Earlier this year I unexpectedly played a very small part in a life and death situation.
I had arrived early for a morning meeting at an office by the banks of the Thames. I found a quiet bench to sit on and started to prepare for the discussion ahead.
Then suddenly, out of nowhere, two men came running towards me full pelt and were shouting at the top of their lungs – “phone phone!”
At that very moment, time seemed to slow right down.
I asked them what was happening and they frantically pointed to a moored up boat. I looked down the riverside towards where they pointed. They explained moments before two people had fallen in the river in-between the riverbank and the boat.
If you look at the picture above, you can just about make make out the boat to the right of the picture. The people were now stuck in a very narrow space – with a long drop between the riverside and the water.
There was a small group of people trying to help by maneuvering a long piece of wood into the water for the people to grab onto. On a nearby bridge a crowd was starting to gather, they were looking and pointing to the boat.
Then I heard the people in the water screaming for help.
I immediately snapped back to the moment. Time sped up again. It was surreal.
I changed gear from a calm mind-set to an action one. I called 999 (for the first time in my life) and was asked by the operator which service I required.
The question initially threw me – I quickly considered this and said “Send Everyone!”
A few minutes later sirens started blaring, blue lights started flashing, an ambulance arrived and half a dozen policemen came running down the riverbank.
People dived into the water to save the people – it was like a scene from Casualty.
I later spoke to the police to offer a statement and found out the people were safe and recovering in hospital. Kudos to the Services and the people who helped that morning – they were fantastic and deserve real credit for saving two lives.
Later that evening I reflected on what had started as a normal, calm morning turning into the complete opposite. I had needed to react quickly and transform my thinking. My experience has a massive parallel to business transformation. Here’s why:
The ideal model most people take when driving change and transformation is applying a ‘work-with‘ approach to engaging colleagues – a Dr. Jekyll approach if you will.
This is fine when everything is planned and under control. You get the best out of people and can maximise employee engagement.
However, even well designed programmes can suddenly be hit by unforeseen challenges. These can come from nowhere, for example – key stakeholders suddenly leaving the business, changes in business strategy or unsurfaced, internal organisational issues that can all risk successful delivery of the transformation.
These and many other types of challenge can all result in toxic outcomes such as distracted colleagues focusing on other activities and withdrawing commitment or the change team seen as being “teeth-less” for driving through change.
It’s at this point that the “muck and bullets” of change can really start flying.
In these circumstances, it’s absolutely the right thing to briefly pause and take stock on how the challenge impacts the programme and what needs to happen next.
It’s highly likely that you will need to push on, maintain pace and deliver the benefit deliverables. Meaning you need to react and change gear quickly – but how?
By unleashing your inner Hyde.
Not in a scene where the world turns black and white, the fog rolls in, the hand twitches behind the velvet sleeve and you appear menacingly from behind a curtain!
But more of a way to delicately drive through the change and bring in some ‘do-to‘ thinking. So how to walk the ‘tightrope of change‘ without turning into a monster?
I’ve been fortunate to work with some brilliant transformation experts over the years and one of the key characteristics that struck me about them was their ability to react appropriately when things took an unexpected turn.
I believe they all share these 5 qualities which helped them to subtly and delicately react when they needed to get into ‘do-to’ mode:
- Keep it professional – don’t make things personal. Smile and stay positive even when the ‘muck and bullets’ start flying.
- Signpost what happens if deadlines aren’t achieved – don’t surprise people and outline the importance of key milestones. Communicate often.
- Watch out for the domino effect – be careful your Hyde doesn’t bring out everyone else’s Hyde in the process. Tread carefully.
- Keep a record of everything agreed – and follow up quickly with actions and minutes of key meetings and discussions.
- Ask people to commit – and if they don’t, nip it in the bud. This is not the time for passengers or fence sitters.
Please note, none of these required imbibing a beaker of a green smoking liquid. 🙂