Humans @ Centre. Improving transformation success, with a focus on the emotional journey of leaders and teams

10 November 2022

Digital platformJourneyleadershipMindful OfTechnologyTransformationWealthTech Matters

Expert: Martin Devitt Facilitator: Nicola Carney


  1. There are a series of transformation paradoxes that need to be navigated, as well as emotional journeys that need to be recognised and prepared for
  2. There are six predominantly people-related factors can influence transformation success by up to 2.5X – with leadership being a key theme


A discussion on improving transformation success, based on new global research which EY conducted in partnership with Oxford-Said Business School. This research focuses on identifying key factors that drive transformation success.

The four paradoxes hampering transformation success:

  1. Results today, transform today – Leaders need courage to challenge the status quo and understand the areas of the organisation that need radical disruption so it can thrive in the future
  2. Clarity of vision, place of not knowing – Leaders with clarity of vision lean into the disruptive environment and identify a path that will take the organisation forward. To achieve this, leaders need to enter a place of not knowing and have the humility to admit they don’t know everything
  3. Tribal engagement, emotional isolation – Leaders need to create a safe space for everyone involved in the transformation – including those of resisters - to express all of their emotions. It is through the exploration of all emotions that learning happens
  4. Disciplined delivery, freedom to create – Leaders who give workers the freedom to create (within clear boundaries), can often achieve their transformation objectives faster than travelling from point A to point B

The group related their experiences where a transformation programme is articulated positively in early stages, but as teams progress, they start to lose sight of the end goals and do not identify the challenges faced along the way.

A solution suggested was to recognise these expectations upfront with teams and implement mechanisms to deal with these.

Relating to why the emotional isolation paradox is needed, a wealth manager highlighted how the element of constant change links to fatigue in the workforce. There is a desire for a new way to manage continuous change.

Participants raised the question how best to maintain the clarity of vision paradox when there are differing motivations in many transformation programs to manage. The key to this would be understanding that the framework set out by the leader is something that teams can work through together and make sense of. Additionally, this two-way communication needs to be ongoing throughout the programme.

Emotional journeys:

It was shown successful transformations that embrace emotional journeys have emotions that remain positive after the transformation. Conversely, in underperforming transformations that do not invest up-front in managing emotional dips, the emotions are more negative, having significant near-term and long-term emotional effect on teams within the organisation.

The group discussed how comfortable they feel expressing and raising emotions inside a project. A financial adviser support firm expressed that in their larger projects, teams have a scoring system every fortnight on how they are feeling, to improve work life balance.

The biggest emotional impact had come from a team member leaving (regardless of the reasons why) who was a junior member instrumental to the team, giving enthusiastic project updates and seen to be the voice of the project.

A wealth manager added that another key emotional impact factor is where rumours spread around a team when a member has already left. In particular, teams can latch onto words that the member said, speculating negative reasons why they left and leaders lose control of communication.

To deal with this, communication needs to shift from a solely logical / rational response to build in more authentic two-way engagement mechanisms with opportunities to speak up and resolve issues that are starting to manifest.

The six levers to creating a successful transformation:

  1. Inspire Purposeful Vision
  2. Care: Psychological safety
  3. Use of technology in a purposeful way
  4. Empower: Disciplined freedom
  5. Lead: Adaptable leaders
  6. Collaborate: Radical interdependence

Using any one lever in your programs increases the transformation success rate, with the use of purposeful tech contributing the most. The key is to factor in all the six levers collectively to set companies up for successful transformations.

When considering which lever would have the most impact on the current or next transformation in our organisations:

  • A financial adviser firm highlighted the ‘Care’ lever as a priority for them with the current cost of living crisis and Covid working from home requirements
  • Participants raised the question of where ‘alignment’ sits within the levers – this is covered in both ‘inspire’ and /’collaborate’. Ensuring all stakeholders are aligned with business objectives and making sure people are moving in the right direction.
  • ‘Care’ and the ‘Build’ of purposeful tech were most impactful for a financial services technology provider as they engage people early leading to more experimentation. The transformations are ongoing (where organisations are adopting tech) it is constantly evolving. Now with the new generation, employees searching for jobs need to see that.

Key takeaways:

  • For ‘adaptable leaders’, it was discussed that the leaders are influencers within the organisation – yet there are also important influencers not in formal leadership roles and these are a particular focus to work alongside leaders for early engagement and iterate feedback and adaption of plans and business readiness and adoption of the change
  • The younger generation drive towards goals set by influencers they see in firms and thus aspects of leadership should not be looked at in a traditional hierarchical view
  • Leaders need to engage all key influencers early with a combining in person interaction with the use of technology
  • It was emphasised how leading teams when they know there are redundancies at the end of the transformation program is challenging, stemming from increased cost and use of digital platforms. The group explored that leading with honesty and open communication early can help and some team members were fine with this as long as they are supported for the transition