutions.  WLH is rooted in the principles of organizational effectiveness, change agility, and leadership development. Dr. Wendy Heckman and the WLH team present practical tips, tools, and case studies to help any organization thrive through change. Now let’s hear from our host!


Wendy:

Welcome to Change and Thrive. I’m your host, Dr. Wendy Heckelman, founder and CEO of WLH Consulting and Learning Solutions.   I am so excited to be here with you today on our second podcast of our new series.  With me today, as a trusted advisor and senior consultant of WLH is Sheryl Unger.  Sheryl, welcome.

Sheryl:
Thank you for having me again today.  I’m really excited to be doing these podcasts with you because we have so many stories that we have accumulated over the past 20 years we have worked together. When we think about strategic change, that’s actually true and my favorite part is to have seen clients right from the beginning, who knew that they needed to do something because they were undertaking a major change or were in the thrust of a reorganization.  Being very mindful and purposeful about what they need to do for their organization or other things that happen as we come in to support.  Wendy, you talk a lot the “white space,” can you share what that means?


Wendy:

So often our clients get a wonderful slide deck and a report on the new strategy.   But guess what? You really cannot implement it and your organization is not ready.  At WLH we call it “navigating the white space from strategy to execution.”  We know that most large-scale change initiatives fail, and they fail for two reasons. One, they lack an implementation plan in terms of process, people learning.  Second, the most important factor is they lack the leaders’ ability to guide others through transition.

Sheryl:

You often use this word transition. I know what you mean, but please let our listeners understand what you mean by transition.


Wendy:

Change is something that is done to you. Your organization has chosen to merge.  It has chosen a commercial redesign. Transition is our personal response to change. And what do we know? People go through transition very differently. Some people adapt very quickly to change. And some people are sitting on the fence. Some people are very resistant.

After working together on hundreds of change projects, we know that it is the leader who is the critical linchpin in successful change.

Sheryl:

What I like about so many of our projects, is if we have taken this sort of academic discussion around transition and made it practical.  We know there are books out there, thought leaders in William Bridges, and we have said to them, what does transition really mean in reality?  For many years we had worked on elements of different change projects but saw the need for a simple practical framework.  Can you share what the framework is?


Wendy:

The framework is called the 5 Cs of Transition Leadership®, which is actually the basis of the book that was called Change and Thrive: A modern approach to change leadership.   The book was published right before the pandemic, March 3rd of 2020.  The whole premise of the 5 Cs of Transition Leadership is that it is the leader who is at the center of this, because it is the leader’s role to guide him or herself, as well as their teams and individuals through this process and get them to the other side quickly.


Sheryl:

For clarification, when you say leader, are you talking about senior executives? Are you talking more like first line and second line leadership?


Wendy:

We work with organizational leaders to frame the strategic initiative and change needs. We think about the change in terms of the communications and implementation planning. Once the change has been framed, what does the strategy mean? What are the implications from a process perspective? From a human capital perspective?  When I talk about the role of the leader, I believe that leader, that first line leader, that leader of leaders, their role is front and center.

And why do I mean that because it is the leader who can guide his or her teams through this process.


Sheryl:

So why don’t you share with us a little bit about the process, the 5 C’s, and what the different sections are?


Wendy:

The first C is commitment? The leader needs to commit and get on board.  Guess what? If your leader isn’t on board and they think this initiative is your flavor of the month, they are going to disregard it. They are not going to engage with their teams, and you are not going to get to where you need to go. So, leaders need to be committed to change. They need to be able to articulate the business case for change. They need to close up their learning gaps and align with their manager.


Sheryl:

That’s the first phase. So, in simple terms, walk the walk, talk the talk.

Wendy:

Absolutely.


Sheryl:

Okay, great. But the second piece is where most organizations stumble is about risks at the macro level.  When you are framing the change strategy you are identifying the risks.


Wendy:

Yes, it is important to ask what are the risks to my customers, to the environment, to people, to process? But at the very practical level is the first line leader, they have risks. Let’s think about last year, we were working with an organization that was going through a commercial transformation during the pandemic, there were risks. There were risks to their people in terms of what they needed to know and changes for their customers. In the way that we approach change, we need to construct a plan for business continuity and to identify those risks that are in your control so you can put mitigation strategies in place.


Sheryl:

So that is a missing piece when people talk about change management.  The 5C’s also allows for some variability because what may be a risk to one part of the organization or a particular function is different, but you have to give them that guidance to help them think through what and where there might be potential risks and what they can do.


Wendy:

And the other thing it does is to actually helps leaders identify some things that they are aware of because they have some functional expertise, or they are closer to the ground and share up to leadership for things that they didn’t think about.


Sheryl:

And the bottom up is so important. How many times have we even said, oh, you need to think about a customer transition process. You have changed your geography. You have moved to an ecosystem model.  So now what are those risks?

