Driving Change: Insights from Leaders in Transformation

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Sullivan & Stanley recently hosted an engaging event to officially launch our Leaders in Transformation community – an elite group of senior executives tasked with leading change initiatives at major companies.

Introducing the change-makers

As explained by Robin Hobbs, Client Solutions & Growth Director at Sullivan & Stanley, the community sees action-oriented and innovative transformation leaders come together to share, collaborate, coach and inspire around transformation challenges and solutions.

With guest speaker, Adrian Stalham, Sullivan & Stanley’s Chief Change Officer, the event offered insights from leaders who are pioneering new approaches to organisational change. Adrian, co-author of The Future Business Formula, set the context stating that “we’re in an age where change is not only inevitable, but accelerating.”

Empowering employees through flexibility

Adrian asked how companies can build adaptive organisations that embrace market changes rather than being disrupted. Deborah Taylor, Deputy Chief Transformation Officer at Shell Energy Retail explained their multi-year transition from a rigid “command and control” management style to a flexible model empowering frontline staff. This required shifting from strict oversight “traffic lights” that dictate actions, to “roundabouts” where small teams rapidly solve customer problems.

Deborah said this level of empowerment allowed “mission teams” to generate major gains within 90 days by improving customer journeys. However, executing this change was not easy – and needed executive backing willing to disrupt the status quo: “We needed somebody who would not only support you with what they said, but who took action.”

Engaging employees in the change process

Beyond empowerment, change efforts fail without genuinely engaging staff. Deborah discussed how Shell focused on employees feeling “invested in the change” through transparency, showing quick wins from mission teams to build momentum. Georgia Enright, an independent consultant who was formerly Head of Business Transformation at Informa Tech, added that instead of formal “change agents,” the key is engaging informal influencers. As she put it, “If you can convince them, then everyone comes with them.”

Understanding the need for balance

Jennifer Locke, Change Director at McDonald’s noted that while empowerment matters, parts of McDonald’s require standardisation to protect the brand. So balance is essential. Jess Gilbert, VP Engineering at edtech firm BridgeU, referenced how technology is also an area requiring debate on issues like AI automation.

Focusing on what matters most

Adrian insisted that metrics guide behaviours, so businesses must “measure what matters” from the customer perspective, not just finances. He described a retailer that self-reported strong “green” operational metrics. But in reality, the overall customer experience was poor – “red”.

Adrian called these deceptive practices “watermelon reporting” – green on the outside but red on the inside. This phenomenon reflects a fixation on process versus outcomes. Deborah added that full transparency on performance metrics across Shell has helped leaders “let go” of strict control needs. When frontline teams have access to real outcomes data, leaders feel more comfortable empowering those teams to make local trade-off decisions according to what customers value most.

In essence, accurate metrics focused on customer value build confidence in pushing authority to those interacting directly with customers. And that adaptability and autonomy is the key to continual reinvention.

Bringing people along on the journey

Adrian said resistance is natural, often driven by “learning anxiety.” Rather than forced change, the key is “creating an amazing environment where people actively want to be part of the change.” There’s a big emphasis here that change can’t be done “to” people – you’ve “got to bring people along on the journey.”

Appreciating differences, finding similarities

The event showed more common challenges than differences amongst organisations across a number of sectors. However, Elvin Nagamootoo, Head of Product at Shell Energy noted change methods do differ across outcomes and industries. The goals and pace of change in energy products, for example, clearly varies from something like education technology. But the need to continually adapt was universal for these leaders on the front lines of change.

In closing, Adrian synthesised the discussion, stating that “from a resilience perspective, there have got to be pieces that fit together” to survive market disruptions. Perhaps Georgia Enright summed the community evening up best when she stated, “I’m excited to see some great connections here, meeting some great people” to tackle the ongoing challenge of organisational change.”

If you’d like to know more about our Leaders in Transformation Community, we’d love to hear from you at [email protected]

Ricky Wallace
Written by Ricky Wallace
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