Have you ever tried to implement a business change, whether it’s a system, restructure or change in strategy and it was met with resistance? Tim Reitsma and Richard Hawkes—Founder, CEO, and author—unpack insights from his new book—Navigating The Swirl—around the 7 conversations that are crucial for business transformation.
- Richard is the founder of a company called Growth River, and he’s written a book called Navigate the Swirl: 7 Crucial Conversations for Business Transformation. [2:01]
“To be a leader you actually have to be committed to becoming a better leader.RICHARD HAWKES
- Leadership is a journey. If you’re a leader on a project, that’s really different than being a leader on a team, a business leader, and being an enterprise leader. [3:01]
- In Richard’s book, you’ll learn the stages that any company will go through naturally as they evolve. [9:56]
“Leading transformation—whether it’s transforming a business culture, transforming a business model, digital transformation, transforming your team—all of these things are a lot easier if you have a roadmap.RICHARD HAWKES
- Companies aren’t machines, they’re social systems. Transformation doesn’t happen because somebody who’s an engineer designs something new and then tells everybody to play their new roles or their new positions. It doesn’t unfold that way in the real world. [14:34]
- The challenge with any kind of transformation is called event horizons. [15:17]
- Transformational journeys are made up of event horizons. [16:42]
- Trust is really important in leading change. Trust between leadership and between colleagues. Secrecy can create enormous breaches in trust and the fall out can be phenomenal. [20:48]
- Richard talks about the first three conversations: activating purpose, driving focus, and shifting mindset. Those are the three conversations in leadership and culture. [23:58]
- When we all get frustrated, life gets tough, purpose is what keeps us engaged. Shifting mindsets isn’t easy. People aren’t going to lean into shifting their mindset if there’s no clear value created by doing it, if there isn’t a purpose behind it. They’re also unlikely to do it unless the focus conversation is clear. [24:27]
“To have a purpose that works, you actually have to have a leadership mechanism. You have to have the capacity to uninvite people who aren’t interested in the purpose.RICHARD HAWKES
- People will leave an organization when there’s a breach of trust that isn’t repaired. [27:03]
“The only way you repair trust is by having the ability to give and receive feedback, the intention to give and receive feedback across functional and hierarchical lines.RICHARD HAWKES
- Leadership, at its core, is actually language building. And if you think that this is a one way transmission, then you’re actually missing where all the leverage is. The leverage is not knowing how to move the chess pieces because you’re a master strategist. The leverage is creating the conditions so the chess pieces move themselves with agency and they fly in formation. [33:12]
- The hardest conversation is the system of roles conversation. The hard part about the system of roles conversation, capabilities and roles, is that it’s the place where it gets real for people. [36:54]
- If you don’t have the right purpose, focus, and mindset conversations, if they’re not healthy conversations, the business loses. It all becomes about individuals because the needs of individuals, the desires, the careers, the dreams, they butt up against the needs of the business and the business loses. [38:16]
“A fantastic strategy in a dysfunctional organization is worthless. A mediocre strategy in a highly high performing organization turns into a fantastic strategy.RICHARD HAWKES
Meet Our Guest
At a minimum, a better world of work connects two things. One, it connects to a meaningful purpose, and then it connects all the way through to being able to be effective in what you do.RICHARD HAWKES
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Read The Transcript:
We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.
You need to have leadership. You need to have clarity focus. You need to have an environment of trust and an environment in which trust can be repaired and people are committed. And now I’ve got the conditions in place, so I can actually push into a capabilities and roles conversation. A fantastic strategy dysfunctional organization is worthless. A mediocre strategy in a highly high performing organization turns into a fantastic strategy.
Welcome to The People Managing People Podcast. We’re on a mission to build a better world of work and to help you build happy, healthy, and productive workplaces. I’m your host, Tim Reitsma. I have a quick question for you: have you ever tried to implement a business change, whether it’s a system, restructure, or change in strategy that was met with resistance? I know I have.
And in today’s podcast with Richard Hawkes—CEO, Founder, and author—we unpack insights from his new book that are needed with any business transformation. Here’s one insight. If you try to implement a change and have terrible communication about it, often we, on the receiving end tend to make up our own narrative to fill in the blanks.
And as you can imagine, doesn’t go well. So stay tuned and learn how to drive business transformation the right way.
