Leadership 2021: Planned or unplanned, organizational change should be purposeful, says expert Mumtaz Chaudhary

Leaders will become more people-focused and data-driven, predicts the co-founder of consulting firm Pragilis Solutions

Mumtaz Chaudhary preaches what she practises—ensuring that organizational change goes smoothly and successfully. Chaudhary made some big changes herself in 2006, when she launched what now called Pragilis Solutions with her husband, Shaheen Chaudhary.

There’s been no shortage of work for the boutique management consulting firm, which now employs 12 to 15 contractors at any given time. Pragilis Solutions’ present and past client range from Coast Capital Savings and heavy-equipment dealer Finning International to Emily Carr University of Art + Design and the Alberta government.

READ MORE: Ask a Leader: Finning CEO Scott Thomson stresses the importance of communicating with your team during these uncertain times

You’d think that having a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic swing by—forcing many businesses to change so they could survive—would be a great opportunity for Chaudhary and Pragilis. But planned change, the kind her Vancouver outfit specializes in, is very different from the unplanned version, she says.

Companies usually have “a charter and a mandate and a plan” for how they want to effect change, she explains. They just need help with how, and that’s where Chaudhary and her team come in.

“Leaders had to become more responsive and more decisive,” she says of those at the helm trying to navigate unending lockdowns and restrictions, “and they had to communicate frequently and transparently.”

Another key takeaway for leaders during unplanned change is to work iteratively, Chaudhary says. “You’re going to make mistakes, and you’re going to have to correct course.”

Chaudhary thinks the pandemic has shown leaders the power of effective messaging, too, citing provincial health officer Bonnie Henry’s “Be kind, be calm, be safe” catchphrase as an example of clear and compassionate communication.

READ MORE: Adults in the Room: Lessons in leadership from the pandemic’s first wave

Looking ahead, leaders will increasingly become both more people-focused and data-driven, according to Chaudhary. People-focused because of the “great resignation” that swept North America over the summer, leaving U.S. job openings at a record 10.9 million in July. Among Canadian businesses surveyed by Statistics Canada in April, one quarter said they expected shortage of labour to be a problem.

Data-driven because of the digitization of business, a trend hastened by COVID. In a McKinsey & Co. global survey of executives during the summer of 2020, respondents were three times more likely than pre-pandemic to say that at least 80 percent of their customer interactions are digital.

Hybrid work is something that Chaudhary has seen people adopt with increasing enthusiasm after being forced into it. “The pandemic has proven that it’s an achievable model for a lot of organizations,” she says, “and we’re helping people implement it.”

Businesses are also paying much closer attention to mental health. Chaudhary says she’s seeing employee assistance programs being “amped up” across the board at companies “small, medium and large.”

As parting advice, she emphasizes that all change, whether planned or unplanned, must be purposeful and revolve around a value or culture that leaders themselves identify with.

That doesn’t have to be serious stuff. Chaudhary recounts the story of working with an electrical safety regulator that was moving from an old system—called Star—to a new, digital one. She recommended throwing a farewell bash, and the company took to it enthusiastically: they called their event the Death Star party.

“That’s a fun way to show their culture,” Chaudhary says, “but also to celebrate change that’s implemented successfully.”