The third C, which we always talk about in working with the teams to create a high performing team. Creating a high performing team that is a risk.  If we don’t focus on the impact of change to a team, then organizations have problems, especially if it starts multiplying in many different places.


Wendy:

So, let’s talk about that. Let’s think about the fact that you might be through an organizational transformation. This fundamentally changed what customer-facing roles are doing. You’ve got hundreds of teams, you’ve got field teams, you have market access teams, you have field based medical teams and what needs to really happen here?  Leaders need to take the temperature of the team. Are they really change ready? And what does it take to get them on board?

Like we talked about the leaders’ role, you have to get the team ready. We know that every change has a configuration in terms of teams, maybe new leaders, new members, new priorities. So, we use the term Jump Start. What that entails are that leaders need to clarify the strategy and make it real for their people.

Sheryl, you and I have seen this often that can be clear on the strategy and roles/responsibilities. Where they stumble and where do they stub their toe is how they work together.


Sheryl:

Can talk a little bit about what operating norms and “rules of engagement” mean?


Wendy:

Sure, rules of engagement are where they agree to how they will work together.  How they will communicate, how they will resolve conflict, how they will make decisions.  It is the “how” that keeps the team functioning.


Sheryl:

Those rules gain their consensus. Wendy will often say unless we get a hundred percent agreement on one, on a particular rule, it is not something we are going to adopt.

So, we always build from the foundation up. But that is still the team level. There are all these people, there are individuals.  And, and more than anything, when you read change literature, it is, but how do you avoid people resisting change?


Wendy:

We work with the leader to help him/her become skilled at identifying challenges of each team member.  The 4th C is to coach through transition.  If the leaders stumble on coaching their teams through transition, they are not going to be successful. What does that look like? This is not performance coaching; this isn’t development coaching. This is about finding out for you, Sheryl, for me, Wendy, for you, Michael, what are the challenges that get you from where you are today to where you need to go and then doing very targeted work to shore up that capability. So that individual is on the other side and ready to adopt, right?

And that’s what we call coaching through transition.


Sheryl:

So, we have done four Cs. All right. Let us talk about the last.


Wendy:

The last C is to Calibrate to ensure success.   What do we know? We are off to the races with the strategic change. We have gotten it implemented. Let’s go. No, no, no, no, no.

Anybody who launches a product knows you recalibrate. You titrate your launch being successful. We talk about calibrate to examine whether you are tracking against your goals. We are talking about goals on multiple levels, the strategic goals, but are your people getting to where they need to go? Are you, and your team working the way they need to? It is really about calibrating to ensure success. And the risks and the calibration are what people really do not pay attention to.


Sheryl:

Definitely, definitely. So what I just love about this framework is it doesn’t matter who we sit down at whatever level of the organization, when you walk them through the simple things of what people have to do for themselves, for the business, for their teams and for the individuals, and then how to kind of calibrate and watch that plan.


Wendy:

It is simple. It creates that muscle that allows leaders to deal with ongoing change. We have seen it with client after client, when we have put this framework to use how relieved they are to actually have something simple to follow and create that common language. Oh, absolutely. It is simple. It is intuitive.

What’s important for our listeners is we used to talk about change in the big macro, big merger, big redesign. But what have we learned in the last two and a half years is change is going to be iterative, iterative, iterative.  So, you need to build out muscle for the leaders to adopt a way that they can say, we’re going to need to modify something, all right, let’s get everybody on board and do it quickly. What we’re saying is our 5Cs Transition Leadership finds its way into leadership programming.


Sheryl:

How would you summarize the 5C’s?


Wendy:

Leaders need leadership agility, and they can help their teams become more change agile. If I were going to break this down, I think there are three big takeaways. One, the environment is completely disruptive. Don’t be surprised if your organization isn’t changing one day and then another day.   What do we know? We know that leaders are the cornerstone of really making change happen and that every organization should ensure that their leaders have that leadership agility and ability to guide their teams and people through change. Whereas we like to say change and thrive. I am going to close out today’s podcast by thanking you again, Sheryl for being here and for talking about this important topic.  Next month, we’re going to talk about commercial excellence, which is really important to our pharmaceutical and life sciences’ clients because everyone is trying to figure out how to change and thrive and win in today’s healthcare market.

Thank you for tuning in and look forward to seeing you next month.

Author
Wendy L. Heckelman, Ph.D.

Dr. Wendy Heckelman, president and founder of WLH Consulting, Inc. has over 25 years of experience working with Fortune 100 industry clients. These include pharmaceutical, biotech, health care, animal health medicines, and consumer products, as well as international non-profit organizations and growing entrepreneurial companies.

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LeadershipChange AgilityChange and Thrive PodcastLeadership Agilitytransition leadership