Do you thrive on uncertainty or does it make you clam up and jump into survival mode? In this episode, Tim Reitsma and Vanessa Akhtar—Change Expert, Author, and Director at Kotter Inc.—talk about how to lead through uncertainty.
- Vanessa’s background is in counseling and performance psychology. Her whole career has been about how to optimize human potential and human performance. At Kotter, they live and breathe change and transformation every day. And they work with clients to help guide them through the various types of transformation that they’re experiencing. [2:14]
For me, the most critical thing is that being a leader is not positional.Vanessa Akhtar
- There are positional leadership roles, but really anybody has the opportunity to be a leader. And that means finding opportunities that we can seize to do things differently, to do things better, really helping other people understand what that future could look like and inspiring them to come along with you to take action towards achieving that. [3:51]
- Finding opportunity, as a leader, is what drives fulfillment in our teams. [6:49]
- Think about what are the skill sets that your organization and your employees need to be able to navigate through uncertainty. And also invest in building skills around adaptability and agility. [10:31]
- Vanessa also talks about transparency. Transparency helps people see you as a little bit more human and builds trust with folks as you navigate through uncertainty. [11:03]
- Building the skill set of adaptability and agility takes time. [15:56]
- Give opportunities for people to experiment. Find small ways to test things out and then scale it, and celebrate when people bring new ideas. [17:17]
You have to be willing to take the first step to try something new to really build that skill set around adaptability and agility.Vanessa Akhtar
- To mitigate that fear of change, first you have to acknowledge that the fear is there. There’s a lot of research that says, the power in naming it takes some of the edge away. [21:24]
- For somebody, uncertainty might actually be really exciting. And for other people, it might be paralyzing, or kind of anywhere in between. So understanding your own triggers and then understanding what are the common triggers across the organization is important. [21:44]
- Communicate more about what’s possible. Any challenge presents new opportunities, because it means that there’s something in the market or there’s something in the way that you’re working that hasn’t been addressed yet. [22:46]
- When we experience change, we’ll have one of two reaction: the survive response and the freeze response. [25:14]
- Survive response: seeing something as a threat or a crisis. It allows us to problem solve very quickly, but if it persists for too long, it pushes us into a freeze response. [25:29]
- Thrive response: seeing opportunity in our environment. Seeing what’s possible and getting excited about that. It allows us to see the big picture, which allows us to be more creative. [26:00]
Nobody is going to choose to stay in the state of survive. It serves a purpose, but doesn’t feel great. So that notion of a thriving mindset is a lot more energizing.Vanessa Akhtar
- You have to acknowledge that there’s a real challenge. We have to do things differently to overcome this challenge by acknowledging the threat, acknowledging the challenge in front of you, and to quickly pivot. [27:45]
- Sometimes we have to pause and think of how do we reduce some of the noise. [31:04]
- We have to be extra diligent in how we communicate. [31:35]
- Create shared goals and shared objectives across teams so that people aren’t only working in their little bubble. [32:01]
- It’s really about more leadership for more people. That’s what’s going to get organizations to the next level. That’s what’s going to keep people engaged and excited. [34:43]
Meet Our Guest
With a doctorate in Sport & Performance Psychology and over a decade of consulting experience, Vanessa Akhtar has built her career on optimizing human performance. She has worked with organizations around the globe, spanning a variety of industries—including oil & energy, healthcare, education, pharmaceuticals, non-profits, consumer products, advertising, and philanthropic foundations. Previously, she taught at Boston University and worked with teams, coaches, and athletes—ranging from youth through to professional and Olympic-level—to help individuals reach the top of their game.
As a Director at Kotter, Vanessa has two main areas of focus. She works on their most complex engagements, walking alongside clients in their transformation efforts. Additionally, she collaborates with Dr. John Kotter and a core team to drive Kotter’s Research + Development efforts. She is passionate about helping individuals, teams and organizations thrive—through the use of research-backed, human-centric approaches.
