What does extraordinary change look like?

Posted by: on March 26th, 2020

Pioneers venture into uncharted territory, they perform advance work to understand the lay of the land, navigate obstacles and create paths for others to follow. In today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, leaders need a few pioneers to help them chart a path forward.

When client organizations have a strategy for moving forward, they often start the change process by communicating in a top down fashion. We understand this process as making a case for change. 

Inspirational messaging from the top sparks excitement but does not outweigh or undo the concerns people feel about what a change will mean for them and their jobs.

In fact, extraordinary change only comes about when it begins with the people who are doing the work.

For example, leaders may say we are going to… 

…create a new HR system that will centralize policies, and improve transparency about how people are paid and how performance is measured; or

….“get rid of silos” and centralize customer service processes; or

…implement new technology to improve tracking and replace manual data; or

…re-organize departments to improve “alignment” with the mission and vision

Great ideas can create excitement but also anxiety. If extraordinary change is desired, we must ask people to do extraordinary things.

And we must put it just like that. We must ask them what they do now, what works and doesn’t work, and invite them into a conversation about what a different future might look like for them.

So how do we engage people in the process of change?

We start with people centered processes … at “ground zero” to get the lay of the land and develop an understanding of the culture. We work across the organization to gain perspectives and expand our understanding of critical business issues and what makes people tick.

We …

  • Ask questions, listen, gather data from across the organization to create a picture of work experiences, relationships and connections.
  • Invite people into conversations with different perspectives to understand critical issues that are at the forefront of people’s minds and work toward creating a common framework to understand what works and doesn’t work.
  • Help people generate ideas and facilitate planning and implementation of new ways to approach work and solve problems.

We build shared understanding… by paying attention to how people see the organization from the inside and outside, where people see the organization headed and people’s biggest goals and hopes for the future.

We …

  • Join people in small and large initiatives to explore perspectives.  
  • Keep the energy moving by taking a pulse on the hot button concerns and allow space for people to push back.
  • Hold a mirror to the organization to encourage reflection and growth

We navigate change coming down the road… by helping the leadership team draw upon the data from across the organization.

We …

  • Help the team be visual, structured and methodical.
  • Invite the team to take ownership of core change elements such as processes and cultural norms.
  • Champion the need for resources to support change initiatives.  

We find the core of the change movement and help every person connect to it… by creating a picture of the organization. 


  • Work through the purpose and work of each person
  • Facilitate goal setting and development of learning opportunities
  • Recommend HR strategies to support change initiatives such as competitive compensation and pay policies

Sustainable systems connect every part to the whole…. Organizations that wish to be sustainable must find a purpose and role for each part which connects it to the whole and must solve problems in consideration of the whole.

About Nancy J. Hess

I help leaders pioneer extraordinary change through high engagement and whole systems approaches that focus on HR and People.