LearnPatch is interviewing some of the speakers at the forthcoming World of Learning Conference and Exhibition. Here, Roisin Woolnough talks to Melanie Lepine, manager, global delivery strategy and deployment at American Express.
The world around us is changing all the time and that change happens whether we like it or not. The world of work and learning is also constantly changing, again whether we like it or not. It’s much better to embrace that change and change with it, rather than resist it. So says Melanie Lepine, manager, global delivery strategy and deployment, at American Express. She thinks change is an ongoing process, a journey. “It doesn’t just happen once. If people have the concept that things aren’t static, it helps them to understand and accept that change is continuous and that makes it easier for change to happen.”
Conversely, if people view change as a one-off event, then every time they need to change it’s a big upheaval and Lepine says they have to go through an emotional cycle each time.
When organisations have a culture of lifelong learning, Lepine thinks this helps to effect change as people are then naturally accustomed to thinking afresh and are less stuck in old routines.
Of course, those who are driving change forward are key in ensuring the workforce is ready for the change and able to meet any challenges. Good communication is critical. Everyone needs to understand what change is required and why – why does the business need to do this?
“You need people to understand what it is you are looking to do,” she says. But, just as important is the need to recognise and acknowledge what effect the process will have on people, what it will mean to them day to day. “You have to demonstrate that you understand what it means for them, as well as for your organisation.”
When people are struggling with the concept of the change that needs to happen, Lepine says she likes to talk about individual moments – how people feel at particular points in time. “This is how you feel about change today, but you might not feel like that tomorrow,” she says. “A beginning view of change may not be where you end up.”
What Lepine is talking about is employee engagement – having employees who are engaged in the process, can talk openly to their managers and know their concerns will be listened to. Trust is very important.
“You have to understand who your employees are and what they are about, what is important to them and what motivates them. It’s about connecting the dots between that and organisational needs. It’s a fine line to walk between what people need and what the business needs to achieve.”
Lepine thinks managers have to know what career path employees want to take and how to help get them there, while balancing organisational and team needs.
Fortunately, Lepine likes collaborative leadership. It’s a key element of her management style. She thinks collaborative leadership really helps organisations and their employees to be able to work effectively and keep evolving. “I may be the leader in situations but that doesn’t mean it’s about me making the decisions and being the leader. This is a big thing for me. With all projects and change programmes that I work on, it is about facilitating, removing barriers and hierarchies and bringing people together across all levels and departments.”
By working collaboratively, Lepine finds that change programmes happen more easily and embed more successfully. She thinks people pull together better as a team. “It brings trust and drives engagement. People are part of the plan.” It removes some of the resistance, partly because when there is resistance, there is the opportunity for people to express it and work with others to overcome it. Also, as people have more of a voice and the opportunity to vocalise their concerns, much of the potential hostility to change is alleviated. Everyone likes to feel that their opinions count and concerns are heard.
Another advantage to collaborative leadership is that it encourages people to be proactive, says Lepine. “It removes the need to delegate. In the collaborative way, people tend to step up and say I can do that job. They volunteer their own strengths and skills.”
As companies are increasingly globalised, across boundaries and geographies, the need to work collaboratively has increased. Lepine thinks collaborative leadership is an upward trend and that the more people experience it, the more they practice it themselves. “When people become used to working that way they follow it,” says Lepine. “You can bring people up to be collaborative leaders by doing it collaboratively yourself and being a role model. It’s self-perpetuating.”
That’s not to mean it’s always possible. Sometimes, the more directive style of leadership is appropriate, such as if there is stalemate or resistance that cannot be overcome. Lepine admits that you cannot always get everyone to agree, so sometimes it’s necessary to take control and move matters forward as a leader.