In the wake of a global pandemic, it’s essential to make digital and cultural transformation actionable at every level of your organisation. To help businesses stabilise and transition into the Next Normal, we created the COVID-19 Response Playbook and Our goal is to provide businesses with essential resources to reopen and recover from this crisis safely. Beyond these solutions, I wanted to learn from industry professionals on how businesses can make digital and cultural transformation into a reality. 

In the first part of our transformation series, I spoke with two experts about what customers are experiencing across Europe and how they are helping them:

  • Prepare for the realities of a New Normal

  • Adapt to a changing workforce

  • Navigate a new and uncharted business landscape

Today, I am continuing my discussion with Narinder Sahota, Senior Director at Salesforce, and Rosie Warin, CEO of Kin & Co, a consultancy that specialises in purpose and culture-led change management.

Below, we breakdown real strategies you can use, quickly and practically, to make transformation actionable at every level of your organisation.


What are some strategies to make cultural transformation actionable and how can we help employees across a hierarchy?

Rosie Warin: One of Kin & Co’s core values is “Nudge don’t judge.” Many leaders have been in leadership positions for over 20 years and have professional culture norms drilled in at a very deep level. This often includes operationalising everything, not showing vulnerability, avoiding mistakes, etc. Cultural norms are hard-wired over time. They are very difficult to change, especially in a time of stress and ambiguity like we are experiencing now.

When you are trying to shift behaviour, you have to meet someone where they are and help them with small steps. It may seem counterintuitive to take this approach when we are all moving quickly, but we need to recognise that we’re working with humans.

Narinder Sahota: We also have to consider middle management here as well. If their leadership is saying, “we need to transform” and “continue to run your business virtually, deliver on our core business, and hit your metrics,” middle managers can get stuck in an impossible position.

Investing in transformation does carry the risk that margin and/or revenue might dip initially. So we can’t ask the impossible of delivering both. We have to find a way to make change easier. Like breaking things down and investing in experimentation so we can learn little by little in a systematic way.


How can we bring everyone in an organisation along on the journey in a way that feels accessible and compelling?

RW: Right now everyone is trying to keep their businesses operational and successful. But I also think one of the biggest gaps that we see is the power of storytelling. It is a central tenet for transformation and can actually help us work better and faster.

For example, we did a purpose transformation for a client, who had a story about a customer who came into one of their stores with her two kids that were misbehaving. The two employees in the store that day took a specific approach. One helped her find what she needed while the other offered to play with her children. In the end, her kids gave them a big hug and the woman suddenly started crying. She let them know that her children were severely autistic and didn’t normally hug anyone. This personal story just screamed this customer’s entire brand; to be down to earth, highly personal, and take care of individual experiences. This became the hero story at the heart of their transformation. It’s a battle cry for the customer experience they strive to create every day. COVID-19 makes this more challenging, but the need for meaningful experience is even more critical.

NS: Yes, storytelling is critical to making work meaningful because we almost need to teach people to be human again! I’ve had coaching sessions where people feel like they can’t talk about personal issues at work. But at the end of the day, they are carrying that mental burden into work, so it exists whether we talk about it or not! This is even more apparent with video calls because we are virtually entering people’s homes. We need more compassionate leaders who can create trust and connection. Then, you can have hard conversations and become agile and resilient through all this uncharted territory.

RW: I agree that transformation is an emotional journey and we need to address the whole human. We need to be more compassionate to others while also being self-compassionate.

NS: These are the practices where we can build muscle because ultimately you can’t tell people the answer.  And we need to replace traditional reward frameworks moving from personal visibility or ego to bringing passion while believing in the purpose and values. This also applies to leaders who must exhibit the behaviours needed to realise the purpose.


What is the first step organisations can take to improve their transformation efforts?

RW: Even before COVID-19, I was being asked the same question by CEOs: how do I cope with all this change? As I outlined in our guide to Surfing Uncertainty, I have always said the same thing; invest in people, invest in purpose. I know many leaders whose companies haven’t just survived but become stronger during times of uncertainty.

At the root of all transformation is understanding your audience, like what worries and drives them, as well as their level of motivation to change. And all of those factors might have changed based on what we are seeing with the global pandemic. We can make it so much more personal by doing audience segmentation. Consider if it’s for those middle managers who need to hit their numbers or for leaders who might be afraid of failing. The key to transformation is relentless tailoring and every communication you do should be tailored to your audience.

NS: Our Experience Designers team has done this often with our customers. They do behavioural analysis and create personas, so we can see motivations, and the emotional journey each part of the organisation will be included.

The first step, for me, is learning how to engage your people at a deeper level. So many of us sit in our homes, connecting over video conferencing. It is easy to broadcast, but that doesn’t mean engagement. People’s lives have changed, experiences have led to profound realisations and innovation has occurred in ways people never expected. The future is even more unchartered, and by engaging people using humanity and humility, leaders can access the collective intelligence to drive sustainable change and transformation.

RW: Another thing that is critical to future transformation is that it has to be both top-down and bottom-up, which we’ve talked about before. It’s not just about focusing on leadership, but also about the bottom-up. Leaders come and go and a culture needs to be self-sustaining. This also needs to be co-created so that everyone feels a stake in what you are doing and can feel proud of the output.

Creating movements is also critical and they are not always created organically. You need to plan the change, with a system, governance, objectives, and metrics. And there are simple things you can do, such as:

  • Create Ambassador groups.

  • Form Steering Committees with representation across your company.

  • Tap into ‘dark power’, which are the places where the real power lies in an organisation outside the static linearity of a hierarchy.

I always like to think of transformation as a drop of dye in some water; it disperses slowly, in patches, some faster than others, until all the water is a new colour.

Focus on adaptability and resilience because the only thing we know for sure is that more change will come. And what drives adaptability and resilience? Purpose. It will help you react to change and see the bigger why to keep going and work through adversity.

And finally, our motto is “deliver the change in the style of the culture you want to create.” If you want to create an innovative culture, for example, your kick-off and planning meeting should incorporate something innovative, so everyone can see at the very beginning that it’s something different and intentional. Show them how it feels to operate in a new way.

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