Building a better world of work is about people feeling fulfilled at work and having an opportunity to contribute.Vanessa Akhtar
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Vanessa Akhtar: For me, the most critical thing is that being a leader is not positional. Yes, there are positional leadership roles, but really anybody, no matter where you sit, this could be your first day of your first job out of college, or you could be the CEO. You have the opportunity to be a leader. And that really means thinking about what the future can look like, finding opportunities that we can seize to do things differently, to do things better, really helping other people understand what that future could look like and inspiring them to come along with you to take action towards achieving that.
Tim Reitsma: 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.
Now as our workplaces evolve, economic changes happen, market conditions change. There is so much uncertainty all around us. And how we lead to this uncertainty is a core skillset for any manager, whether you're new or you're a veteran leader.
Leading through uncertainty and change is often hard and, well, maybe even a bit scary. But in today's episode, change expert Vanessa Akhtar, director and author at Kotter Inc with a focus on optimizing human potential, talks about how to lead through uncertainty. We talk about the skills needed, how to communicate through this time and how to use this as a time for moving from a scared mindset to a thriving mindset. Including your team is a key factor in leading through a time of uncertainty.
Vanessa, welcome to the People Managing People podcast. I'm really excited for this conversation. We're gonna be talking about, you know, leading through uncertainty and it's such a relevant topic today, tomorrow, six years from now. And so, welcome and I'm really excited for this conversation.
Vanessa Akhtar: Thank you. Thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here.
Tim Reitsma: Now I've been following the work of Kotter, the organization that you work at and, and congrats on your new book. And before we get into that, why don't you just tell us a little bit about yourself, about what you're up to?
Vanessa Akhtar: Yeah. So my background is in counseling and performance psychology. So my whole career has really been about how do you optimize human potential and human performance. And at Kotter, the work that we do is really, you know, we live and breathe change and transformation every day. And we work with our clients to really think about and help guide them through the various types of transformation that they're experiencing.
And in today's uncertain, volatile world, pretty much every organization, every industry is going through some sort of change. And so we're really helping guide them through that. And then I also improve our research and development team. So as you mentioned, new book, you know, consistently thinking about how do we evolve our understanding of leadership and change and how to do that effectively in today's world.
Tim Reitsma: Yeah. It's, if we stand still as leaders in our organizations, the world keeps moving. The world of business changes and if we don't adapt our styles, our ability to lead, we're gonna be left behind, or we're gonna really struggle. I mean, I think we've seen that even through, through the pandemic. We're still living through this, through the pandemic, through COVID.
And we've seen organizations go full remote then hybrid and then back to the office. And I mean, we've seen so much change in the last couple years. And, so it's, it's a, I think a relevant topic. I'm looking forward to reading your book.
So again, for those who know the show, know the podcast, I always ask two questions right off the bat. Mainly because, some may say I'm selfish and I've just, but I say, I'm curious. I just wanna know the, the answers to these two questions.
One is, what does it mean to be a leader?
Vanessa Akhtar: Yeah, I mean, for me, the most critical thing is that being a leader is not positional.
Yes, there are positional leadership roles, but really anybody, no matter where you sit, this could be your first day of your first job out of college, or you could be the CEO. You have the opportunity to be a leader. And that really means thinking about what the future can look like, finding opportunities that we can seize to do things differently, to do things better, really helping other people understand what that future could look like and inspiring them to come along with you to take action towards achieving that.
Tim Reitsma: I love that. It's not just the position, the title. I, I remember, it's a long time ago graduating from, from school thinking, oh, I gotta get that leader title. But I, I realized through mentorship and, and through my journey that it's not just a title. You know, maybe your ability to lead without that direct report will help you get that direct report or that, that leading that team. Which you may realize, Hey, I actually didn't wanna lead a team. I don't like this.
Vanessa Akhtar: Yeah. It's not for everybody, right? And there are plenty of people that have the title that we know probably aren't really effective leaders. So the title alone doesn't automatically kind of bestow upon you, the skills of leadership.
Tim Reitsma: Yeah. I was talking with a great friend recently, who, you know, was always aspiring for that C-suite title. Now has that title.
And recently said to me, I don't want this title anymore. I've, I've been at this for a few months and I like to be behind the scenes. I don't wanna be at the forefront. So, you know, if you are chasing that title, you, you know, it's, it's more than that.
