Human After All: Organizational Change’s Critical People Factor

Creating the right organizational chart is just the first step. Behavior change must follow.

Why do companies change their operating model? Often they wish to become more agile. Sometimes they hope to increase collaboration. Almost always it has something to do with behavior. But as the overhaul gets underway, facts and data become the focus instead. And by the time organizational charts are drawn up, rolled out to teams and explained, management is exhausted.

Then someone remembers: We did all this to change how our people act. Oh, and those people are worried. Worried the changes aren’t good for them and that they are going to lose some of their power.

In the end, organizations don’t change, people do. And that tired management team still has a lot of work to do.

Cognitive biases’ role in organizational change

Behavioral science teaches that change triggers biases in the way humans process information and perceive threats. We are averse to loss, fear losing control and tend to view everything as a zero-sum game. We perceive losses more acutely than we anticipate gains. It’s quite natural, then, that any new organizational structure immediately sends employees into an examination of their position relative to peers. The new org chart becomes a scorecard: Some people are winning, others are losing.

Even when we understand intellectually that change is for the greater good, we balk when it diminishes our personal authority. One CEO broke down these tendencies by using a sports metaphor. “We’ve been operating like a golf team,” he said, “but now we have to play basketball.”

Metaphors can be clarifying for businesses in transition. Think of moving from a swim team to water polo, from track to soccer, from instrumental soloist to a jazz band, or even from stand-up comedy to membership in an improv troupe. In each case, strong individual performers shift from an environment that tracks and rewards independent effort to one of interdependence, in which success is determined by cooperation.

This CEO’s company still needed and appreciated great talent, as the metaphor helped make clear, but everyone needed to accept the critical importance of contributing to the team.

Anticipating the tough moments critical to organizational change

For any company to reap the full value of an organizational overhaul, its people will need to behave differently than they did in the old system. If they fall back to their old ways of working, the value will be lost.

Transforming behavior requires focusing on a few critical moments during which people will choose either the new behavior or their old habit. These moments of truth can be predicted and planned for. Leading companies do this early in the process, working with employees to anticipate the tricky moments and then ensuring everything from streamlined reports to employee support is in place to encourage adoption of the new way of working.

When a global consumer products company recently updated its operating model, one of the organizational changes was to bring all digital marketing into a centralized marketing department. It was simply too expensive for each business unit to build its own digital capability. This is quite consistent with the direction many organizations are headed today as they look for ways to build interdependencies and move away from autonomous silos. But it can lead to feelings of losing power and control, especially at the business unit level, where marketers now must turn to the center on digital topics.

The company’s executives and staff carefully anticipated which issues were likely to create discord between the business units and the center, talked them over, and decided how they would address them. Business unit heads understood that the solution rested in their hands: By modeling collaboration with the center, they would set the example for staff to do the same in their own work.

It emerged that the moment of truth for the business unit heads would be when they were asked to referee a disagreement between their team and the central digital team. Would they always side with their team against the center, or would they try to find a constructive solution?

To support choosing the constructive solution, the company created feedback loops that ran the duration of the transition. In that feedback, executives sought not only information about how the process was going but also what they themselves could do better. Over time, a pattern emerged in the data. Leaders who learned from this upward feedback and improved were rewarded with strong increases in employee engagement.

Moving forward

In the New York City Marathon, there is a hill at the 15-mile (24-kilometer) mark—the crossing of the East River from Queens to Manhattan over the 59th Street Bridge. It’s one of the greatest challenges of the race, but as runners finish their descent and head north up First Avenue, they know that 11 more miles (18 kilometers) remain.

For executives who have put months into studying what functions their organization needs, how it will be organized, and who reports to whom, it may be hard to accept that they have only finished the first leg of the race. There are many hard miles yet to go, and getting to the finish line depends on helping the humans in the organization change their behavior, too.

Source: Bain

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Why Now Is the Perfect Time to Rethink Talent and Leadership

Startups and scaleups worldwide are facing a make-or-break moment with coronavirus, a health crisis with vast and unprecedented economic consequences. Each entrepreneur is in a unique situation, whether they’re well-funded, planning their next funding round or struggling through the uncertainty.

As a result, founders are turning to their VCs and mentors for support and conversations are, unsurprisingly, centred around cash. In the UK, while £81m has gone to startups that haven’t received investment previously, there’s been a 31 percent decrease in deal numbers compared to the same period last year—so it’s a pressing issue.

But cash alone only presents half the story. As startups seek advice on how to weather the storm and find positives in the situation, the conversation broadens. To survive this period of instability, growing businesses should look toward the key cornerstones of success: talent and leadership. After all, the best founders never waste a crisis and now is a good time for them to refocus.

