Jay Kiew Shares Five Ways to Drive Transformational Change in Changing Times

Jason McRobbie

Given the rate of change and the waves of layoffs for which it has become renowned, if not infamous, the tech industry is not known for harbouring masters of change management. We sit down with Jay Kiew (JQ), change navigation strategist and Managing Partner of Citizencentric, a human capital consultancy that powers organizational transformations for the greater good. Unsurprisingly, his wisdoms hit home where every business needs it most—at the top. Here are a few of Jay’s tips for not only navigating change, but keeping astride of how generative AI can empower a more human-centric workplace.

Key Takeaways:

  • Leaders need to be more upfront and honest in their dealings with employees around change of any kind, particularly layoffs;
  • Leaders need to embrace new thinking and new tools to widen their aperture for talent, while maximizing knowledge retention;
  • Leaders need to remember that the evolution of generative AI will only bring a greater onus for soft skills and greater change management skills than ever.

For Jay Kiew (JQ), managing partner of Citizencentric, a Vancouver-based human capital consultancy, the importance of people cannot be oxverstated—whether that be within an organization, their customers or the broader citizenry.

“I think human capital is the only organizational asset that appreciates instead of depreciates. Our technology, materials, resources —they all depreciate over time,” said Jay. “Investing in human capital—investing in our people—is different. People leaders have a call to develop their teams as fast as possible, particularly individual skill sets that span technical and emotional intelligence.”

Not only is that a grounding principle of Citizencentric, but one Jay finds applicable to every business, given the intrinsic presence and potential ROI of people in the workplace.

“We’re all looking for meaning when it comes to our work and that’s not limited to the public or private sector—that applies to everyone. One of the biggest reasons I named our firm Citizencentric is that I became a father and that changed my thinking,” said Jay. “Who cares about me? At the end of the day, I’ll be gone, but what does the future look like for my daughter and her generation?”

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“I find more and more of us asking, how do we show up? I think there is a tie-in between all of our products and services and offerings regardless of organization and having meaning behind that to make a more citizen-centric society,” he added. “The challenge I embrace is to focus organizations on transforming in a way that serves not just their customers, but beyond that, the citizens.”

Given that truth and the volatility of the tech space, Jay still scratches his head at how so many leaders miss the mark with employees when navigating change.

“Leaders want to run at the rate of change of technology, when really they need to run at the rate of change of people. So what can leaders do? The biggest thing is to understand how people work and how their needs have changed,” said Jay. “Remote/hybrid preferences, relevant micro-learning opportunities, prioritizing skills over careers—leaders need to understand these trends to know how to help their people. A great example is Atlassian’s shift to their Team Anywhere model.”

That said, a lack of leadership knowledge is not the most common navigational error, but poor marksmanship and judgement.

“The biggest mistake is that leaders aren’t shooting straight when it comes to intentionality, implications and the impact of change. Whether that boils down to posturing, being vague or lying, leaders need to know that team members see through it and they talk,” said Jay. “Employees are so mature. We need to treat them like the adults they are. They know change happens, especially in tech. They just want and deserve to know what those changes are and what the impact is for them.”

As for the means of change mastery and providing a more meaningful work experience in calm and chaos alike, Jay has the following tips.

Keep the Pulse of Communications: Pulse notifications are a great way to keep everyone informed and onboard during change in particular.

Think of them in terms of our relationship with UberEats. We want to know three main things: whether our order is accepted, where it is at and when it is here. If you think about that in terms of implementing a change in your organization, our employees want exactly the same thing.

We want to know well in advance if a change is coming, if it’s decided upon or still being debated. We want to know how far away that change is—this quarter or next year—and how we are going to be impacted (e.g. layoffs). And when that change is here, we want to know what our action plans and responsibilities are.

Uber Eat’s pulse notification concept is really applicable and so easy to understand because we live with it daily on our smartphone, so why aren’t we applying that within our organizations? Remember, the criteria for a pulse notification is consistent, clear, timely and relevant information.

Consider the Whole Person: Gartner did a survey earlier this year that showed 82 per cent of employees now say it is important that employers see them as a whole person, rather than simply as an employee. We’ve seen this reflected for a while in equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging (EDIB) narratives across employee resource groups. Leaders need to keep that in mind or risk losing the ability to empathize with their team members.

Are we listening to our people as we are navigating change as it relates to that? Is EDIB being incorporated into the change? Layoffs are a harsh reality and employees get that, but are we still retaining equity, diversity, and inclusion following those layoffs?

