Change-Makers Share 5 Ways to Champion Change

Change brings a whirlwind of opportunities and risks. At Workday Rising Europe, Salumeh Companieh, Chief Digital & Information Officer at Cushman & Wakefield; Christine Leitgeb, Head of Finance for Europe and APMEA at Designit; and Noa Perry-Reifer, Chief People Officer at On Running, discussed how they avoid analysis paralysis and harness the power of digital transformation.

Digital HR Leaders Podcast: How People Analytics Are Shaping the Future of Work

Change is no longer a slow, steady drumbeat. It’s a frenetic crescendo that demands the strength of the entire orchestra. No one can sit it out. When disruption increases the tempo, businesses have learned to move faster to keep pace. They’re continually fine-tuning their performance, so it never gets stale.

During the closing keynote session of Workday Rising Europe, three inspirational leaders shared how they are helping their organisations to change their tunes, including first-hand advice on everything from helping spark team innovations, to redefining work expectations, to becoming the change-maker the organisation needs to drive future growth. 

1. Question Everything

Most problems have multiple solutions. To pick the right path forward, leaders often have to let go of preconceived notions of what’s possible—and even what’s desirable. Designit, a global strategic design company, prides itself on helping their clients question everything. “If they come to us and say, ‘Can you do this for us?’ we would never say yes,” says Christine Leitgeb, Head of Finance for Europe and APMEA at Designit. “We would say, ‘Tell us the problem.’" 

By challenging clients in this way, Designit helps them plan for change. This process helps leaders imagine where they want to be in the future and open their minds to different paths they could take to get there. Questioning assumptions also helps leaders identify where their success relies on business models or customer behaviors that could change on a dime. It sparks proactive discussions about how they could evolve the businesses before external factors force their hands. 

2. Narrow Your Focus

Real estate, because of its fixed nature, comes with unavoidable risk. Natural disasters, local regulations, and geopolitical conflict can change a company's priorities overnight. 

Focusing everyone’s attention on mission-critical outcomes has helped Cushman & Wakefield, a global real estate services company, bring calm to crisis situations, says Salumeh Companieh, Chief Digital & Information Officer. Putting client outcomes front-and-center—and focusing efforts around these goals—helps break down silos and unify efforts at an enterprise scale.  

“It creates systemic operational steadiness for you to take any of these events that come at you,” Companieh says. “Whatever those different outside influences are, we've created a structure whereby we address them as a unit.”

Cushman & Wakefield leverages multi-disciplinary pods of colleagues from different functions and teams working together to deliver results. Companieh says this approach lets the business strengthen the muscles needed to stay agile. “We're moving faster. We're getting better outcomes,” she says. “Because it creates focus.”

“Depending on the service line, most of my technology leadership are not technologists. They come from different backgrounds, because that thinking definitely does agitate our team to think better and bigger.” Salumeh Companieh, Cushman & Wakefield

3. Spark Creative Friction

A unified vision is good, but groupthink can be a drag on transformation efforts. If leaders don’t bring people with diverse views into the conversation, brilliant opportunities could be left on the table.

Companieh is a big believer in celebrating the “natural friction” that comes from mixing teammates of different backgrounds. “Depending on the service line, most of my technology leadership are not technologists,” she says. “They come from different backgrounds, because that thinking definitely does agitate our team to think better and bigger.”

For that friction to yield ideation – not frustration – leaders need to foster a culture of authenticity, in which everyone feels comfortable to surface challenges and spark debate. When people feel comfortable speaking their mind – even if that means disagreeing with the person in charge – teams are more likely to spot risks and adapt to changes before they throw a wrench in the works.  

This type of candor is also key to maintaining successful partnerships through change, says Companieh. “In the partner ecosystem, just like every other relationship in your life, things will go poorly. You'll have bumps. But if you have that solid foundation of the authentic conversation and the true partnership, there's literally nothing you can't do.”

“We are very, very quick with everything we do. We just do it.” Christine Leitgeb, DesignIt

4. Up Your EQ

Teams need to steer in unison to successfully navigate the rapid currents of change. But how can leaders keep everyone working together when the waters get rough? 

High emotional intelligence, or EQ, can help leaders see what individuals need to manage difficult situations—and when the disruption has become too much for them to bear. And in the post-pandemic landscape, this type of empathy is more important than ever. 

After years of working remotely and independently, many people are no longer willing to be “managed.” They’re looking for leaders who will see their worth as individuals, not just the value they bring to the business. Leaders who know the right questions to ask, and actively listen to the answers, will be able to boost loyalty by giving more employees the specific support they need.

When managers see individuals more holistically they’re also more likely to spot opportunities to help them realize their full potential, says Noa Perry-Reifer, Chief People Officer at sportswear company On. “We need to look at their mind, their purpose, their body, and try to find a way where we enable individuals at the end to be a better version of themselves.”

“How can we bring this chaos to be a healthy chaos? Because we know that change is not going anywhere, right? So we need to embrace it versus trying to avoid it.” Noa Perry-Reifer, On Running  

5. Don’t Overthink It

As a creative firm, Designit prefers to take a proactive approach to change—and that culture flows through to the finance team. “We are very, very quick with everything we do,” says Leitgeb. “We just do it.” 

By never letting the perfect get in the way of the good, Designit has been able to make incremental improvements that have added up to an impressive result. After five years with Workday, the finance team has been able to reduce closing the books down to a single day. “There will never be a perfect go-live, a perfect implementation,” Leitgeb says. “You just have to go and do it.”

Focusing on the next step—rather than the final destination—also helps leaders make meaningful improvements in the midst of disruption. And if they aren’t married to a future that may never exist, they’ll be more willing to ride the winds of change in a new direction. You just have to be willing to see opportunities in the chaos.

“How can we bring this chaos to be a healthy chaos?” asks Perry-Reifer. “Because we know that change is not going anywhere, right? So we need to embrace it versus trying to avoid it.”

More Reading