Navigating disruption: Mack Fogelson

Meet Mack. Tell us a little bit about your career and what you are currently doing?

I’ve had a very unconventional path to my career that’s all based in my love for teaching, learning, and growth. The first role in my career was a middle school English teacher. I  quickly traded that for entrepreneurship and a journey where I grew a small boutique digital marketing firm that pioneered growth through purpose and community building. At the time, I was speaking all over the world on the search engine stage, teaching marketers about connection and community in a time when we didn’t really understand the role that played in Google’s algorithm.

That was a 14 year journey and I worked hard to constantly evolve the company. But at the time, companies didn’t want to do the work to improve from the inside/out which is required to connect with your employees and customers; they really just wanted us to grow their social media followers. So I jumped off that ride, took some time off, and decided if I could do anything, I wanted to be an Org Designer (OD). If I was an OD, I’d be at the core of these companies, changing their systems and guiding them to become the best version of themselves.

Fast forward to now, in our post-pandemic world, where meaning, connection, and authenticity is not a luxury with our employees and customers, it’s a requirement. And as an Org Designer, I am focused on helping companies, leaders, and teams redesign their systems and build braver cultures.

My background is in large-scale transformation. I got my start in large-scale systems design for IT departments in multi-billion dollar organisations, but that proved to fall short in getting the transformation work to stick. The missing component came years later when I trained with Brené Brown and became certified to teach her leadership curriculum.

Since then, I’ve crafted my own human-centric approach to problem solving, innovation, and change that builds resilient and bold leaders and organisations that can thrive in the constant uncertainty and complexity we face every day.

What kinds of transformations have the organisations you have worked in experienced?

In my work, I have supported companies all over the world – from iconic companies like Apple with thousands and thousands of employees, to small companies with hundreds of employees. What I know to be true is no matter the size or industry, we all struggle with the same challenges, problems, and tensions. We all struggle to navigate uncertainty and complexity.

I’ve spent years studying uncertainty, what it does to us as humans, and the negative commercial and financial impacts it can have on organisations. We just don’t come equipped with the skills and tools to navigate uncertainty. That’s what I teach and coach.

When I’m working with organisations to transform, they’ve experienced leaders who learn how to steer with outcomes and small moves rather than wasting months of time and money planning big moves that never come to fruition. They’ve experienced leaders who have built the courage to have hard and honest conversations, set boundaries, and stop overcommitting and people-pleasing. They’ve experienced transformations like leaders who stop pretending they have it all together, are willing to admit when they are wrong, and ask for help from others.

Organisations I’ve worked with have also experienced transformations with teams who have learned to stop the habit of just constantly fighting fires and instead work from strategy and outcomes, organise around valuable work, and adjust direction quickly when conditions and priorities change. They have experienced teams who have learned to ask for what they need from their colleagues instead of judging and blaming them for what they’re not doing. They have experienced teams who have built the trust to share their frustrations, fears, and stories so they can solve difficult challenges for customers.

Most importantly, organisations I’ve worked with have experienced employees feeling seen, heard, and valued. Especially when we’ve shifted inequitable pay and performance systems. And also when we’ve redesigned the relationship between the employer and the employee from one of hierarchy and power-over to a partnership where power is shared and people are trusted to make decisions.  

Over the last year, I’ve had the honour of supporting a smaller global company based in London with a transformation that is integrating six companies from across the world. We’re in the early stages of redesigning systems and processes, shaping a new model, teaching brave and vulnerable leadership, and transforming the entire system into one unified way of working. It has been the challenge of my career, and where I have had the most growth in the mastery of my own craft as an Org Designer. I’m hopeful we’ll do even more of the great work I’ve experienced in the other transformations I’ve been privileged to be a part of.

Did they navigate the transformations successfully?

As with all transformations, they are a constant work in progress where the work is never really “done,” and there are always as many defeats as there are triumphs.

In the transformation I’m currently working on, one of our early successes was supporting leaders through the enormous amount of fear and story about the companies that were merging together. Understandably so, people were so scared to lose their positions and their power and it was really hard to get them to trust and participate in helping us build the new company. We spent the first six months investing heavily in leadership training where leaders learned to face their fears, challenge their stories, and manage the emotions that naturally come up when companies are going through this kind of transition and change.

That investment paid off as it stopped the self-sabotage that was happening. It stopped leaders from working against each other and what we were trying to achieve. It opened the door to the work we needed to focus on which was serving customers and bringing new teams together so they could collectively shape new systems and find the way forward, rather than grip and hold tight to or defend what used to be.

What three learnings did you take from the experience?

My biggest learning from leading and guiding transformation work has been the importance of balanced ways of working. In our organisations, our ways of working must be balanced between both our Ways of Doing and our Ways of Being.

Ways of Doing are our systems, processes, and pathways that we use to do our work and allow value to flow through the organisation. We must be constantly evolving and shaping our systems to allow the company and our people to do our best work. Ways of Being are our belief systems, mindsets, and behaviours that influence our leadership, our relationships, and how we work together.

We need both the behavioural strengths of the Ways of Being work with the systems strength of the Ways of Doing work for our organisations to thrive.
Many organisations invest heavily in Ways of Doing. When we’re solving problems, it often feels easier and more comfortable to focus on designing a process rather than have difficult conversations about the root causes of what’s holding us back in delivering for our customers, or where we’ve failed to give honest feedback about gaps in expectations.

What I have learned is that the processes and systems we need to do our work don’t need to be forced through planning. They will organically surface when we’re centred around our customers and focusing on the work that serves them.  And when our systems, or utilisation, or employee and customer relationships are breaking down, it’s because we’re under-investing in Ways of Being. It is a constant and delicate dance to honour both, but that is when our organisations are healthiest.

What one piece of advice would you share for those looking to navigate organisational change?

Navigating organisational change (which is constant), requires us to honour vulnerability and the human experience. Many companies have opted to engineer vulnerability and emotion out of work. Yet these are the very elements that make us human and give us connection, belonging, meaning, and psychological safety. All of these things create the conditions for innovation, problem solving, creativity, trust, resilience, equity, and inclusion at work. And we all want these things present in our organisations.

The pandemic exacerbated and accelerated the tensions that organisations must change and solve in order to thrive. What have you been invited to shift and change in your organisation? How can you do that with courage and vulnerability? 

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