Welcome Richard to The People Managing People Podcast. I’m really excited for this conversation. We connected just a few minutes ago also, to flush out some ideas for this episode and all throughout our conversation, I just wanted to hit the record button. So I am so excited for the, for this conversation and for the insights.
You know, we aim to drive insights for our listeners and something that’s actionable. So I’m really excited that you’re here. And, but before we get into it, tell us a little bit about yourself. What keeps you busy these days?
So I’m the founder of a company called Growth River, and I’ve written this book, which we’ll talk a little bit about.
What’s kept me busy for about three decades is I’m really fascinated with how companies grow people’s experiences around that. And, you know, how do we bring just a humanity to it that allows us to work together to really grow and scale successful organizations? And I’m very passionate about that and connecting with people around that. Kind of do it all day long.
Oh, I love it. I love that word, humanity. Bringing humanity to it. And that’s something that’s been swirling around in my mind for quite some time is bringing that human element to our workplaces, which unfortunately so often missing. And so, so yeah, I’m really excited about that.
And that’s a, I think a great segue to the next question. For those who know the show who listen all the time I always ask kinda my two standard opening questions. Mainly because I’m, you know, one of my core values is curiosity. So I’m curious, to you what does it mean to be a leader?
So I you sent me this question ahead of time. And I have sort of a meta answer to it, but I’ll then add to it. But to be a leader, you actually have to be committed to becoming a better leader. The problem is leadership is a journey. And so if you’re a leader on a project, that’s really different than being a leader on a team, which is different than being a business leader, which is different than being an enterprise leader. Right?
So there’s these different levels of leadership. But, the way you can know the limits of your leadership is this idea that, you know, you don’t really know a system, or yourself, or a team until you try to change something. And so if you try to make a change to your team or make a significant change to your business or to your organization and you don’t know how, you’ve reached the edge of your leadership.
And leadership is the journey to keep doing that and to keep finding greater ways to lead, collect groups of people through change, in particular, through uncertainty.
Yeah. It’s not just, you know, leadership, isn’t leading self. I mean, that’s an aspect of it. But what I’m hearing is it’s, yeah, leading your team, leading that, that transformation. And it’s a journey. It’s not just, okay, I’m a leader now. Now what?
It’s a journey that might have an end, but it is something that, I think, as you said, like, we need to continue to learn. We need to continue to hone our craft, hone our abilities in that.
And the next question that I always ask, again, our purpose here at People Managing People is to help you, our listeners build a better world of work. And so Richard, I’m gonna ask you that question. When you hear that phrase, build a better world of work, what comes to mind?
So the book goes, provides a lot of tools. So the reason I’m pausing is I’m trying to select exactly where to go with this. At a minimum, a better world of work connects two things. At a minimum. One, it connects to a meaningful purpose. You’re creating value in the world, right? There’s a purpose element. And then it connects all the way through to being able to be effective in what you do.
So if you have an experience of, what I’m doing matters and the way in which I’m doing it doesn’t have me struggling, right? Then you have a better world of work. Now what connects those two pieces is there’s just a bunch of things in between which you need, you know, strategies and focus and structures, and like all that other stuff, all those layers in between.
And the building piece is kind of how do you connect those two end points and fill in those middle pieces? And that’s something that you learn to do depending on the level from which you’re leading different parts of what you’re building come together.
But what I’ll say is that in the end it all comes down to aligning ways of working with other people. So organizations, teams, businesses, they grow, they scale, they evolve at the speed of conversations between people and conversations that result in aligned ways of working.
Like we’ve agreed that when, you know, on Mondays at 8:00 AM I’m gonna call you. And we mostly stick to that, or we’ve agreed, it’s these interdependency, or we’ve agreed that, you know, when we have conflict, we’re gonna talk it through. And so the building piece is, you know, it really comes down to those connections between people that result in aligned agreements and explicit choices.
I like that word-aligned agreement. But it also, what I’m hearing is it starts at that purpose level, you know, we gotta create that purpose and what it’s, what’s coming top of mind for me is I was reading something on LinkedIn recently and somebody’s post was, “I don’t care about the company’s purpose, just pay me.”
And I thought, oh, that’s interesting. And I, whether they posted that just to start a conversation, which it did, or they posted it from an area of meaning. But again, what I’m hearing from you, Richard is like, you know, you’ve got your purpose and then you’ve got that effect of what you’re doing.