Vanessa Akhtar: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.
Tim Reitsma: And the next question I ask and it's, it's really the purpose of People Managing People. It's what drives us, what gets us up every day is, is we are here to help people build a better world of work. And so when you hear that phrase, what comes to mind?
Vanessa Akhtar: Yeah, I mean, I think about people feeling fulfilled at work, having an opportunity to contribute. We all have our own superpowers and so finding opportunities for people to bring that to bear at work, we spend so much of our lives at work.
We shouldn't have to compartmentalize so much and, you know, we shouldn't save joy for our personal lives, but really how do we infuse more joy into the workplace and help people feel valued and empowered, and like they have a voice in the workplace.
Tim Reitsma: That's so, so critical. You know, it's that element of feeling that you're contributing to the vision of the organization.
I mean, we can unpack that for an hour and how to actually do that. But, but I'm curious, I, I'm gonna throw a question just off script at you. But, you know, maybe there's not just one thing where we can do, but how do we start to drive that fulfillment? You know, we talk about leaders, we talk about organizations, but to build better world of work is having our teams feeling fulfilled. How do we do that?
Vanessa Akhtar: I think the first piece that, so where I went a little bit with the leadership question is finding opportunity. We are living in a very challenging time. There's no doubt about that, but how do you find opportunity in that?
How do you start to think about what's possible? How do you tap into the passion that you have for achieving something that's new or, or different, whether that's meeting a new market need or thinking differently about how your team is working together? It can be small scale or large scale, but I think it starts there.
So often we get caught either in the day to day grind or sort of that notion of solving the burning platform challenge. And really, I think fulfillment starts with 'let's chase an opportunity'. And then making sure that everybody has a role to help get the team or the organization to achieving that.
Tim Reitsma: Yeah, it's so critical to, to bring the team along when there's change or, I mean, we're talking about uncertainty.
A big piece of uncertainty is, is change. And I often say that, you know, if, as organizations, as leaders, as team leads, if we're not communicating clearly about this change, as humans, we have just this wild, amazing ability to fill in the narrative. And often it's, you know, there's some people that fill in the narrative with, you know, glass half full. But I know a lot of people who fill in that narrative with a glass half empty of, 'this is scary, what's happening?'
And so being able to, to take the team along is so, so important.
Vanessa Akhtar: Yeah. It's human nature for us to be prepared for the worst, right? It's sort of, even from kind of a biological evolutionary standpoint, which is some of the content that's in our book, it isn't our nature to figure out how do we survive, right? And so we do look for those threats and if things are uncertain, if there is that lack of transparency, we're gonna prepare ourselves for the scariest situation.
And while sometimes that's true, most of the time it's really us kind of making things worse than they are in our heads, um.
Tim Reitsma: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. It's, if you're a leader and you walk into your, your management meeting or your, your team meeting and say, the organization's gonna change, don't know what that's gonna look like, but big change is coming in the next couple weeks.
And then they leave. Guess what? Maybe half your team is going to LinkedIn to look for another job because it's, it's like, oh, I might, maybe I'm underperforming. Am I gonna get laid off? And I mean, layoffs are, we went from great resignation to the great layoff right now. And so, yeah, that's leading through uncertainty is, well, it's the, it's the theme for our podcast, the topic for our podcast.
So, you know, as we've been alluding to there's no shortage of, of uncertainty, whether everything is, you know, a hundred percent calm or whatever that looks like in our workplaces, in our world, but there's, there's uncertainty all around us. And so, how is leaders and HR folks, how do we, you know, practically lead through that?
Vanessa Akhtar: Yeah, it's challenging, you know, and I think there's a spotlight on this notion of uncertainty right now. But we also know from our research that uncertainty has been going up for decades. Right? I think we're just all feeling it very acutely in the midst of the pandemic and all feeling it in a similar way in the midst of the pandemic, probably for the first time in many of our lifetimes.
But the trend is clear that it's been going up for a long time, so we can assume it's going to continue to go up. And so I think there are a few things that, that leaders and HR leaders in particular can do. The first is really start to think about what are the skill sets that your organization and your employees need to be able to navigate through that.
