Catalyzing organizational change

Constantinos Liarikos
Head of Programmes & Operations, WWF Hellas

WWF Greece has always been an organisation focused on people and teams, yet we had never systematically employed professional HR services of any kind. When we started working with AHUM, we faced two challenges: our own decision to upgrade and restructure our internal operations, and the organisational trauma of a staff cutback forced upon us by the financial crisis in Greece.

Over three semesters, AHUM worked with myself and two of my senior collaborators (as well as two team leaders in other departments). The goal was to deliver on key targets: increased consciousness of organisational structures and needs; better articulation of proposals and decision-making; greater ownership of roles and responsibilities and greater empathy for the accountability of others. Overall, we hoped to improve WWF Greece’s management, communication and negotiation skills.

To use the jazz metaphors so frequent in AHUM’s narratives, I was delivered with musicians that not only had the skill to play the right notes, but also the mindfulness, empathy and collective consciousness to ensure that their playing is not simply right in its own context. It is right in the context of the group and its collective music.

Musicians like that require bandleaders who are able to properly write scores and mindfully conduct their band. My aspiration to transform my head-banging rock band into a well-tuned jazz ensemble shed light on my own accountability and need for development.

My experience with AHUM was, beyond any doubt, the richest, most challenging and effective professional and personal development process I have ever undergone. Although the specific goal was to help me achieve a set of moderate development targets, it evolved into a truly life-changing experience. It led me to challenge all the preconceptions and biases I had developed as a seasoned professional, and to refocus my priorities and targets. To move away from the anxious, noisy everyday pursuit of “heroic” delivery towards the more meaningful world of actual effectiveness and true teamwork, which can only be achieved when roles are clearly defined and everyone feels mutual respect and personal accountability.

The AHUM process never questioned my goals; but it helped me realize which targets are really for me to set, according to my job description – which targets I should expect people working for me to define for themselves, and which I should define for them. It helped me to understand that we always have the “luxury” of taking time to think things over, because that is the only way to create effective organisations.

For years, I have been teaching in seminars that any project should be 80% planning and 20% implementation. I have also taught that “urgent” is only a word that managers use to shy away from forward planning and to avoid being held accountable for results. AHUM helped me translate this knowledge into meaningful actions and tactics. The process empowered me to move away from the stressful, everyday practice of making a bunch of parts somehow work together to the more sophisticated outlook of designing a streamlined and well-functioning engine.

Amazingly, it also helped me to vastly improve the quality of my communications and relationships up and down the management ladder. It increased my empathy for the motives and feelings of my staff, my peers and my director. I learnt to understand how they perceive me and find ways to communicate my ideas so that they are relevant and constructive – not in the course of a five minute chat, but in the service of our shared long-term goals. Almost immediately, this shift in attitude was reciprocated by my colleagues.

The process itself was no walk in the park. I do not think I have ever been so severely challenged on my professional views, or so exhaustively questioned on the “whys” of my practices. But always with the utmost respect for my aspirations and professional integrity, and always with the right sprinkling of humour and fun. I was pushed to question everything I did, but in a way that only increased my confidence in my skills and abilities. The whole process was a master-class in people management.

Understanding your role, your accountability, what you should and should not do, are vital assets for good professionals at any level. AHUM has delivered this for me and, indeed, for my whole organisation.