And you’re, you know, kind of filling in the gaps in between with your business and how you operate and things, but it’s really that purpose.
I think what’s so interesting about that comment is, yeah, the whole social contract between companies and the workers is, is really being renegotiated. And, you know, there’s an awful lot of, I don’t know, you call it greenwashing, you know, where people, they say they’re sustainable, but they’re not. Well, they’re sort of purpose washing, right?
Like we all need to have this higher purpose. And I think there’s a lot of legitimate skepticism of people. I think, you know, in the book it lays out how you would reconcile that because there are different needs around this. Like I have a need to have my life matter and not have it be too hard.
Right? Like that’s me as a worker, right? But, but the leader of my organization has a need to attract people who are really gonna engage to create something far greater than, you know, collectively than people could individually. And, so there’s this constant negotiation.
What I can say is that, the millennial generation in particular, I have some daughters that age, or even the GenX-ers are the most purpose driven generation probably ever on the planet. And they have very little tolerance for being asked to work within a company that doesn’t have a clearly aligned purpose and isn’t actually enabling them.
And what they all wanna do is make good money and serve a purpose. That’s the, and they haven’t really bought into the well, let, you know, take that job to survive. Belief that previous generations held as being most important. So I think that’s kind of what you’re pointing to.
Absolutely. And I think that’s a good segue even into our conversation about, you know, the seven crucial conversations, your book, for effective business transformation.
And I know you’ve referenced the book a, a couple times and in the pre-show I’ve mentioned that I’m reading through it, haven’t gone through it, but I’ve kind of gone through a number of sections a few times. I think it’s a phenomenal book. I think there’s so much in, in this one journey through your book called Navigate The Swirl.
I’m really curious. I know we, we, even in the pre-call we talked about purpose and we talked about mindset and we talked about kind of the business the, at the functional business transformation. But why now? What got you really interested in putting all these ideas in, and all these models into one resource?
Well, I’ve been doing this for a long time. So, so I’ve been on long, I’m gonna use the word journey. In the book, one of the things that’ll take you through is kind of the stages that any company will go through naturally as they evolve. And I’ve worked with companies that have gone through all of those stages, right?
From, with one company I worked with, there were four scientists in a lab and we grew to be a large global organization in DNA sequencing with labs in China and Europe and all over. Right. And so I’ve been on all the whole journey. And so the first thing is this isn’t theoretical. These are, every single thing in the book is something that I’ve seen and actually experienced.
So it’s much more of, you know, reporting what it’s actually like as the journey unfolds. And so I had a real desire to just, you know, capture that. It was like taking my notes from having done this for all these years. The other thing is that, you know, leading transformation or, whether it’s transforming a business culture, transforming a business model, digital transformation, transforming your team, all of these things is it’s just a lot easier if you have a roadmap.
Because once again, it all happens at the speed of conversation. So if people have the right vocabulary, right, they, they actually have access to the language to start to discuss what’s going on around them. You can really accelerate this. So my need was to accelerate the journey. And the book took three decades to pull together, because there was an awful lot of stuff that, I had to take out anything that wasn’t real, right?
There’s nothing theoretical in it. Every one of the ideas has proven at the place and the journey where it is to actually have been highly relevant. In some cases, to hundreds of leaders and hundreds of teams across multiple organizations in different parts of the world in different cultures.
So it’s everything in it is pretty much, you know, universal and valuable. So that’s a big answer. It’s a life. It was a life journey for me. It’s something I’ve been doing a long time.
I have this vision of, you know, stacks of notebooks lined up for 30 years and there were three decades. And, and just going through and going, okay, we, I’ve seen this in my career or I’ve implemented this.
Or this is what’s worked and what hasn’t, and combining all of that into one resource for people like myself, who’s, you know, leading a company, but also part of an organization that is going through a transformation.
You know, the other thing that’s happened with this is, before the book was even published and I don’t really know what the number is. But it probably would be conservative to say 500 to 700 people had read it and provided feedback as well.
Because the earlier drafts were actually used to have been used to lead these journeys in organizations, you know, with 50,000 people in them where, right. So, so that, so, so it was also not just me with my notes saying this is in or out.