And that looked very different than the skills that people needed 50 years ago, a hundred years ago, when we were really thinking about how do we prepare people to work in large factories, right? That's not what the workforce or the majority of the workforce looks like today. And so how do you start to invest in building skills around adaptability and agility? I think that's a, a key one.
The other piece, you mentioned this, this notion of transparency. There is a tendency, I think for leaders to feel like I have to have all the answers or I shouldn't give any of the story, right? It has to be fully written or I should hold it back, and that's really dangerous. And it's actually a lot more effective to say, here's what we know and here's what we don't know. And here are the questions we know we're gonna need to answer.
And when there is space to say, we want you to help us answer them, actually give people the opportunity to, to get involved in helping figure it out. But if you just ignore the things that are unknown, people assume that you do have the answer and you just don't wanna share it. Right?
What we were talking about before. So I think it's actually much better to be transparent up front and say, we haven't figured this out yet. There isn't some big, scary monster in the closet that we're hiding from you. We just haven't figured it out yet. And I think that also kind of helps people see you as a little bit more human and build some trust with folks as you navigate through that uncertainty.
Tim Reitsma: I'm a believer in, in a way to build trust is transparency. Now, when, when you're leading organizations, there's certain levels of transparency. You know, whether you're a public company or private company, there's things you can share and can't share. But I love what you said, just to creating that space to allow others in the organization, to potentially to get depending on the situation to, to help and fill in those gaps that you may not know the answers to.
I think that's, there's, there's more opportunity in our workplaces for that to happen.
Vanessa Akhtar: There's more than people think, right? To your point, there are certain things you can't share, but one of our former clients, well, after we worked with them actually, realized that they had to shut down a number of sites globally. And typically the way that would happen is a small group of leaders would go in a room and they would hash out exactly what that looked like.
What's the timeline, who stops working when, and instead they put it in the hands of their employees. They said, we know this is not great. Not something any of you want, it's not something we want it to happen, but we wanna make sure we leave you all in as best of a place as possible. And so they got a group of volunteers to help identify who the kind of HR consultant was that was gonna help with career placement.
They worked together to decide what does success look like on the day that this site closes and how are we collectively gonna work to get there? What does it look like to phase out different teams and what are the criteria that we're gonna use to do that?
And they ended up after that year long process, you know, they asked everybody two questions at the end. They said, given the situation that, you know, none of us would want, do you feel like we took care of you? And the second question was, you know, we helped you set personal goals at the beginning of this process, do you feel on track to achieve them?
And 96% of people said 'yes' to both questions, which is pretty mind-boggling, right? And you would think, you know, and they're a skeptic going into this of, will people are just gonna quit? Why would they stay for the full year if we're gonna lose all our best talent? You know, there are a lot of people questioning that process.
But because they gave folks a voice in really shaping what it looked like to close down that site, they ended in a place where their reputation was still completely intact. They had a, you know, former employees who really valued the experience in a way that you wouldn't really expect them to.
Tim Reitsma: The word that comes to mind is, is in that example, that organization humanized the process. It took it from a transactional approach, which is very typical. We gotta shut down the site. Here's the plan, go in there, do some, you know, risk mitigation. Make sure there's some communication plan and make sure there's no blow back.
And, but I loved what they did was, at the beginning of the process, hey everyone, this is not what we want, but we wanna help you succeed. So let's set personal goals so we can help you along in your career journey. Now, I, I can imagine being part of that process and saying, well, yeah, I wanted extra education or I need a mentor, or I need this.
And the organization said, okay, yeah, you, you, you wanna pursue an MBA or you wanna pursue a career direction change? We're gonna support you in that. Like, wow, that is how you can lead through uncertainty is, is really taking it, that level from out of transaction to human.
Vanessa Akhtar: Yeah, absolutely.
Tim Reitsma: A few minutes ago, you said that skill sets, right? The skill sets leaders need, and there's two words that you pulled out, which was adaptability and agility. And I'm curious, how do we teach that to leaders? How do we teach it to ourselves? When we think about, okay, we need to adapt, we need agility and, and therefore be able to lead through that in our organizations.
