From the Experts: Reinvention

By the Turknett Team

The last two years of have forced many organizations across the nation to make changes in reaction the to Covid-19. A great example being the U.S. food retail industry, placing a greater emphasis on curbside delivery, online ordering,  and safety protocols. No major grocer had any of these changes in their 2020 action planning. Many of these technologies have been accelerated due to the need, not a vision. The story is the same for most industries. As we enter 2022, the mood is changing. Organizations are getting the opportunity to make intentional changes in response to Covid-19, rather than reactionary. And with many of these reactionary changes now in place, organizations have the opportunity to finesse these changes and their processes. It’s also imperative that organizations keep the customer or client at the center of these changes moving forward.

With all that said, we asked our team of experts on how they would advise an organization on making the switch to implementing intentional change and how they can shift their focus and keep the customer or client centered. Here’s what they had to say:


Answers From the Experts:


Lyn Turknett, Co-founder and Co-chair

In what areas do you think companies will need to implement intentional change in 2022 after two years of reacting to forced change?

The most important area of intentional change may be recognizing how limited our ability to “plan change” actually is. We probably need to rethink how we create a robust, truly change capable organization. One of the things I’ve seen (also mentioned in my Six Trends I Think I See article) is how the pandemic validated and accelerated the move to agile, adaptive processes that allowed rapid experimentation and decisions made on the edges without centralized control. It was a bit mind-blowing to read Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder, but it’s clear that organizations that are too tightly controlled are more likely to implode. There’s a good summary of the concept of antifragility on the Farnam Street blog. General Stanley McChrystal has a new book on creating “risk immune systems” that has some excellent lessons, many from the military, for building resilient organizations that are adaptable and fast. The organizations of the future will be flatter and faster.

Companies need to recognize, celebrate, and build on the lessons from the pandemic. Every organization we work with pivoted more quickly than anyone could have imagined to adapt and move forward, and most need to be sure that agility isn’t temporary. So many research labs pivoted almost instantly to research on Covid 19 – see this story of the pivot at the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel. That story was repeated countless times. Chicken Salad Chick, a fast casual restaurant that actually continued to grow during the pandemic, credits their success to two big factors – doubling down on their purpose-driven mission of “spreading joy and serving others,” and listening to and spreading ideas from their franchisees (see Despite Pandemic Chicken Salad Chick Doesn’t Miss a Beat).

Most organizations will need to redesign for the hybrid workplace. The hybrid workplace is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. Employees are recognizing the human costs of long commutes and long hours away from family, and organizations are recognizing that productivity can remain high and real estate costs can decrease in a hybrid environment. We are still inventing the workplace of the future – the Wall Street Journal recently opined that “The Post-Pandemic Office Should be a Clubhouse” – a place for employees to meet and connect, but not the place where most work will be done. A number of companies are already giving up office space – see How Leading-Edge Companies are Re-Designing for Hybrid. Rite-Aid, for example, is giving up it’s large building in Harrisburg for a more elaborate but smaller “enterprise collaboration headquarters” in “trendier” Philadelphia.

Technology will need even more focus. We were already investing in technology to automate processes and augment human intelligence with machine intelligence. The remote workplace adds to the technology shift. Technology for remote meetings has been evolving quickly, and we’ll need more robust and effective team collaboration tools. Zoom, Slack, Google Docs, Calendly, Mural – we’re all learning a whole new way of working.

Lastly, companies need to proactively accelerate the change in what leadership means and what’s expected of leaders. We’ve talked for years about the demise of the command and control leader and the centralized hierarchy, but the pandemic has shown us that the “new leadership” is actually more effective. Leadership will be more distributed as we learn to use the brains of everyone in the organization. Learning agility and enterprise focus needs to be prized in every employee, and leaders need to be connectors with a wide, enterprise-level, cross-silo lens. Enterprise leadership will be focused on connecting and aligning.


2020 and 2021 have shown us that putting people at the center of everything we do is a must. How would you advise companies struggling to shift their focus?

Companies have made strides at putting the employee at the center. The move from customer experience to employee experience that we’ve seen in the past five to ten years reflects that. The pandemic, though, has made a faster shift essential, and power has shifted quickly from employer to employee.

