Leading People through Change: Lessons Learned

The first Trilogy Change Collaborative cohort kicked off in 2020, just weeks before the pandemic disrupted everything. As leaders were learning concepts for leading people through times of change, they also were gaining tools and strategies they would need more than ever.

Those working in the hospital setting especially had to respond to the immediate task of caring for sick community members, while also facing incredible business challenges. Many of the disruptions that arose in those early months continue today with a workforce that is experiencing stress and burnout from an intense period without recovery. These conditions create even more urgency for leaders, across all industries, to tend to their people’s needs as they make decisions and to foster a culture that helps people to weather ongoing disruptions.

As we get ready to kick off another Trilogy Change Collaborative cohort on January 25, we captured the following insights from two participants who benefited from the learning and support the group has offered, with a focus on leading people.

Insight 1: What is the human need right now?

This is a question Rebecca Knutson, Vice President of Talent Management at Aspirus Health, learned that she’s trained other leaders to use when making decisions. The question helps ensure that people’s needs are tended to as a part of an organization’s change process.

“It’s such a simple question,” she said, “but so powerful. No matter what change thing you’re working on, what you’re trying to drive, you need to take a step back and reflect: What do people need right now to be successful?”

Insight 2: Solutions for leading people are often simple.

The question – “What is the human need right now?” – is an example of how the solutions for helping people flourish in the workplace are often simple, Knutson said. Inspiring human flourishing involves creating space for people to be vulnerable as they learn and reflect together and to have tools and opportunities to work on their own well-being.

One solution Aspirus offered during the height of the pandemic was discussion circles for women to have space to learn and connect in response to stress and burnout. Knutson also appreciated picking up the phrase “yes/and” when having difficult conversations. Instead of refuting a point, she now says “Yes, I hear what you’re saying, and I’d like to add to that,” inspiring more meaningful dialogue.

Insight 3: Start with your own well-being.

How a leader shows up in the workplace is an important part of the coaching Carol Schmekel, Principal of Schmekel Coaching and Consulting, offers to clients within health care systems. “To be fully present,” she said, “you have to know yourself and be aware of what you bring to the table. How do you show up? What are the feelings you’re experiencing?”

The Collaborative helped Schmekel appreciate the importance of focusing on her own well-being, and to find mindfulness practices that work for her, like being outdoors in nature.

“People need me to be present, to be able to listen, and to not have my baggage that’s distracting me,” she said,” I focus on that, so when I’m in the moment with someone coaching or onsite, it’s clear that whoever is in front of me is the most important person.”

Knutson agrees that focusing on her own well-being has been critical as she’s made difficult business decisions, especially in the height of the pandemic. “We were writing policies and implementing things in the same day and the emotion that comes with that, because what if you make a wrong decision?” she said. “There certainly were days when I wanted to walk out. I had to ask: ‘How do I make sure I’m taking care of myself?’ I can’t say I always nailed it, but I think it helped me show up better for my teams.”

Insight 4: Train leaders on these concepts.

Knutson’s organization has updated its leadership development programs and onboarding to include educating leaders on resources and the organizational perspective on how to support well-being and resiliency. Aspirus also holds discussion circles for leaders to practice having crucial conversations.

“I find myself weaving the language that we learned around human flourishing into the work that we do every day,” she said. “The key component is intentionality in using those tools.”

Insight 5: Never stop learning and applying new strategies.

Even though many of the solutions are simple, the work of leading people is still focused on human behaviors that are ever evolving, said Knutson, which requires new strategies and practices to support. That’s one reason why the Change Collaborative continues to meet every other month, so leaders can talk about what is happening in real time and brainstorm approaches.

Working through situations with different viewpoints is one of the biggest values of the cohort experience, said Schmekel, and a critical part of responding to change in the workplace.

“We can’t be stagnant, because it’s not healthy,” said Schmekel. “It means we’re not growing, not contributing. Nothing in our lives is stationary, so we have to be able to flourish as our environments change.”

Making the Commitment

While focusing on how to inspire flourishing through change has always mattered, leaders recognize the more urgent need as people continue to face tremendous challenges without recovery.

“Trilogy Change Collaborative stretches people in a way they haven’t been stretched before,” said Schmekel. “Skills leaders needed in the past are not going to carry them into the future, so learning how to approach things differently, think differently, do things differently, those are the leaders that are going to be successful going forward.”

New Trilogy Change Collaborative cohorts focused on leading people will begin throughout 2023. Make sure you’re signed up to receive updates when learning opportunities become available.

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Join the conversation to learn and explore how we flourish in change. You’ll receive an occasional email offering ideas and tools you can apply.

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