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Episode 2: Connecting the Dots - Perses Sethna

Many organisations and leaders will say collaboration and alignment are important to the successful implementation of business strategy, but the reality is very few leaders actually live it. This is because they are rarely rewarded for the success of how their teams work with others but purely on how well their teams complete their part of the process.

This is an observation this week’s guest, Perses Sethna, has seen time and again in his various roles whilst working for telecoms company British Telecoms. It is also what has eventually led Perses to dedicate himself to change management because as Perses states “The art and science of change management and driving change is really about aligning and mobilising people to work together towards a worthwhile goal”

Like many change management practitioners, it is their diverse experiences within business that enables to them have a sharp eye for the holistic picture of the changes taking place. But the road to this kind of thinking isn’t easy as to be blunt it isn’t what business leaders or clients think they are paying for when it comes to the responsibilities of change management professionals.

None the less, Perses was able to share his experiences in how he has navigated making “connecting the dots” an integral part of his change management approach and what you can do to make it yours.

In our conversation with Perses we hit on three key ideas that help change practitioners to be the conscience of the project. Ensuring whether it is the end goal or a problem along the way, everyone recognises and takes collective action to address the problem:

  1. Passion for people

As change practitioners, we not only see the mechanics of how change is driven in an organisation but we also see the people behind the mechanics. This is a unique vantage point we have and not because we have access to something others do not – but simply because we understand and have a passion for people and what motivates them.

It is this passion that can help us identify where connections between different parts of a project or organisation can accelerate the progress of change. In fact Perses quite rightly describes our role in this scenario as a catalyst – something that speeds the reaction between two or more things. Catalysts are critical in change, because they take the most efficient route to delivering change and resolving issues and are therefore a critical component of change management.

  1. Connect beneath the surface

If you try and sell your skills as a connector of people, holistic thinker, an all-knowing all-seeing eye - don’t expect to get many gigs or be actively listened to. The understanding of Change Management within Business is still too immature to really sell itself as the glue that holds a project together. The reality is, projects need functional actions to support the delivery of change, so that’s how we likely need to position our services or at least what is mostly sought after.

However, don’t give up on being that set of eyes and ears and unofficially making yourself the glue. Just because it is not what your client or boss thinks they are paying you for, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tackle the work none the less.

The reality of our work is that people don’t see the need for change management perhaps until they have a problem which change management can solve. The same is true of the need for big picture thinkers – only when a project starts to drag in delivery through the siloed thinking about problems, does anyone start to take notice and consider how to resolve it. Let’s take the opportunity proactively not only to stop the ensuing car crash but also to engage with people across the project to avoid the pain.

  1. Be generous with credit

There is a hard truth to being the person that creates the environment which encourages people in an organisation to take the initiative for solving problems themselves. That truth is, you need to donate any credit for your achievements to the business stakeholders, so that they are motivated to deliver the change- even after the project team has ‘launched’ and moved on.

Most organisations have their people trapped in structures that reward the people that are most visible. As such, their people are motivated to go after the kudos for having solved a problem or mitigating a risk. Conversely, with the weight of the organisational world watching when a problem is a foot, it is tempting for stakeholders to sit back and not get caught up – simply doing their bit to avoid culpability. In Perses’ experience, donating your credit into the organisation pays back by mobilising your change network and delivering the results of the programme. Perhaps our real value is in this silent but effective role to orchestrate the environment in which change can take place. We must never become the story!

Change leaders should donate any credit for their achievements to the business stakeholders, so that they are motivated to deliver the change. So a key question is- do you have the self-assurance to not need the recognition which can enable the kind of holistic approach we are talking about?

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that if you focus all a team’s energy and effort on one thing and remove unnecessary or perhaps bureaucratic operational processes and procedures to allow people to get creative – change can happen at a phenomenal pace, often with quite astonishing and unexpected results.

Deep down, I think many change practitioners know this but struggle to get organisations to realise the significant upsides of coordinated and timely actions because there is never a good time to stop and think about doing things differently and rarely is it rewarded when a line manager enables the success of another team.

However as a set of professionals who ride the fine line between business outcomes and employee engagement, we have a duty to play the role of dot-connector because inherently nothing changes without the people involved being united about their goals and how their efforts impact one another. So we ask you, to step courageously and pragmatically forward to leverage your unique people focus and project vantage point to be the catalyst for change.

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