The vision could be great, the founders innovative and cash readily available, but without strong leadership and world-class talent, businesses can’t continue to thrive in this climate. How to look after and manage teams during this time, as well as understanding what staff cuts to make and how, are important considerations that startups are looking to VCs for support and advice on.

A conservative approach. 

Any business plans that organisations had in place ahead of the pandemic are now likely to be irrelevant. Businesses need to start from scratch with a clear view of their burn rate and shouldn’t be afraid to rip up the rule book and abandon existing plans. Startups already doing this have looked to renegotiate their office rents, contracts with providers and suspended online advertising, for example.

Reducing such costs is sensible in a challenging fundraising environment. Deals have slowed down and the Pitchbook European VC Valuation Report points toward a decrease in early seed rounds. New investments certainly have stopped and great companies always get funding, but many investors are focusing on how to support their existing portfolio. The crisis isn’t over yet and, with further outbreaks still possible, now is the time to be conservative. Continue reading


As a part of our talent acquisition engagements, we ask our clients how they define “top talent” and how they would assess those traits in the interview process. Reflecting on the insightful comments we hear every day, we thought there would be great value in a new blog in which senior executives/thought leaders share their “Take on Talent.”

This is the twenty-second in a series of blogs/interviews with senior executives who are thought leaders in the areas of Talent Acquisition, Career Development and Leadership who will share their perspectives on this ever present question.


Kevin Campbell, Chief Executive Officer, Syniti

As CEO, Kevin drives the growth agenda of Syniti with poise and at ease. With a solid track record in driving growth at scale, Kevin joined Syniti, formerly BackOffice Associates, as president, global consulting and services April 2018, and was named as CEO in February 2019.

During his 20+ year, 2-term tenure at Accenture, he was Group Chief Executive for Outsourcing and Group Chief Executive Technology where he drove double-digit growth. Kevin was also CO-COO for Bridgewater Associates and COO for Oscar Health based out of New York.

As CEO, Kevin’s leadership remit here is simple: Inspire and empower those around him to deliver on the business’ vision and purpose. He oversees all aspects of our operation while also taking every opportunity to engage with customers, partners, and employees on the ground around the world.

At home and in relaxed mode, Kevin devotes himself to family life and the resulting bike rides and activities that come with such a commitment. He also coaches his children’s sports teams and can often be found at various sports fields hurling encouragement. This has even been turned in to a group activity when they attend Atlanta United FC as season ticket holders. Go five stripes! Continue reading

Why People Get Away with Being Rude at Work

by Shannon G. Taylor  Donald H. Kluemper W. Matthew Bowler Jonathon R. B. Halbesleben

Bad behavior at work can have very real consequences. People who experience workplace rudeness, for example, report lower engagement, suffer more mental and physical health problems, and are more likely to burn out and quit their jobs. And nearly all of us are affected by rudeness and other types of workplace misbehavior, like interrupting and exclusion: Estimates suggest 98% of employees are on the receiving end over the course of a year.

Given bad behavior’s prevalence and impact, surely leaders take reports of it seriously, get the facts, and punish offenders, right? Some scholars have noted that, when information about misbehavior surfaces, savvy leaders know better than to blame the messenger. Unfortunately, our research paints a picture that is much bleaker.

We set out to investigate how people in positions of power view victims and perpetrators of workplace misbehavior. We first studied an organization that operates a chain of casual dining restaurants. We gave each employee a list of the names of every other employee who worked in their restaurant, and asked them to report who they were rude to and who was rude to them. We then asked managers to evaluate the behavior of each employee. Across the five restaurants we studied, 149 of the 169 employees (88%) and 13 of the 14 managers (93%) participated. Notably, those employees who reported being victims of rudeness were largely perceived by their managers as perpetrators of rude behavior. And the employees who were reported as being rude to others weren’t seen that way by their managers under two conditions: they had a tight relationship with the boss or were high performers. Continue reading

The Challenges Faced by Global Cosmopolitan Women

by Linda Brimm

To tap the full potential of these agents for change, organisations must listen and push beyond assumptions.

Carolyn was thrilled when she was offered a role in China. A high flyer in her Dutch organisation and fluent in Mandarin, she believed this was the perfect opportunity to get the international experience that she wanted. However, her boss suggested that it would be difficult for a woman to lead a team for this particular project in China. While his intentions might have been good, his comments left her feeling vulnerable to concerns about gender bias and her ability to handle it.

She knew that the decisions she would have to make in an unfamiliar context would be scrutinised. Carolyn could run into difficulties related to language. While these factors risked eroding some of her self-confidence, she was determined to enter this complex negotiation and decision-making arena. Due to her gender and culture, Carolyn was used to standing out and knew how to benefit from different perspectives. She would probably need to be much better than the men who had previously held the same position to be appreciated. Continue reading