It’s also been, you know, using Agile principles. An awful lot of people say, you know what, if you say it that way, you’re gonna really get a lot of people upset. Maybe if it, you know, lots and lots of feedback, lots of, and I’m sure you know what it feels like to get that kind of feedback. That’s wonderful and it’s painful.
Yeah. It’s like, what do you mean you don’t understand?
No, I hear you. You know, business transformation from a transformation of, Hey, we’re gonna now, instead of producing physical copy of something, or we’re now gonna go digital, I mean, making that decision. And I’ve been part of organizations where, yeah, there’s been a change happen right at the meeting table.
It’s like, oh, by the way, we’re going left. I know everyone was going right, but we’re now going left. There’s gonna be chaos because we don’t really know how we’re gonna do this, but join me along the journey. When you hear that type of transformation, what’s a blocker or what’s the resistance, or, you know, what is the intersect between those two?
Because I can imagine some of our listeners relate to that of, Hey, the world of work has changed from, we need to be in the office to we’re gonna go hybrid. We’re gonna go remote. So even from a, an HR perspective or a leadership perspective, there’s so much transformation that has happened in such a short period of time.
And yet there’s that tension that could be created. So, so walk us through that a little bit.
Yeah. So there’s a lot that comes together in your question. But let me just first say, companies aren’t machines, they’re social systems, right? So you’re not, transformation doesn’t happen because somebody who’s an engineer designs something new and then tells everybody to play their new roles or their new positions or their new. It doesn’t unfold that way in the real world.
The way it unfolds in the real world is more, we have a general idea of what we’re gonna do, and then everybody has to check in and then they have to try things out because you, because the way it turns out to be in reality is rarely what you could envision when you started. So the challenge with any kind of transformation is something called event horizons.
An event horizons with this moment in time where you don’t know what’s gonna happen on the other side. And so, so the leadership challenge is very different on the front end of an event horizon versus on the back end of an event horizon. So what you were describing about sitting around a table and suddenly the world changes.
So on the front end of an event horizon, the challenge is to keep everybody calm and focused so they can create the conditions for the event horizon to happen in the first place. Let’s imagine we’re gonna have a new leader come to our organization. I can’t tell you what the company’s gonna be like after that leader is here.
But what I can tell you is if we all agree we need a new leader, we can all come together and create the conditions for the new leader. And it’s a total waste of our time worrying about what it’s gonna be like afterwards. So the leadership challenge is, everybody needs to focus and we no positioning, no trying to create everything, you know, no trying to game it.
Right? But then the moment an event horizon happens, the challenge is totally different. The challenge is now accepting the new reality and learning how to succeed within it as quickly as possible. So this is true, whether it’s a new product, whether it’s a new technology, whether it’s a new org structure, whether it’s a new. So, transformational journeys are made up of events horizons.
And the whole challenge is leading through those event horizons. Now, you asked two questions, you asked the, you know, resistance and blockers. So it’s easy to get the resistance part if you don’t tell me an event horizon is coming and then you know, or if you tell me it’s coming and you don’t help me understand what I can do. Because every single person, most people I know want they just wanna create value and they wanna be included.
And the leadership challenge is to help them create value and be included. So on the front end of an event horizon, if you announce this change that’s coming and it’s something in the future, you need to really get help people understand. Otherwise they’ll create their own narrative and they’ll step into the void and it’ll go off. And on the back end, it’s a different challenge.
That’s the resistance piece. Feeling disrespected because your agency, to take your own choices has not been respected. That’s where the pitchforks and torches come from. Right? What I think is so funny is, the worst change leader in the world was Dr. Frankenstein, because they could have just accepted his monster. I mean, why did the villagers revolt? He mismanaged change, right?
I love that analogy. Thank you.
But that’s the resistance piece and then the blocker piece is a little bit different. The blocker piece is, I’ll pan back and ask, look at your company.
Well, what are the things that we need to change in my company to unleash potential? In other words, what are the transformations that need to happen? Do I need a new technology? Do I need a new product? What’s the rationale? What’s the cause of logic for why this transformation and this order of event horizons is the right order for us?
And those are sort of the two things going on.
Yeah it’s not resistance or blockers. It’s they’re not the same. It’s what I’m hearing is that resistance is just help me understand, because if I don’t like, like you said it’s in void of understanding or void of knowing we create our own narrative.
