The Art of Transformation: Turning Challenge into Positive Change — Susan Chapman-Hughes

Image from Unsplash by Alesia Kazantceva

The global pandemic and its aftermath have redefined ‘business as usual’ — and brought to the forefront the need to continuously adapt operations and cultivate agility. With change the greatest certainty on the world horizon, how can leaders best set strategies, disrupt the status quo, and guide their stakeholders forward?

We’re talking with Susan Chapman-Hughes, a connected leader and growth strategist with a people-centered approach to leadership — one that is engaged, inclusive, and empowered.

Susan, you’re known as a strategic disruptor and leader of positive transformation. What does transformation mean to you, from a business and people perspective?

Many of us think of transformation as something that happens only as part of a big project. But it’s happening all around us, every day, often in small ways that eventually morph into major shifts.

As businesses have grown, they may have taken shortcuts to save money in building their infrastructure — ending up with varying datasets, processes, work patterns, and ultimately, a disconnected experience with customers and employees. Transformation begins with lining up business infrastructure to match stakeholder expectations in order to create the opportunity to reach business goals faster and more efficiently. Done correctly, effective transformation helps an organization to be ready for future efforts as well.

How can organizations best ready themselves for transformation as the ‘new normal’?

At its core, transformation is about change management. You want to strengthen the organizational muscle so that your teams have an eye for when transformation is needed and can be executed. To get started, you must be clear about what you are trying to transform and why you are transforming. Readiness also requires leaders who are empathic, adept at ‘reading the pulse’ of others, have earned the team’s trust, and operate transparently. Taking time to develop the right plan with the right processes to guide people through change, including making the clear connection to how the change will impact their lives for the better will save you a lot of time. Readiness also means having the right ‘listening posts’ for when things don’t go as expected so plans can be nimbly adjusted.

Having these things in place will give you the ability to assess whatever happens, openly share the lessons learned, and continue in a state of readiness for the next change — often right around the corner. Leaders who recognize that change is the new normal and can prepare their people to embrace this reality will be the winners as the world transforms at a dizzying pace. It really isn’t as scary as it sounds.

Susan, you’ve led several digital transformations. What is the role of the digital world in creating positive change?

Digital transformation is the act of using technology tools to aid in the overall journey of business transformation. It can be as basic as using machine learning in conjunction with automation to reduce error rates, streamline a process, or do away with manual engagement– or it can be as complex as using predictive analytics and artificial intelligence-based tools to enhance and improve your product or process.

Today we’re hearing more and more the term “Web3.” It’s what we call the ‘metaverse’ of being able to move seamlessly between reality and virtual reality, and we see it rapidly emerging in some places. For instance, say you want to buy new eyeglasses but can’t get to the store to try them on. An app is out there that will scan your face and then let you try on pair after pair of glasses virtually. Other applications are things like NFT (non-fungible tokens) — art as a digital asset rather than a tangible painting you hang on your wall. So we’re in a brave new world of complex cultural transformation.

How can leaders help their employees and stakeholders keep up with this brave new world?

The short answer is, keep it simple, Like so simple that your 80 year old grandmother could understand it.

If you’re in the business of creating a new product or service for a customer, use a simple interface. Explain the benefit to them upfront. For example, every now and then on my new phone, a message pops up. ‘We notice you do x a lot. Well here is an easier way to do that. ’ Because of the way the message was offered to me, I indeed wanted to follow the suggestion because I knew it could save me time and make my day-to-day communications easier. An even better approach is for the app to just start doing it in the background without me even having to do anything.

The power of companies who understand transformation, then, is simply stated. They make the change easy and help stakeholders understand — in an instant — what’s in it for them.

Secondly, as leaders, you have to get your head out the sand and try some of the new things that are coming out. I have often found that reverse mentoring helps a lot. I have several young people with whom I engage in mutual mentoring. I help them think through their career navigation and management, they help me understand trends amongst their peers and the latest gadget/app around.

Thank you, Susan, for your insights and inspiration.

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Susan Chapman-Hughes is a C-level executive, global speaker, and connected leader. Known as an effective change maker, she has expertise in serving multiple industries in various leadership and executive roles and has a distinct talent for bringing stakeholders together to develop shared winning strategies. Her ability to develop talent to high levels has been recognized by the organizations she works at and serves at the board of. Most recently, Susan served as the Executive Vice President, Global Head of Digital Capabilities, Transformation and Operations at American Express.

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