CHANGE20: Leadership in times of continuous change

This year, the CHANGE20 event was held mostly in a virtual mode, allowing a record-breaking number of more than 500 participants to learn and discuss how to renew their businesses and create competitive advantage by  

  • Leading major transformations 
  • Driving continuous change and 
  • Ensuring a safe emotional space for change 

Navigating in the midst of storm   

Embracing the change and steering it throughout stormy weathers are the key success factors behind our most prominent companies. Annica Bresky, the President and CEO of the forest giant Stora Enso, described at CHANGE20 how they have succeeded to lead the company of more than 25,000 people towards a renewable materials growth company, and away from just being about paper.  

Stora Enso’s transformation started out of necessity but soon moved towards disrupting the market place, to ensure that they stay relevant.  Today, the product portfolio is renewed every ten years. To be able to master this is to focus on open innovation, the ecosystem of global start-ups and cross-fertilizing the ideas with Stora Enso’s own thinking, Annica says.  

Annica states that nothing of this could have happened without the people of Stora Enso. This is the reason why Annica has spent the last year connecting with them. Staying close despite of the Covid-19. Involving her people to talk about the future and being curious about what they are saying.  Annica is not afraid to confess that “We do not have all the answers yet, but we will create them together with our people and customers.”  

Annica’s advice for those starting a transformation journey is to have a clear purpose, have courage to disrupt and involve the people. With more complex problems, companies also must put emphasis on diversion and inclusion, according to Annica.  

Culture eats technology for lunch  

People nerd and Wärtsilä’s Chief Transformation Officer, Domenico Dargenio found many similarities between the core business transformations at Stora Enso and Wärtsilä. People side of the change and especially culture were the driving themes also in his presentation: even the best plans to drive a change can be compromised by culture.  

The exponential growth of technological changes and digital solutions is huge compared to the logarithmic change of organizations – a huge gap between tech development and the way organizations are working has emerged, according to Domenico. The best way to succeed in digital transformation and to close this gap is to invest in culture. 

According to Domenico the key cultural elements are 

  • Focus on what is happening outside your company 
  • Delegate the power to you people 
  • Emphasize boldness over caution 
  • Focus on action over planning 
  • Collaborate rather than nurture individuals 

Domenico confesses to be afraid of changes: There is no predictability. The best way is just to do it by experimenting the change. And he is willing to be the one to go first in the icy water. Since change is like Finnish winter; it’s never over. 

Are you changing things or people? 

In one of the CHANGE20 polls, the guests said that they are facing a great number of simultaneous changes. Some have even more that 15 changes going on at the same time, requiring time and brain space from them. According to various studies, 25–30 % of the change programs are failing. CCEA’s insight on why transformations fail is 

  1. Too many change initiatives 
  2. An unrealistic plan 
  3. Not enough effort in driving the people side of the change 

Reetta Rajala is the founder and CEO of CCEA and passionate about leading and implementing changes. “Running my own company, I can truly relate to the first insight”, Reetta says. Instead of pushing too many changes, she recommends prioritizing the changes based on people impact, balancing the load and capacity as well as deciding what not to do. 

Reetta’s advice for the second insight is that the brain hates change and needs to time to reflect and absorb. Reetta urges to be realistic and to build a culture of continuous change, which was also emphasized by Domenico. 

When comparing the investment put on the people side of the change with the investment put on the technical side of the change, the people effort usually only represents a few percentages. Like stated before, people make the chance and to keep them motivated you need to involve and empower your people. Put effort on changing their mindset and ways of working. According to Reetta, modern change management is not only about communication or training but rather a set of tools and methods to ensure emotional commitment. 

What is Reettas’s view on starting new changes before the previous ones have been implemented? Be open to what is going on. It is alright to stop doing things, but make sure you let your people know why. And what is the new direction. Otherwise you will end up with confusion and lack of commitment towards the next change.  

Are you too old to rock’n roll? 
If you think so, you are. As human beings we all have beliefs, fears and needs. And they are very much related; we all believe we deserve love and want to be loved, but at the same time we can feel rejection.  

For leaders, the most critical thing is to create a safe emotional space to balance between our fears and needs so that our people can thrive. According to Leadership Anthropologist Andreas Forsberg, the most important thing leaders can do is to create a safe and trust-based environment. An environment that is also willing to embrace failure. 

The most underutilized leadership tool is questions, Andreas says. Questions trigger curiosity in your people and kick-start the quest towards the new. Involving people with (daunting) questions and being curious about their answers should be utilized more. Leadership is a non-hierarchical and constantly evolving dynamic relationship. Be vulnerable and acknowledge that you do not know it all. 

Role modeling, emphasized also by Domenico, is also highly important for leaders since people do not follow change but example. Leaders showing with their own example how the talk is walked. Leading the context instead of content. 

The biggest change event in Finland 

The biggest change event in Finland, CHANGE20, was held on November 4th, 2020. The event was powered by CCEA, a consulting group with the most professionals specialized in change implementation in the Nordics.  

In the studio, with the moderator Christina Dahlblom, entrepreneur, board professional and leadership coach, were 

  • Annica Bresky, President and CEO, Stora Enso 
  • Domenico Dargenio, Chief Transformation Officer, Wärtsilä & Senior Advisor, Aalto University Executive Education 
  • Andreas Forsberg, Leadership Anthropologist, Leading High Performance and 
  • Reetta Rajala, CEO and Founder, CCEA Oy 

Key takeaways 

  • Involve the people 
  • Stop doing too much 
  • Learn the recognize how you feel about the change 
  • Role modelling: showing the behaviours you want to see