If the question, if, if the response from a leader says the business is gonna change likely on Monday, we don’t know what it’s gonna look like. Have a good weekend. I can imagine half your team is now on, on LinkedIn or wherever looking for another job because they’re going, I don’t know what’s gonna happen. And I…
I’m laughing. Do you remember? I’m just laughing. Do you remember that movie? I don’t know if you ever saw at the office where they said, you know, we find that if we fire people on a Friday, it’s much, they’re, you know, before a holiday weekend, they’re less likely to sabotage the company.
Anyway, go ahead.
No, it’s true. It’s like, okay. You know, we’re just gonna create that chaos and everyone’s gonna have a horrible weekend and, and, you know, when we, again, when we were talking in the pre-discussion and I wish I recorded that. But you know, as part of an organization that, that was, that was being sold and part of an acquisition is you can’t share with many people of what’s happening.
That’s just the nature of an acquisition. And some people, some companies that I’ve heard of, handle it in a way of like, Hey, we are going through this acquisition process, but here’s why, and here’s how it’s gonna benefit us. And don’t, you know, and just try to minimize that resistance to change.
But in some cases it, no nothing’s gonna change. And then two days later, all of a sudden, guess what? We were sold. And if that conversation stops there thinking about the crucial conversations for effective business transformation, right back to your book, if that conversation stops there, what happens?
Like we create that narrative. We fill in the blanks. We start, you know, productivity goes almost to zero. And have you seen that? Like, have you seen that throughout your career through the work that you’ve done?
Yeah, I, so trust is really important in leading change, right? Trust between leadership and between colleagues.
And so the first thing you’re describing is secrecy can create enormous breaches in trust and the fall out can be phenomenal. And, so, you know, we talked about what you just shared earlier, and you were saying, you know, that the fallout for the company continued for years. I went into to one company, a large diagnostics company and I interviewed all the senior leaders and it was really wild.
I mapped it all out on a whiteboard because, you know, let’s just say we had leader A, B, C, and D. A was blaming B, B was blaming C was blaming D, and D was blaming A. It was the complete, it was just a complete circle of everybody being, you know, angry at each other and not trusting each other.
But what was really interesting is that it was like the impact crater of a mismanaged change effort that had happened 15 years before when none of them were there. These were all learned behaviors from their bosses. Right? And, and they just didn’t understand why marketing, you know, that they just had been brought up that marketing shouldn’t trust sales. And, you know, that sales should never trust, you know, the manufacturing operations and so on around the entire circle.
And it was all learned behavior because of this thing that happened. So there are these memories that get embedded in organizations. The question is, you know, how do you heal all that? Because it’s gonna happen, right? Change and transformation is a full context sport. And sometimes there’s situations where, you know, investors will throw a curve ball at an organization like yours, where they’ll say, sign an NDA.
You can’t say anything. Now, I think there are better ways of doing things, but these choices get taken because they’re, lots of different stakeholders with different needs and there’s power and hierarchy and all these things that get played out. So what’s really important is to be able to recover from these things, right?
Because, because human beings, we’ve got a lot of stuff to clean up pretty much for ourselves and between with each other and in business, when you play for real it, you know, you’ve gotta clean this stuff up. And that’s really the key. And that’s one of the critic, one of the crucial conversations, in fact, all seven of them are kind of a recipe for cleaning all of that up.
So that you can actually live in this better place to work this aligned place to work.
Yeah. I’m glad you, you led into the seven conversations. And as I was reading the book and I’m reading through the book, I was on the conversation about mindset and if, if you read mindset just on its own, as in your example but even in your example, if we try to switch mindset, but don’t understand the purpose, which is the first conversation.
We don’t necessarily know how to change our mindset or what to change our mindset to, unless we have that aligned purpose within our team, within our organizations, within the broader context. Am I getting that right?
Yeah, no, you’re absolutely getting, okay, so, so the, you know, the first, what we’re really talking about is the first three conversations, which is activating purpose, driving focus, and shifting mindset, right? So these are the first three conversations. And by the way, those three conversations constitute the whole conversation. You know, they, that’s what leadership and culture is about. Those three conversations are the three conversations in leadership and culture, right?
And they set the context for so many other things. But the point is that purpose, when we all get frustrated, life gets tough, purpose is which keeps us engaged. Right? Shifting mindset isn’t easy. People aren’t gonna, aren’t gonna lean into shifting their mindset if there’s no clear value created by doing it, if there isn’t a purpose behind it. And they’re also unlikely to do it unless the focus conversation is clear. They wanted, they need to know we’re on a journey to this place.