Vanessa Akhtar: Yeah. I mean, I think it takes time to build that muscle. And I will say it is also, it can be hard to do in a vacuum, which I, is why I think it's so important that organizations invest in this because when there is an environment that is creating the expectation and permission for it, it's easier to build that skillset over time.
But I think there are a few things. So first is really helping people understand how do we spot opportunity, even if it's outside of what is sort of our predetermined five year strategic plan. Right? I think we've probably both seen plenty of organizations say, well, this is our strategic plan. We're sticking to it, even when the external environment is telling you that's not the right direction anymore.
So how do you help people understand the market? How do you help people get really close to multiple types of stakeholders, right? We're not living in a world anymore where you can purely serve shareholders. You have to understand your customers. You have to get close to your employees, to your communities, to your vendors.
So I think really starting there with how do we build that kind of multi-stakeholder view. And then help people say, in this context, how do I start to challenge or raise questions or bring a new idea to say, what if we did something this way? Might it meet this need in a new way?
And then giving opportunities for people to experiment with that. I mean, you're not gonna kind of blow up your entire product line because somebody has a new idea and say, okay, whole, whole company is completely shifting. But you can find small ways to test these things out and then scale it. And really celebrating when people bring those new ideas to bare.
Because so often I think people get nervous to bring those new ideas or to test it because organizations will say we value innovation and adaptability. And then somebody tries something new and it doesn't work and they get their hand slapped. But you have to be willing to, I think, take, take the first step to try something new, to really build that skill set around adaptability and agility.
And then I think it's also revisiting your path at regular junctures, right? So again, that idea of a five year strategic plan. We should be revisiting things, you know, on a quarterly basis and saying, has our environment shifted? The answer might be no, but we should be asking the question, so that we can really make sure that the work that we're doing and where we're driving still makes sense for the, the world that we're living in.
Tim Reitsma: Yeah. There's a, a big theme that I'm pulling out here and it's, it's the culture of the organization. And so. Somebody who's listening to this wherever you are at whatever level in an organization. And if you're thinking, Nope, my, my organization is rigid. It's not gonna handle this. It's not gonna adapt to this.
Well, you'd be surprised. I think, bring bringing this idea to your team, starting it within your team. I, I know an HR leader at a company. About 6,000 employees globally. And she's been at it for a couple years, just these small changes, slow changes and, and pushing even the H her HR team, which then is now pushing into the management team.
And, and it takes time, but you have to be willing to, to, to test it and experiment. And if, and if that's one of your own personal values and you're, you know, you're trying and you're, you keep hitting a wall. Well, then that's a whole other conversation, but, uh, but it is gotta start somewhere.
I love that example, right?
I think about I'm from Boston. So I bear with me through this metaphor, but it's like, you need a snowball before you can build a snowman, right? You don't just automatically have a giant pile that makes a snowman. You have to start with that small snowball and we roll it over time and it accumulates and it grows.
And so I love that example of your friend who say, I'm gonna start with my team. Other people will start to notice and say, things feel different over there. They seem to be. Able to pivot more quickly. They're probably having more fun. People on the team are probably feeling more energized about what they're able to do and people are gonna wanna feed off of that.
Yeah. And, and, and people will have people gravitate to that. People will go, okay, what are they doing over there? That's so different. And they still have goals. They still have objectives. They they're, they're still, you know, pushing the organization forward, but it doesn't have to be so rigid. And I think, I think that's where.
Even through different podcast guests through my experience as well is you've got those. It seems to be so rigid. Well, we know we need to change, but here's our plan. Well, you know, there's a hundred ways to get that plan completed. It's just the choice of the path that you, you choose to take to get there.
And. And so thanks for that. I know we kind of took a left turn there because I was really curious about, you know, it's easy to say, Hey, we need to build an adaptable culture. And I think you gave some real practical ways, which is, you know, we starts at that leadership level and creating that opportunity and spotting the opportunities, but also inviting people into that narrative, into that story and experiment and celebrate if it fails, if it's terrible.
It's okay. At least somebody's throwing ideas out at you. And so I love that. And so as leaders, we're often, you know, we're, we're put front and center and we're inundated with people, uh, quite often, especially when there is uncertainty, economic, uncertainty, or change in the market. How do we mitigate that fear of change?