Recent research from Korn Ferry on predictors of retention is helpful in directing the efforts of companies trying to adapt. Employees planning to stay for five years are about three times more satisfied in these areas as employees planning to leave within the year:

  • Opportunities to enhance career goals at this company
  • Trust and confidence in the company’s senior leadership team
  • Company shows care and concern for employees
  • Company effectively managed and run
  • Opportunities for learning and development at the company

There’s a lot to be done, from completely rethinking career pathing to helping senior leaders learn to inspire trust in a remote environment, but immediately the order of the day is ratcheting up “care and concern” at every level of leadership. People are struggling with the impact of the pandemic, and the adrenaline that kept us going in the early months is wearing very thin. Depression and anxiety are increasing.

Leaders are burned out too – we are seeing middle managers who are caught between increased expectations for performance (we haven’t taught senior leaders to be nurturing to other leaders) and increased expectations for empathy from those they lead. We need ways to collectively sustain connection and show empathy. Perhaps we start with brainstorming how to do that. One organization is requiring every leader to hold one hour meetings with direct reports each month, and the goal is simply to listen.


Michael Sessions, Ph.D., Senior Consultant

In what areas do you think companies will need to implement intentional change in 2022 after two years of reacting to forced change?

While may aspects of the business environment are still very much in flux, two points seem clear for businesses going forward.  The first is to remain focused on the resilience in the economy and the opportunities that are created by change, forced or otherwise.  Perhaps more importantly, I think business leaders have to recognize that the workforce that went home in early 2020 is not the same workforce that is returning, whether virtually or in person, in 2022.  I believe that it is essential that leadership do everything possible to get to know the altered workforce and gain as much clarity as possible as to what it is they are looking for through their experience at work.

Just as important, I think every effort should be made to share the perspective of the leadership on strategy and focus going forward.  People are looking to hear that the perspective from leadership has evolved with the experience of the past two years.  Business as usual will be a costly mistake.


Vicki AbelsonVicki Abelson,  Senior Consultant – Healthcare

2020 and 2021 have shown us that putting people at the center of everything we do is a must. How would you advise companies struggling to shift their focus?

2020 and 2021 placed many organizations, big and small, in the unenviable position of being reactive. Reacting to the pandemic and the very real health and safety concerns of their employees and clients. Reacting to the necessary conversations of social justice. Reacting to the pressing needs of environmental and economic challenges.

Now, there is an opportunity, and a need, to become much more proactive than we had the luxury of being in the past two years.

The questions that companies, leaders, and the employees must ask are:

  • How can we create a safe and healthy place to work?
  • How are we supporting our employees when outside concerns become more pressing?
  • How can we see each other as humans rather than a line item on a P&L or a check mark on a to do list?
  • Are our company values really aligning with our actions?
  • Are we doing things the way we have always done them or are we trying to understand and meet the demands of today?

This, of course, is not an exhaustive list, but is a start to an ongoing conversation that must be part of every leadership meeting.


Bill Dickinson, Ph.D., Senior Consultant

In what areas do you think companies will need to implement intentional change in 2022 after two years of reacting to forced change?

It’s really Change Management 101, but it’s more important than ever to include everyone in conversations about and solutions for potential changes or practices.  We care for our people, and the myriad of adjustments they have had to make, when we are inclusive about any potential next steps—functionally or systemically.  Sometimes leaders are fearful of hosting or facilitating these conversations themselves.  IF that is you there are highly skilled professionals who can lead those forums with and for you.  And, likely, inside the organization.  Change efforts will work when everyone is involved and the purpose and communication is clear and constant.


2020 and 2021 have shown us that putting people at the center of everything we do is a must. How would you advise companies struggling to shift their focus?

The opportunity here is to understand and care for the whole person.  We have moved from the employee experience to the life experience of our colleagues.  As we know, COVID-19 has changed that whole dynamic; and, fortunately, there is no going back.  This means, then, that we have an opportunity to either grow or sharpen people-leader skills.  Our ability to listen, to empathize, and to promote employee wellness can become even more of a leadership differentiator.  IF by chance, “people” aren’t your strong suit now is the time to develop both the mindset and skillset that supports more organically interfacing with the whole person on your team and in the company.  Becoming comfortable with these kinds of questions can help:

  • Do I understand and value the contribution my colleague is making to the team and company?
  • How can I support or clarify the larger purpose of those who work with and/or for me?
  • [Take the time to ask], what is really behind the feeling I’m experiencing in another (verbally and non-verbally)
  • Is this behavior normative? Or does it seem out of sorts? “Something seems amiss _________, do you want to talk about it?”

Finally, people-skills, and one’s comfort with self, can be developed. Don’t be afraid to engage a professional coach to help foster those skills to ensure you will safe and supported along the way. Your personal development also heightens your people development.