They need to know we’re gonna be in the car together for a long trip so we might as well learn to get along, right? This prisoner’s dilemma thing. If it’s over tomorrow, why bother? Right? We need to know that we’re on a journey. We need to know that we’re gonna create clear priorities, that we’re committed to that.
And if those two things are true, a clear, you know, an engaging, inspiring purpose and, you know, clear, a clear focus. I’m actually leaving one other thing out, but let me just jump, then you’re able to engage in the mindset conversation. There’s one other thing. And the reason that purpose, the first conversation is activating purpose.
You could say, you know, some people will say articulating purpose. Well, you write a purpose down and it has no, like who cares? There’s a leadership component. So to have a purpose that works, you actually have to have a leadership mechanism. You have to have the capacity to uninvite people who aren’t interested in the purpose.
You have to give them the chance to choose out, right? So now, so imagine now we’ve got a leader who’s empowered to enable people to choose out to, you know, with, within the context of a clear purpose. So that’s an activated purpose. We know kind of what our focus is, even if so, now we sit down to talk about shifting mindset and we can do it cause the stakes are clear.
The mindset conversation, it’s shifting mindset. And it’s not, you know, pouring concrete over your existing months. It’s about, you know, how do we create the capacity to move and change together, to make commitments to each other that we actually keep, to show up and be accountable at all different levels of
accountability for ourselves and our roles, accountability for our peers being successful, accountability for our team, for our organization, for our company, for like higher levels than a ladder of accountability. And then within that, how do we repair trust? So the example you were talking about where we’re around the table and major breach of trust, right?
How do you recover from that? You’re gonna, people are, people will leave an organization when there’s a breach of trust like that isn’t repaired. The only way you repair it. This is gonna sound this may sound a little counterintuitive, but the only way you repair trust is by having the ability to give and receive feedback, the intention to give and receive feedback across functional and hierarchical lines.
You have to show up and listen and respond thoughtfully. And what’s amazing is when leaders do that and when teams do that, they can repair even egregious breaches of trust. Because they’re on a journey and, you know, they just need to know, well, anyway, we’ve all had that experience, you know, with each other, but that’s the shifting mindset conversation. Yeah.
Yeah. I love that you brought in, well, purpose and activating that purpose, but also trust. I mean, I’ve been podcasting now. I think this is probably episode 55 to 60 account. I’ve lost count. And there’s like a common theme throughout years of releasing episodes and that is trust. And yet, you know, we could do a whole conversation on that and maybe we’ll do that in the future because I’ve started to dive into some research around.
Why is this still an issue in our work environment? Maybe it’s just human nature. Maybe it’s the organizations we’re part of, maybe it’s like you, your example of, you know, the, I wrote down the circle of blame. I don’t know if that’s a concept or not, but maybe you should be now. And it’s like, you know, we just keep blaming each other without taking you know, that left turn to, to pull us out.
And that’s what’s preventing us from having effective business transformation. And yes, of course, there’s the mechanics of the business, the legalities of the business, and all of those things need to be taken into consideration when your organization is transforming. But like you said right from the beginning, it’s not a machine, there’s the human element to it.
And I’ve said this so many times is, us humans we’re so uniquely different. And that’s what makes leadership sometimes such a challenge because not everyone is the same. Like I’m a father of two kids. One is five, one is eight. They’re so different, like so different, but yet we’re not raising them any different.
They’re just different. And think of that from, when you’re leading a team of five or 10 or 50. You’ve got 50 unique individuals you need to now change the organization or the organization’s gonna evolve. Where do you start? Like, maybe we’ve already hit on this, but you know, I think like as a leader who’s now leading this change or this transformation, knowing that there’s, you know, X amount of unique individuals, where do we start? How do we do this?
So this may sound self-serving, but I would start by reading the book and just, and here’s why I’m saying that. Like, like it’s just that it really does lay out how to answer that question. It gives you contextually what you’re trying to do. And it helps, it gives you the basic information and ideas you would need to begin a conversation around how to start. But the answer is once, you know, it comes back to it’s all about a conversation. The first thing is recognize you can’t start alone. You can plan and read and do stuff and sit in the corner and create everything you want.