Yeah. The first is to acknowledge that it's there, right? There's a lot of positive psychology research. I could spend a whole hour or a longer talking to you about that. I won't go down that rapid hole, but there's a lot of research that just says the power in naming. It takes some of the edge away. So really understanding that that fear is there.
I think also understanding for yourself and for the organization, what are the common things that might trigger that fear response or that survive response as we call. So for somebody, uncertainty might actually be really exciting, right? If you think about people who start their own businesses, there's something that they really gravitate towards in terms of building something new, solving a challenge, stepping into the unknown and for other people, it might be paralyzing, um, or kind of anywhere in between.
So I think the first is understanding your own triggers and then understanding what are the common triggers across the organization. That's all influenced by past experience too. So if you are an organization that has a history of layoffs, for example, or has gone through a similar type of transformation and it didn't go well, right.
Understanding that that baggage is gonna gonna come with you. It's gonna come to bear. So thinking about that, preparing for that and the way that you communicate. Um, and then I think the other piece is really communicating more about what's. It's not about being Pollyanna or naive in the way that you do that, but any challenge presents new opportunities because it means that there's something in the market where there's something in the way that you're working, that hasn't been addressed yet.
So if you change, what does that allow you to do for your customers? What does that allow you to accomplish for your employees? That's gonna. Work better, right? Going all the way back to the beginning of our, our conversation, how is it gonna make the world work better for your employees and your end customers?
And that, while it can create a little bit of fear, the excitement of that tends to overpower that fear. And so really kind of, I think communicating about that sort of sense of opportunity. So people know that there's something to run towards. Um, it does help mitigate some of that.
There's there's this underlying theme for like the last 20 minutes in this conversation and its communication.
And, uh, you know, we've talked about communication as leaders building about a world of work and we've talked about culture and, and it, to me, it comes. Down to at least it sounds like communication and our ability to be able to communicate about this uncertainty in a, and I'm guessing with an empathetic and compassionate ear, is that, is that, uh, am I, am I catching that right?
Vanessa Akhtar: Yeah. I think it's a huge component of it. I would also say it's really important that the communication, right. You gotta walk the talk, right. So there's only so far communication can take you if actions don't then back it up. Right. And it's, so if you don't start to actually create space for people to work in new ways, if people don't start to see results over time, the communication's only gonna take you so far.
Um, but you have to start with that communi. Piece. It is such a critical element. People aren't, you can't sway a magic wand and people change, right. Or people start doing things differently. Mm-hmm we would be having a much easier time in our world today, if that were the case, um.
Tim Reitsma: Yeah, we definitely would.
Vanessa Akhtar: Yeah.
Tim Reitsma: And, and, and I know in, in, uh, when we were talking, even before the episode, and, and I think even in, in some of the work that you're doing is this concept or this idea of a thrive mindset. And, um, what let's, I'd like to know more about that. What, what does it mean? And, and what does that, uh, that mindset, uh, look like?
Vanessa Akhtar: Yeah. Um, and this all stems, you know, kind of standing on the shoulders of neuroscientists and positive psychologists, There's a lot of research that helps us understand our biological response to change. Um, and when we experience change, we'll have one of two reaction. The first is the survive response, seeing something as a threat or a crisis, and sometimes that's the right response to have, right.
Rewinding back to the beginning of COVID. Yeah, we needed to have that little bit of Sur survive to say, how do we solve this problem quickly? How do we make decisions about how to keep our employees. How do we make sure people have the technology they need to work from home. Um, and so that survive response allows us to, to problem solve very quickly, but if it persists for too long, it pushes us into a freeze response.
So on the flip side, the thrive response is really about seeing opportunity in our environment. So seeing what's possible and getting excited about that, and it allows us to really see the big. which allows us to be more creative. We collaborate more easily. Um, it's much more sustainable over time, right?
If you start to think about a moment where you felt that sense of thrive, it's like you wanna stay in that state as long as possible. Mm-hmm nobody is gonna choose to stay in the state of survive. right. It doesn't feel great. Serves a purpose, but doesn't feel great. So that notion of, of a thriving mindset is a lot more energizing.
