Our thinking

Inken Schaeppi

Managing Consultant

Authentic leadership as a critical driver during large change transformations

Download article

Pro Global's Inken Schäppi - Managing Consultant, explains why leaders who assume the change in a credible, authentic way can be the make or break in critical change situations.



During Pro’s latest expert panel discussion in Zurich on Change Leadership, three broad change-management themes emerged. Developed into a three-part series, it began with the first and most important topic – Respect. Change is about respecting people; change affects people, and people breathe life into change and make it successful. The second topic - Authentic Leadership is explored in this edition: good change leaders are authentic and transparent, and create an atmosphere of trust. The third topic - a clear vision and specific goals, which are imperative to successful execution, will shortly follow.


Why is authentic leadership such an important factor for success?

Good change leaders are authentic and transparent. The days of the stoic, silent leader are over. Today’s leaders need to create an atmosphere of trust and credibility by having the courage to be real. However, it is a challenge to be a change leader when you are also affected by the change. Yet, a change leader who dares to be real and vulnerable, and communicates honestly, creates an atmosphere of trust that fosters greater cooperation and success in the shorter and longer term.


Authentic leadership in practice: A success story

Leadership authenticity is particularly relevant in the context of large-scale transformations that affect many employees. One live example that was discussed during Pro’s Panel Discussion on Change Leadership was the introduction of ‘dynamic working’ for a big insurance company that affected around 2,500 employees.


The concept includes the introduction of different working zones such as team zones, living zones and community zones. As a “by-product” of dynamic working, employees and managers do not have individually assigned desks.

For the company, there are a number of strategic objectives tied to this change, including: cost savings due to better use of expensive office space, greater flexibility for future reorganizations i.e. shifting team sizes requiring different offices, as well as improved collaboration across teams, levels of seniority and business units. It also drives more effective knowledge sharing, better collaboration and as such improved productivity.


The corresponding task was to implement a desk per employee ratio of 0.8, i.e. 80 shared desks per 100 employees. Losing their individually assigned work places or offices was indeed the change most difficult to deal with and to accept by employees and managers. Some of them had spent 10, 20 or more years working in individual offices behind closed doors. Suddenly moving into open space offices where they had no assigned desks - and space for personal belongings was limited to a less than one cubic metre size locker – represented a major change, which was initially hard to accept.

In order to address and manage such deep change, which was at the same time impacting status, personal behavior and office culture, leadership authenticity was identified as one of the most important key success factors.


“We knew it was crucial to have our leaders stepping up and leading the change by acting as role models in the new office setting, and it became obvious very fast that those teams, in which Management openly addressed the changes and challenges of the new work environment and responded to questions and fears of employees transparently and constructively, accepted change faster and behaviors adapted much more smoothly. Senior Leadership behavior had the biggest impact, when Management was “walking the talk” by sitting with their teams and role modelling the requirements of dynamic working themselves.”  - Fabrice Braun Manella*, Head Strategy & Business Transformation Private Customers, Zürich Versicherungs-Gesellschaft AG


Fabrice explains: “The claim holds true that the level of adoption of dynamic working principles by a team or a department was directly correlated to the authenticity or ‘role modelling’ of their Team Leaders and Senior Managers. There was an example of one Executive Board member who relinquished his personal office and transparently sat in the middle of the 250 employees in his Business Area. It went without saying that this was the Business Area where the change and new behaviors were implemented fastest and most sustainable. On the opposite, those Business Area who’s Heads did not have the authenticity to lead and live the change were still struggling with the new concepts years after their implementation.”


Employees look to their leaders to lead change. If leaders go a step further to not just talking about change, but actively and openly embodying it, employees are more likely to follow this example. On the other hand, employees very quickly distinguish between leaders who only ‘talk’ about a needed change in behavior, but do not embrace it. A fact supported by
Fabrice: “people … smell authenticity, or the lack of it. If you say one thing, and do another, people notice.”


Visible change behavior is a critical element for driving large-scale change transformations – and very underestimated as Pro’s experience shows. Feel free to reach out to our Pro experts to discuss how to make your change journey more effective by including your leadership team’s behaviors most effectively into your change program. By ensuring it is fully aligned and integrated into your desired future state, and consistent throughout the organization, you can access one of the strongest levers for your change program.


Pro Zurich held a Panel Discussion on Change Management, discussing the topic
"People are the key element in any change situation. How do you lead your staff through change?" 
To read the article in full, click here.



*All views expressed by Fabrice Braun Manella are his own and do not represent the views of his employer.

Download article