But these are social systems and it’s not about you, even if you’re the leader and even if you’re the founder. This is a, an unruly beast that exists separately from you. You know, there’s this, yeah, this may sound esoteric, but I think it’s a cool idea. That so, so back when a meme, now we talk about memes being pictures on the internet, or, you know, thinks it, but the original idea of meme was a, it was a thought or an idea.
And the idea was how quickly that spreads from person to person. Right? So, you know, so, so, and some thoughts are stickier than others. They outcompete some replicate faster. Right? And so on these, you know, the speed of these things. And we’re just hosts. These things are like viruses.
They live in your mind and they spread to someone else’s mind and we’re collectively just kinda hosting these things. And it doesn’t have anything to do with anyone that’s individually. This is, they run on us. We’re the computers, they’re the operating system. They’re running on our brands. When you just think about your organization, if you’re a leader and you’re, you can’t imagine, even if you have a small team, you have four people.
Try to imagine what they’re all doing right now. It’s right now do 10 or 50,000. The complexity is beyond that and it’s independent of you. So the question is, how do you engage with this thing? You gotta understand what it is. You gotta understand how to talk to it and you’ve gotta understand how do I put together my thoughts, my ideas, so that they’ll spread through the system so that people will care enough to listen.
Once again, if you wanna understand something, try to change it. And if you try to change it and your ideas just bounce right off of it, you’ve gotta figure out how to talk the right language and introduce the right ideas in the right order. That begins with conversation and that begins with dialogue. I’ll say one other thing. I was listening to, just a, some really interesting kind of Eastern or Eastern thinker.
And he was talking about conversation. And he’s saying, you know, the challenge with words is you have your words and I have my words and they don’t mean the same thing. So we have to slow down and you need to be able to say, you know, I’m really talking about, I’m holding up a pen, I’m really talking about this pen and you need to be able to say, you mean that pen?
And then we need to decide, well, what do we wanna call this thing? So we’re constantly building language with each other. And leadership, at its really core is actually language building. And if you think that this is a one way transmission, then you’re actually missing where all the leverage is.
The leverage is not knowing how to move the chess pieces because you’re a master strategist. The leverage is creating the conditions so the chest pieces move themselves with agency and, and they fly in formation. And that’s the challenge. So I’ve said a lot of sort of stuff there, but is that resonating with you?
Oh, absolutely. I’m listening intently and I realize I should be scribbling down notes. So I’m gonna have to go back and listen myself, but you know, some big takeaways for me is, even that last piece, Richard is, leadership is language building. I love that. I haven’t heard that before and now I’m super intrigued by that.
And I, because it’s not a one way transmission. If it is, maybe you’ve got a turnover problem. Maybe you have a productivity problem. Maybe you have, just to my comment from the beginning was I don’t care about purpose, just give me a paycheck. Maybe that’s the problem. Now imagine we’ve opened that up into a two way conversation.
Read this book, read the 7 crucial conversations and understand how that can transform your business. Then, yeah it, I mean, the next conversation is, okay, we need to provide that clarity. I know that specifying capabilities and roles, and I’ve written a bit on this about, I call it The CRA of Leadership: clarity, responsibility, accountability.
Cuz once we have that nailed down, now we know who’s in and who’s out. But if that’s where we start, if we skip that clarity piece as I call it, but in your, in, in, in the book, it’s the purpose to focus the mindset. We miss the mark and I think we do ourselves and our business as a disservice.
Cuz, yeah, I, it just brings up another story of a leader that I’ve heard of personally who, you know, the business is going through a tough time. And, I suggested, you know, not, you know, I read it somewhere. So I was like, Hey, well, what if we ask our people where we could potentially save some money?
And the leader said, no, it’s my responsibility. I’m gonna tell you what to do. And I just that’s a one way transmission. That’s not inviting in that narrative and, yeah, what’s your take on that?
Yeah, no, I think you’re right, but I think we have to be careful a little bit. And it’s just that there are places where directive top down decisions are necessary.
And there are places where they’re destructive. And the question is, how do you sort out one from the other?
The most senior leader in an organization and I’ll say an enterprise, cuz it could be, you know, from a few people to a large company, right? But, there’s a few decisions and choices that they would own that no one else can own. And they can’t give them to anyone else and they need to be fully accountable for them because it creates a context for all the rest.