So how can we infuse more of that infuse more of that sense of what's possible so that we can be creative and so that we can collaborate.
Tim Reitsma: I like the idea of infusing what's possible versus what has happened. You know, if we say, okay, this is we're gonna live in this moment. This is that survive. We, and yes. And there's some cases where. Absolutely. Whether there's things going on in your personal life, in the world, in your work, it's, there's a survival mode.
And, um, and it really resonates with me that survive the freeze and then the thrive in thinking of times, even in my career of, in that thrive mindset of, you know, what is possible, being able to create new things. And, uh, and how do we do. In the context of leading through uncertainty, you know, how do we shift some of that narrative?
Because it is, you know, it's not just, we walk into a room and everyone is nervous and scared and say, okay, we're now switching to a thrive mindset.
Vanessa Akhtar: Right, right. Yeah. You have to acknowledge the challenge, right. Otherwise you're right. People are just like, who is this person who thinks that everything is sunshine and rainbows?
Um, so you have to acknowledge that there's a real challenge. But then to say, given that what might be possible for us, right. What does this open up for us? We have to do things differently to overcome this challenge. Um, so acknowledging the threat, acknowledging the challenge in front of you, but then quickly pivoting say, what does that open up for us?
And often we'll see, you know, those closest to the work. They know what needs to happen. So the other pieces then creating space for those folks to speak. Right. If we think about all sorts of examples, but, um, healthcare, the person that checks patients in, in the ER, they have some ideas for how to make the patient experience better.
For sure. Mm-hmm how do you give them space to say, this is what could be better. This is how we could do it. Let me help. Let me try it. Right. So I think that giving those that are closest to the work, the opportunity. The number of times we've heard people say I've had this idea for 5, 10, 15 years, but nobody's asked me what I thought before.
So even just asking that sense of like, what do you think is possible? What are some ideas you'd wanna test out guaranteed. You'll be shocked by the creativity and the practicality of things that people will bring to the table.
Tim Reitsma: I, I can think of numerous examples even through my career of going into an organization as a process improvement consultant, going into mass organization as an external, and people are scared.
People are like, why, why are these folks here? Why are they looking to improve a process? Am I gonna be out of a job? And half the time is spent having. Rich conversations about now, everything's good. Like what would you wanna improve here and hearing the ideas and collecting the ideas, but it's, you know, check your ego aside and, uh, and create that culture, create that environment, that communication around, you know, what could it be?
And I think it's so, so important to, especially through UNC. Having the conversation, maybe, maybe your organization has, you know, millions of dollars of cash in the bank, but you're hearing all you hear and all you read on LinkedIn is about layoffs. Now have that conversation because people might be thinking about it and saying like, how can we really, uh, accelerate our business through this, through this time?
Maybe there's people to hire, or maybe you are struggling as an organization, like your original example, you gotta start somewhere and, and I love your, your snowball metaphor, right? You can't just, you know, it, uh, it dumps snow and all of a sudden there's a snowman note. You need to start somewhere. And I grew up in, in the countryside in, uh, Northern British Columbia here in Canada.
And so you used to three, four feet of snow in the winter. So that, that, that run true to me. And. I know there's at least for me. Um, I'm in my home office. I I'm hybrid. I work sometimes in, in, in our office here in Vancouver, but I've got a team around the globe. So how do we do this in the remote setting?
Like, I, I can envision, like you're pulling everybody together in your office, you know, in your lunchroom and you're having this rah session, but how do you do this practically when you you've went full remote, because that's where you, you could hire the talent. How do you do.
Vanessa Akhtar: First of all, we have to pause and say, how do we reduce some of the noise?
I think it's been an issue for a very long time, but particularly in this hybrid or remote context where people aren't back to back calls people are working longer hours. Uh, how do we really pause and say, what's not value add what's not helping us get there and take it off people's plates. So they have a little bit of space to breathe and digest and engage with this idea of what's possible.
And then I think we have to be extra diligent in how we communi. So communicating more often creating space for informal touchpoints, right? You can't every meeting, jump on the call and say, all right, here's the agenda jump right in. Right. But give a little bit of space for the informal relationship building.
