The Essence of Leading Change

An Interview with Paulo Pisano, CHRO, on his view of Leading Change

Paulo was one of the leading principals in two transformational change efforts in two different international companies, one based in London with 45,000 employees in 80 countries and one based in Lisbon with 8,000 people in 16 countries.  Paulo was hesitant to talk about leading change or being a leader because he sees it as a collaborative effort. His unique view of the process is noteworthy.

When asked what and how he learned through the change process he answered:

Paulo: I was working with Richard Strozzi-Heckler and Doug Sillsbee on somatics at the time so “there was an element that was very present in how I’m showing up as a person, as a professional, as a colleague during the process…. How I am managing myself during meetings and during times of stress, how I’m observing that in people around me”.

Linda:  [re: the company of 45,000 employees] Did you lead that project?

Paulo: ” I’ll be very sincere. I don’t know, it’s very difficult for me to articulate, and I truly don’t try to articulate too much about leadership and what I’ve learned about leadership. Leadership for me is one of those words that doesn’t mean a lot. There are so many definitions and so many books and so many theories that I don’t.”

“I led parts of the project. Other people were leading. It’s difficult to say who was leading what, when. I had an important role to play because of my role as Chief Talent Officer, and I was effectively for two years in charge of the whole change project from an HR standpoint, so I had leadership for part of the project. There were other people who had equally important roles, and without whom we wouldn’t have managed to do what we did.”

Linda: What you’re telling me is that it was a collaborative effort.

Paulo: “It always is. I’ve never seen in my life a change initiative that isn’t a collaborative effort. For me to say that I learned that through this project, I think it would be a stretch. Meaning, … I had a sense of that before. I didn’t learn that specifically through this project. I think this project reinforced or gave more color to things that I had in my mind before. It didn’t significantly contradict notions I had about what’s important in change before. It was a hard project, an interesting one, but I wouldn’t say it was a project itself that fundamentally transformed how I think about change, if that makes sense”.

Linda: Yes it does. So that helps me, then, take yourself back before that project and what you learned about change.

Paulo: “I think the project reinforced that change, as we’re just saying now, that it is a collaborative effort, that it is an imperfect process. I think the best processes of change are done when you have a mix of doing and reflecting on what you’re doing, rather than trying to have the perfect models and the perfect theories. I think it’s through the process of getting things done and experimenting and feeling how it sits and making mistakes that you actually find out what works in a particular system and what doesn’t. For me, I think that this initiative reinforced the notion that change is more organic than most companies would like it to be, because what a lot of companies want or think they want, and I think few of my consulting firms, is to have the nice model that says step one, two and three, and this is what you do, and this is what’s going to happen. In reality things shift and hypotheses get proven wrong and the world changes and you have to be able to adjust to that”.

Linda: I hear you saying that change is messy.

Paulo: “It is messy, and therefore it’s like if I try to relate to this there are many parallels with the work we did at Strozzi and beyond, but it’s this notion of blending. You have stop working with it and you have to blend with it. You still keep your own identity, meaning your own beliefs, your own biases, et cetera. But you allow yourself to blend with what’s going on, become part of it, make it more organic, make it so that almost like you can feel the pulse of what’s happening help your organization adapt to what’s in need at a given moment.

When you have too many models and too much structure, I think it prevents you from blending with what you’re doing. You create a distance from it, because you get paralyzed with the model and with the plan. Equally, when you go to the other extreme and you have no plan at all, you dissolve in it. You don’t blend, you kind of just become too mixed up with it.

Thank you Paulo!

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