Change can be hard. The prospect of losing connection to your team – the people you work with every day and who contribute to your sense of belonging, purpose and productivity – is both personally and professionally challenging. But with the right mindset, change can be embraced and even harnessed as a powerful exercise in leadership and learning.
This week I’ve been back with the wonderful leadership team of Novozymes OneHealth in Copenhagen, Denmark, for our third culture immersion week in as many years.
This year holds even more significance as the leaders at OneHealth prepare for the pending merger with Chr Hansen, another Denmark based global leader in biosolutions, to be announced in January. As for many people within the Chr Hansen and Novozymes family, their future is uncertain. Their structures and ways of working are likely to change – if not marginally than significantly. Naturally this throws up many questions without any answers.
For the past three years, I’ve partnered with Ulrich Irgens General Manager VP, and his top team of 35 leaders to implement annual culture and leadership surveys using Human Synergistics diagnostic tools, and to make culture plans during an all-in four-day culture immersion in November.
OneHealth is a start-up inside corporate biosolutions behemoth – Novozymes. Establishing a culture of entrepreneurialism and ownership has been a high priority from the start at OneHelath in order to pioneer a new approach to health solutions within corporate incumbent, gain share in mature markets, and launch new products in busy categories.
The investment they make in their culture sends clear signals to their team that people are important, their contribution is valued, and leaders are being supported in taking accountability for leading a high performing, highly engaged teams.
What gets measured, gets managed. It’s a truism that echoes through the experiences I have with clients who measure culture as their most valuable ‘intangible’ asset. Intangible is in quotation marks because, well, it’s not really intangible, is it? Whilst culture does not appear anywhere on the P&L or balance sheet, in reality it is a measurable and manageable construct that greatly influences the success of every organisation.
At OneHealth each year we’ve seen improvements in culture – because with measurement comes insight, planning and accountability. With measurement, comes both global and local action. Measuring is a must, but on its own, is not enough. Actually doing something about feedback gained through diagnostics – taking action on measures – is even more important, especially when it comes to culture.
Given the pending merger; this year we’ve focussed on the necessity of leading through change. Our challenge has been to foster a mindset of embracing change, and all the opportunities that it creates for individuals and their teams.
Empowering people to lead through change is not focussing on what is outside their control, but what they have the power to control (their mindset) and the power to influence (how they connect with others). I’ve really liked the frame for change by Deborah Rowland and co-authors, published in the HBR. They position leading through change as a process of ‘un-belonging’ before you can re-belong. They define “un-belonging” as:
– Building others’ capacity to detach from past loyalties (to ways of working, to team configurations, to assumptions that no longer suit new contexts).
– Being able to stand at a distance from any strong belief group in order to allow novel solutions to emerge.
To change is to uncouple from what is familiar. To say goodbye to your existing team and embrace a new one. Letting go, in order to allow new in, is a step that is often overlooked in change programs. Letting go of teams we’ve loved working in can lead to emotions of grief, sadness, and loss. Similarly we can experience mixed emotions; relief, gratitude, excitement for what is new.
This week with OneHealth has been a process of letting go. Of being grateful for what has been, and for embracing what is new. Of empowering the leaders to understand how they can continue to lead culture in an environment where they do not know what configuration or change their teams will experience. Of being culture bearers – no matter who they work with or how their new priorities and work programs unfold. Of trusting in the skillset they’ve gained about how to lead positive and productive teams; to see them through whatever they are faced with in the best possible way.
It’s an honour to partner with such a group at such a time. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to work with this group and support them through a pivotal moment in their lives and careers. I too am in a process of letting go, to embrace the new. I chose to be grateful for the experience, and remain open to the possibilities of the new, whatever they may be.