Um, you know, we've talked about trust a lot. You have to do more to cultivate that. Um, and then I think things like shared goals and shared objectives across teams so that people aren't only working in their little bubble, it's gonna require people to collaborate across the organization, which by nature, then you're gonna get new different ideas.
Cuz you're gonna have diverse thinking. You're gonna start to create bridges. So like one team is aware of. This piece of the strategy and another team is more aware of a different piece by kind of forcing them to work together. You'll start to build that sense in a new way. Um, but it is hard in a virtual context for sure.
Right. I don't know that anyone has the perfect answer of how do we replace kind of the water cooler conversation. Um, I don't, I don't think there is a perfect solution, which means you probably have to layer on multiple different strategies in order to get that same level of. Connectivity across the organiz.
Tim Reitsma: Uh, I think it's, there's an idea for anybody who's listening to this right now is this idea of shared goals. Cause often when we do our goal planning or the company's got goals, your department has goals and your manager has goals and you have individual goals and often it's. Just that an individual goal and, uh, this idea of creating this shared goal and where you're talking with another department about, Hey, we're working on a new product.
Okay. So we, this person's the, the lead on this let's pull in somebody from our marketing team, our sales team, our, our engineering team to work on that as a, as a little project, as a goal. And, and that's, you. Complicated, but also yet very simple to do. And, and I think that's what we have to have to do.
Like I've I do not thrive personally sitting here in my office by myself, eight hours a day, 10 hours a day, 12 hours a day for five days a week on weeks on it. I, I just don't. So, um, so creating that, I, I think that's something I'm going to, to, to take note of and even bring to our organization is how do we create some.
Just goals that cross different teams. I think that's, that's really, really good. And so we've had a great conversation about leading through uncertainty. I think again, Whether it's today, tomorrow six years, 10 years from now, there's always gonna be uncertainty in, in our lives. In our workplaces. Often we, we fill in the narrative into this survival mode and moving in from survival to this thrive mindset and leading through this.
So as we wrap up, what is one thing, uh, what's, what's one piece of advice. So it's one thing that, you know, an HR person, a leader, anybody listening to this podcast can go and take to their organization today.
Vanessa Akhtar: Yeah. I mean, if I were to boil all of our research down to, to one thing, um, I would still love for folks to read the book anyway, shameless flood.
Tim Reitsma: Absolutely.
Vanessa Akhtar: It's really about more leadership for more people. That's, what's going to get organizations to the next level. That's what's gonna keep people engaged and excited. So how do you create more space for more leadership for more people? How do you lean into that idea of being a leader regardless of where you sit?
Um, that is really the critical lever. And so that is what I think underlies everything we've talked about today and the more that people can do that the better our, our work lives are gonna be. And the more successful our organizations are gonna be.
Tim Reitsma: That's that's a great way to, to end the episode for sure is more leadership for more people and you don't need that fancy title to be a leader in an organization.
I, I firmly believe that. And, uh, and yeah, definitely that shameless plug. No worries. We're, we'll put a link to the, the book in our show notes as well for anybody who, who is interested in reading it. Uh, I am, and I would encourage everybody to, to, to pick up the book it's, uh, Can imagine it's grounded in a lot of research and, and, and practicality on, on insights to take to your organization, so.
Vanessa. Thanks for coming on the show. How can people reach you if they're interested to learn more, what's the best way for them to, to reach out to you?
Vanessa Akhtar: Yeah, so you can reach me on LinkedIn. I'm on LinkedIn. You can visit our website, www.kotterinc.com. All my contact information is on there as is general contact information for the firm and my email's on there and everything as well, so.
Tim Reitsma: Perfect. And again, we'll include that in the show notes and, and for those who are listen, We always love to hear your feedback. So please don't hesitate to send me an email or a note through LinkedIn, or Tim people, managing people.com. So again, Vanessa, thanks for taking the time today and walking us through and having a great conversation about leading through uncertainty.
Vanessa Akhtar: Thanks so much for having me. It was great conversation.
Tim Reitsma: All right. And for those who are listening, take care and have a good one.