And, and those are, you know, final call decision rights on the purpose of the overall enterprise, on the ways of thinking and acting that the culture that, that are taught and reinforced in the organization, right? That, that, like you could call that the intentional culture, right? They have to have final call on that.
They have to be thoughtful about that. They also need to be thoughtful, and this is the hardest conversation is the system of roles conversation. So, so the hard part about the system of roles conversation, capabilities and roles, which is what you pointed to, is that it’s the place where it gets real for people.
Like we’re really all happy to talk about purpose and we’ll talk about focus and mindset’s great and we’re feeling great. And now it comes down to dividing up power. Who’s gonna be the boss? Who’s gonna play which role? How’s the org structure gonna look? That’s the fourth conversation. And that’s the conversation where almost all transformational initiatives were the ones that fail.
That’s the place where they hit a wall and splat. And it’s what you were talking about with, you know, clarity roles. So you’ve gotta get maturity level around purpose and focus and mindset so that you have a leadership team or a leadership group that has the capacity to actually engage in a capabilities and roles conversation.
Because the capabilities part is, well, what does the business need? What are the factors or variables that a business needs to be successful to win? And the roles piece is how do you divide those ownership up for those between individuals, including decision rights and other things, but for players in the organization?
And if you don’t have the right purpose and focus and mindset conversations, if they’re not healthy conversations, the business loses. It all becomes about individuals because the needs of individuals, the desires, the careers, the dreams, they butt up against the needs of the business and the business loses.
And what’s even worse is it gets polarized and it becomes something no one can talk about. Right? So we make these decisions have been made. And then the thing is it can spread like a contagion too, because if you don’t set it up right and then these choices are taken to allow, you know, one person who’s toxic to play a role that serves them, even though it doesn’t really work for the organization, that opens the floodgates for lots of other people to play that way. And you can just watch these things just collapse. The business logic just gets thrown out the window. So yeah, there, there is a, right, you You need to have leadership.
You need to have clarity, focus. You need to have an environment of trust and an environment in which trust can be repaired and people are committed, right? And now I’ve got the conditions in place, so I can actually push into a capabilities and roles conversation. A fantastic strategy in a dysfunctional organization is worthless. A mediocre strategy in a highly high performing organization, turns into a fantastic strategy. Yeah, right? Culture it’s strategy for breakfast.
Yeah, no I agree. And I just, I keep, I go back to that circle of blame. You know, if you could have a great strategy, but if there’s that culture in your organization, it’s like you said, it’s gonna fall flat.
And there’s, there’s so much packed in into the last 40 minutes. And I know for myself, I’m thoroughly enjoying the book and I hope those who are listening will be able to go pick up the book. Will have it up on our website on our best leadership books article as well. We’ll make sure that’s in the show notes and.
But if you are listening, please let us know what you think about this conversation. You know, as Richard kinda summed up at the end there is that culture of trust, that aligning purpose, you have to have that in order to go into that capabilities that that roles that defining who’s accountable for what?
And so, Richard, thank you so much for coming on. I say this often on a lot of podcasts, but I know we could go on for hours in this conversation. And why don’t you tell our listeners how they can get ahold of you?
So you can go to my website as easy. It’s growthriver.com. Growth River is where my colleagues and I like our company. You can find me in LinkedIn, send me an invitation and, you know, connect that way.
And my book, you know, it’s easy to get. It’s on Amazon, but it’s in various bookstores. And I would really, you know, anybody who has questions or feedback, once again, it’s a conversation and what I want is to create the most powerful kind of mind tools around this or ways that can really contribute all of us, because we’re, I believe that companies, I don’t think they’re going away.
And I think that it’s gonna be through businesses and through teams that we’re gonna have to solve some of the toughest stuff that we’re facing. And we’ve got some pretty big things happening to us that all of us on this planet. So I have a real burning desire to get a highly effective toolkit together.
And so any feedback from anyone, welcome. Bring it on.
I love that.
Yeah. Well, thanks again, Richard, for coming on and for those who are listening, please, yeah, reach out to Richard, reach out to myself. Always open to hear your feedback on this episode or our previous episodes, or if you have an idea for a future one, let us know. You know, we aim to provide actionable insights and this 45 minutes is, I believe jam packed with insights and and so is Richard’s book.
So with that, thanks for tuning in. Thanks for listening. And thanks again, Richard, for coming on.