Leading Change: Why Care is the Currency That Counts

An organisation is a rich tapestry woven by the story of its people, that is the weaving together of many strands of information, insight, knowledge, and wisdom. Over time, people will come and go; they will have roles to play; they will contribute to the current chapters of change creating their organisation’s story and legacy.  Every interaction with someone internally or externally, is adding to the ‘bigger picture’ story. 

We’re also working in increasingly complex and uncertain environments where adaptive problems, short term thinking and the need for control often makes the bigger picture hard to see.

It’s easy to lose sight of what we care about the most: our people and the people we serve. At the heart of change is people; people who genuinely want to do the right thing, where the right thing is centered in the greater good.

Care is the organisational currency that matters the most

Organisations only change when the people within them change. When an organisation’s cultural foundation is built on one of truly caring for people, great things happen. Profits increase when the environment enables people to bring their best, do their best for others, and contribute to a purposeful and meaningful bigger story than the tasks and achievements in their roles.

A small gesture of care can make the biggest impact of all

The photo above is of my daughter Kiara and Kathy, the Woolworths Store Manager at Moonee Ponds. We were at the store on Sunday with a Roblox (kids computer game) gift card that was purchased at the store. Problem was, in Kiara’s excitement in receiving the gift card, she scratched off part of the PIN code. Kathy correctly advised that Woolworths (as a distribution partner only) took no responsibility for the cards. Yet I could see she was at a head vs heart cross roads.

Kathy chose to give Kiara a replacement card. I explained to Kiara that Kathy’s kindness meant Kathy was also losing $25 from her store. When I also revealed to Kathy that the card was a gift from her class mate Ashley, who used her pocket money to buy the card, the look of genuine care on Kathy’s face said it all.

Kiara talked about Kathy’s generosity all the way home and she’ll write Kathy one of her ‘special letters’ of thanks that will, no doubt, be surrounded by pictures of love hearts, rainbows, flowers, and unicorns. I reckon Kathy’s judgement was spot on.

In the shades of grey, we need to do what is right, not what is popular and we need to appreciate that there may be no business case for doing what is right.

If this sounds easy, it’s not.

Change is a process that requires decision after decision at each point in the process. The question to ask ourselves at each decision point is: should we rely on system based ‘rules’ to make this decision or is human judgement still the most reliable way to make this decision? – Andrew Dyer

Human judgement is hard when leading change because:

  • There is no ‘one best way’ to lead change and people too, are complex
  • Managing change isn’t prescriptive, it’s predictive where leaders have to adapt as things unfold
  • Paradoxes in leadership are amplified, for example, leaders need to be innovative and risk focused
  • Change doesn’t happen in isolation – it happens in relation to everything else, for example: an organisation’s cultural environment and its readiness for change.
  • People often grow cynical when change efforts have failed in the past

When it comes to change, many decisions, including those that are care and kindness based, are judgement based.

Organisations will struggle behaviourally when their culture limits the risks people make and the judgements people can take. For example, you can’t push for empowerment but not let people make decisions; it’s the system that is failing, not the people failing the system.

Organisations usually don’t question how things are done when they are making money. Sometimes, doing the right thing will cost money.

Bringing it all together

In complex circumstances, the currency of care will shine the light on real leadership.

A crisis like COVID is the perfect time to re-evaluate how ‘care’ is showing up through your organisation; in how decisions are made, people are treated, and what ‘doing the right thing’ means.

Leaders who invest time in listening, developing trustful connections and quality relationships with people (team members, customers, stakeholders, and everyone else) have a leg up when it comes to showing care.

Remember that the simple things can be the difference that makes the difference.

People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel – Maya Angelou

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