Transformational mindset: Leading change

by Jim Hayes, State Employees’ Credit Union (SECU)

Coming into SECU recently, I knew that our Board had a few things they wanted to accomplish. They were committed to meeting our members where they are, providing them with products and services to meet their needs, and continuing our tradition of exceptional member service. Additionally, there were a few things I knew coming in that I wanted to do. I wanted to extend the focus of our exceptional service to include our employees while also transforming our systems.

After making a few key additions to the team and with a shared vision, we began SECU’s journey to digital transformation. On this journey, we are working to transition our exceptional service from a singularly-focused platform (branch network) to multiple platforms (branches, online, mobile) of exceptional service. Over the past year, we came to the realization that there is more than just a digital transformation occurring. We are transitioning our systems and processes, as well as transforming our people and shifting mindsets. Hence, we find ourselves both in a state of transition and transformation. What’s the difference? Glad you asked.

To transition is simply to move from one state or position to another. Whereas, to transform is to change the very substance or composition of an object or organization. That substance or composition includes all the components of culture – behaviors, ideals, processes, procedures, structure, atmosphere, decision making. Essentially, transformation touches the very core tenets of our way of life, our philosophy.

It is important to note that although different, there is intersectionality between the two. You can have transition without transformation. You cannot, however, have transformation without transition. This is to say, you cannot transition nor transform without shifting or moving from current state to future state. Consider the excitement of buying a new home. We get excited about all the possibilities a new home brings. We go goo-goo over new features, fixtures, and all the things that make it more appealing than our current home. We daydream about how much sweeter life will be once we are settled into the new place. However, undoubtedly, we absolutely dread the process of moving. Although we know we should not simply drag all the old things to the new place just for the sake of having them, we do not want to go through the painstaking process of purging the things that no longer serve us. We despise packing up the things we want to memorialize to look back on with fond memories. We definitely do not want to spend time cleaning up the mess we make during the process. It is such a hassle to find an appropriate place for the things we carry over. Even more, we do not want to expend any additional energy purging more things that do not fit the new space. It is a painful yet necessary part of the process. Then once we have done all of that, we can set up the new home to provide maximum benefit for all of the inhabitants. We do not enjoy the actual process of moving. We somehow want to enjoy all the benefits, features, and fixtures of the new home without ever leaving the current one. Although we do not want to go through the arduous process, we must if we are to enjoy the benefits of the new home.

Anticipate the Recoil

In human nature, there is a natural urge of a system to attempt to return to homeostasis. An urge to maintain the status quo, keep with current cultural norms and push back on anything that threatens homeostasis. Homeostasis being the inclination or tendency to resist change in order to maintain a steady and relatively constant environment. The process of which tends to include negative feedback loops that occur when any element of change is introduced. Hence the recoil or resistance.

During transition, resistance entails individual behaviors within the system attempting to prevent the progress of the whole organization. Many individuals within the organization will try to keep things stable or the same, as the status quo is resilient. Cultural norms are deeply embedded and woven into the very DNA of the organization. If any part of the system does anything out of the norm, then the balance of the organization fights against the change. Not necessarily because the expected result is undesired or unwanted, or because it is not what is best or most advantageous but simply because it is unfamiliar and not customary.  The struggle of resistance is often rooted in fear, anxiety, or in some cases selfish need to maintain power. Resistance does not necessarily follow logic but is often emotionally driven. Often the behaviors, systems and processes, are owned by those who put them in place. Then perpetuated by organizational culture that upholds and supports them. Given things do not appear to be broken, why should they be changed?

Transition to Transformation

How do we prepare to move beyond a transition to transformation? How do we manage resistance to the change process?

To combat the resistance, first acknowledge that resistance exists. Resistance should not and cannot be ignored. Additionally, there must be unanimous agreement of those in critical roles to address resistance intentionally and systematically.

Transformative leaders understand that resistance is a normal reaction to change. Therefore, it is an expected part of the process. Resistance is not a dirty, four-letter word. Do not be put off or taken aback. Rather than perceiving resistance as opposition, view it as an opportunity for open conversation to foster collaboration and trust. For if you cast a vision for transformation, you must be willing to persist even if there are elements, factors, and/or individuals unable or unwilling to proceed on the journey with you. In essence, you cast a vision, expect resistance will come, stay the course, do not veer but persist despite the opposition.

The only constant is change. As a transformative leader, use the inevitable resistance as a springboard for iterative change. If the organization is consistently transitioning from one state to another, transformation becomes less foreign and a bit more palatable. Keep change constant and resistance will fuel a culture of open communication, collaboration, and trust. Transformative leaders use transparency to minimize opposition that would come more readily if there was lack of transparency and distrust.

Resistance is also a reaction to the way change is led. Expect people want to have a full picture to not only include what is changing but why. Transformative leaders help people understand the why in a way they can digest. As people process information in different ways, it is important to communicate in all the ways information is processed. Keep in mind that some view information as power. Therefore, information cannot just be shared with a few. It must be shared broadly across the enterprise. That will prevent information hoarding, bottlenecks, and misinformation. It will also ensure that all the stakeholders have the same consistent message directly from the source. More importantly, ensure that you do not attempt transformation in a bubble. It is imperative to get people engaged in the process. Involvement garners support and buy-in. If they create it, they will champion it. They will be emotionally vested in the success of the change. All levels of the organization should be included in the process creating a culture of inclusion. All along the way it is essential that you nurture relationships. You must keep your commitments to prove you are trustworthy. Finally, it is also important to help them understand WIIFM (what’s in it for me). Providing constant reinforced messaging that speaks to WIIFM demonstrates some level of return on investment (ROI) for the time and energy required for the change process.

It is important to understand that resistance is a normally occurring response to a changing and transitioning environment, as often there is fear in the face of the unknown/unfamiliar. Those exhibiting resistant behaviors are often unaware; however, the presentation of resistance can teach us a great deal about the effectiveness of our strategic implementation. To gauge the approach, a few questions should be considered. How well have we communicated with and engaged team members in the process? In essence, how inclusive is the process? As we know culture eats strategy, did we consider an intentional realignment of our current culture to support our strategic direction and vision? Openness to learning and adapting throughout the process is an essential element in change management and leadership. Ultimately, how well we manage resistance through the process of transition will determine whether we truly reach a state of transformation.


Co-Author: Emma Hayes

Jim Hayes

Jim Hayes

Jim Hayes is CEO of the $53 billion State Employees’ Credit Union based in Raleigh, NC, the nation’s second largest credit union serving over 2.7 million members. Hayes ... Web: Details