Tim HuffTim Huff, Senior Consultant

In what areas do you think companies will need to implement intentional change in 2022 after two years of reacting to forced change?

In addition to the shifts in employee engagement that companies have been adjusting to in the past 2 years, successful organizations will intentionally deepen their focus on technology as a core part of their strategy. The pivots that many companies have taken recently to engage with customers have been largely driven by embracing many new digital experiences which are now part of their operating model. These changes are not being seen as temporary nor are they stagnant. Successful companies will continue to invest in these digital experiences, expand the use of technology in new ways to strengthen relationships with their customers, and stay ahead of market trends that would force them to adapt.


2020 and 2021 have shown us that putting people at the center of everything we do is a must. How would you advise companies struggling to shift their focus?

Leaders of successful organizations understand that three primary areas of focus and investment are People, Process, and Technology. A mentor once told me that leaders of the best companies understand that investments should also be in that order: People first, then Process, then Technology. As important as it is for companies to embrace and invest in technology, especially considering the shifts in the past 2 years, maintaining a primary focus on people is a must. The value chain of People -> Process -> Technology is exponential. Properly investing in great people leads to excellent processes, which leads to making appropriate and optimal technology investments. One of the best ways I’ve seen companies invest in their people is through leadership development opportunities and executive coaching. Ensuring the best employees feel valued as a potential future leaders in the company and giving them opportunities to grow will drive excellent returns on the investment!


Marty GuptaMarty Gupta, Vice President of Strategic Services

In what areas do you think companies will need to implement intentional change in 2022 after two years of reacting to forced change?

The first thing we need to recognize is that while uncertainty spiked in 2020 due to the pandemic, we live in an increasingly VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) World. Change will continue to accelerate, and this is challenging, if not breaking, traditional ways of doing business.

Take strategic planning, for example. As Harvard Professor John Kotter points out in his 2021 book, Change: How Organizations Achieve Hard-to-Imagine Results in Uncertain and Volatile Times, strategic planning is typically a management-centric activity, not a leadership-centric activity. Top management makes key decisions based on data and analysis, and then relies on management processes to cascade, execute and monitor plans.

There are several flaws in this approach in a fast-moving, rapidly changing world. Funneling everything through a small, busy executive team can result in decisions taking too long or being made too quickly without adequate information. Traditional planning tends to prescribe in more and more detail how to achieve objectives. This ‘one-and-done’ approach leaves little room for flexibility when things change.

In contrast, leadership-centric strategic planning recognizes that to deal with widespread and fast-paced change requires broad involvement across functions and from top to bottom in the organization. Instead of cascading the answer, cascade tools for dealing with uncertainty and encourage leadership at all levels. Most of all, articulate a vision that creates excitement, passion, and purpose.

In management-centric planning, ‘the benefits of the strategy are communicated through rational, analytical arguments that speak to the head.’ In leadership-centric planning, ‘the impact of the strategy is communicated through both metrics that speak to the head and a vision of success that speaks to the heart.’


2020 and 2021 have shown us that putting people at the center of everything we do is a must. How would you advise companies struggling to shift their focus?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics JOLTS program provides monthly data on job openings, hires and separations, including quits, by industry and geography but does not include demographic information or explain why people are quitting. Recent surveys by leading research organizations including Gallup, Mercer and McKinsey are providing greater insight.

Younger people, women and minorities, and low wage workers are driving the Mass Resignation. Gen-Z and Millennial workers are twice more likely to resign than Baby Boomers. According to Mercer, low-wage, frontline workers, and employees of color are the most likely to leave. These workers seek higher-quality jobs, more security, safety, and better pay.

Higher wage workers are also quitting. According to McKinsey, the top three reasons are: they didn’t feel valued by their organizations, they didn’t feel valued by their managers, and they didn’t feel a sense of belonging at work. Notably, minority workers were more likely than their White counterparts to say they had left because they didn’t feel they belonged at their companies.

Gallup also sees the Mass Resignation as a workplace issue. They found that the highest quit rate is among not engaged and actively disengaged workers. A new hire that lands on a less-than-engaging team probably won’t stay long. The local manager is key. Gallup found that it takes more than a 20% pay raise to lure most employees away from a manager who engages them, and next to nothing to poach most disengaged workers.

What should companies do? Put greater focus on and meet the needs of low wage, frontline workers, a group that hasn’t been a priority in the past. Improve people management skills throughout the company and especially with frontline managers. Utilize employee and 360 surveys to measure corporate culture and identify poor managers and other workplace issues.

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