Engage Early to Co-create: Co-creation to shape the change together is invaluable. This of course ties back to the whole person. That whole person is a piece of your organization that is black, Asian, white, you name it, especially here in Canada where we are very multi-cultural. But are we multi-cultural at the right levels—and are you listening at all levels?

He relates the story of Gong, a revenue intelligence platform with a human touch—a Co-Pilot initiative which lets top employees job shadow the CEO and have their voice heard. A past Co-pilot, Gabrielle Blackwell, definitely surprised CEO Amit Bendov when she pointed out that one of their slides featured a Black Super Seller, but they did not have any Black women in sales. Her post struck a cord with thousands on LinkedIn, but it highlighted the potential for even more to Jay.

“These are the insights that co-creation can bring if leaders enable it and empower employees to share their perspective,” said Jay.

Widen Your Aperture For Talent: Leaders need to stop seeing jobs as positions within functions and start looking for specific skillsets that are transferable between functions. This not only helps navigate change, but is the best way not to lose people.

Think beyond the basic functions you see in any business—HR, operations, product, marketing, sales, etc. These are very structured ways of thinking about your job profiles, but what we’re starting to see is a queue for skills that are highly applicable:

  • Can this person think critically?
  • Can they do process mapping?
  • Are they curious?
  • Are they change champions?
  • Are they project managers?

Jay points to the last two as increasingly important attributes during uncertain times, providing the cultural cohesion and project management skills needed to not only navigate change—but drive the new programs and initiatives that inevitably emerge.

Sharpen Your Focus on the Vision: There is a lot of noise around disruption right now, but leaders need to make the main thing the main thing. That might mean pausing, resetting the ship and doubling down on your business fundamentals. That also means embracing your leadership power to say ‘No’ to the nice-to-have initiatives that are not core to your business.

There are endless things you can implement, but that focus on fundamentals is what drives the business and the employees appreciate that too. Make sure the employees who are with you want to stay with you and feel taken care of and part of tomorrow.

“Those four or five skillsets are the most important, along with an ongoing need for soft skills. Outside of that, I can teach you or have AI step in with a how-to model,” said Jay. “That said, we need the softer skills and this is nothing new, but more important than ever moving forward.”

Leverage Generative AI as part of your Talent Strategy

That said, and as Jay is poised to tackle at the upcoming Tech Talent North Conference in Toronto, generative AI needs to be better understood and embraced in terms of its process improvements, iterative potential and capacity for knowledge retention.

“As we combat brain drain, we should be considering how AI-ready our organizations are. The biggest challenge leaders bring me is how to battle change fatigue. Their people are burnout and exhausted, leading to them leaving,” Jay said. “As employees turn over then, how do we ensure that our organizational knowledge is captured?“

“Generative AI has really changed the game this year because it’s starting to address exactly that. The more that companies can capture and leverage knowledge capture, the better set they will be for the future,” said Jay, before breaking down what that might look like into three basic levels.

Level One is a basic, wikipedia-style knowledge repository. Consider something like Notion as a good example—a platform where everyone can contribute to different layers and you can build in processes. The more you can outsource your knowledge base, the more time you can spend coaching your teams on other critical skillset development.

Level Two involves asking “How do we use AI tools to build in process mapping and embed tools to enable micro-learning?”

Here at Citizencentric, as we’ve grown exponentially this year, we’ve been nudged into leveraging a platform called Tango . Tango allows me to click through what I am doing and if it is a repeatable task or function, it takes screenshots and captures the steps in a walkthrough automatically. This provides a very specific and targeted application of learning, perfect for a new hire and circumvents the need for a managerial walkthrough. As a result, it also frees the manager up to focus on coaching, training and mentoring.

Level Three involves moving away from simply adding AI platforms to your toolkit to embedding your organizational IP within larger enterprise ecosystems leaders like Microsoft x OpenAI, Cohere or Google Bard. Proper implementation leads to intelligent organizational query (IOQ), which brings the subject matter expertise of all staff to your fingertips. McKinsey, for instance, recently launched Lilli, a chat application trained on more than 100,000 proprietary internal documents and interview transcripts.

“Generative AI stands to be a game changer for leaders to navigate change by capitalizing upon the inevitable volatility of the talent market,” said Jay. “Our roles in the future will lean towards review and iterative creation. We get to direct, shape and guide our outputs to even higher levels of quality.”