Anna Belova: PRO Reforms
The modern world is changing at an incredible pace. To stay afloat, a person needs to learn how to control the transformation processes. Change management is one of the most relevant skills in today’s environment. It is important not only for managers of companies and various projects but also for each individual. After all, change is the whole life. Anna Belova, leading international expert, devoted her new book to this topic.
Scientific Director of the Moscow State University’s Research Centre for System Transformation, expert representing Russia in the Global Future Council at the World Economic Forum, Chairperson and Board Member of many Russian and international companies
Transformation of business is not an easy task for any manager. It requires versatile competencies and professional skills. Change management has turned into a separate area of management. Specialists from different countries discuss this topic and emphasize its relevance increasingly often today. Anna Belova became the first Russian expert to devote a whole book to change management. It is called ‘PRO Reforms. Universal Tools for Managing Changes in the Company’. She told more about it in an interview with the Global Women Media.
Anna Belova has many years of experience in the real sector of the economy. She has participated in more than two dozen projects on transforming industries and companies. In her book, she shared her own methods of change management and preparation for transformation. Anna Belova’s book also formulated the rules for the development of emotional intelligence, which is the key to successful work of a leader.
– Please, tell us about how the book’s idea appeared.
– I have three main lectures that I deliver to a wide audience. They are related to new technologies and the processes that take place in the modern world. The main lecture is called ‘How to Turn a Big Ship. This four-hour course is devoted to the introduction of changes in companies. I always provide my students with many examples and real cases. Practice shows that this is very interesting for students and four hours aren’t always enough to study the material. They suggested me to write a book on this topic.
Communication with Sergey Turko, Editor-in-Chief of the Alpina publishing house, was another reason for me to write that book. According to him, they had no expert books on change management by Russian authors. There were only translations of books from abroad. However, it is quite challenging to apply the knowledge and experience of Western specialists to the realities of our country and use them in our business environment.
In Sergey Turko’s opinion, we needed not a textbook but the opinion of a Russian expert. He suggested that I should write such a book.
As a very responsible person, I understood that the book must be brought to a conclusion and have the highest quality possible. I had no time for that but the idea to write a book inspired me very much. Then the self-isolation period came and I had a significant amount of time. That helped me with the work on the book.
– Why is it necessary to talk about PRO reforms and introduction of changes today?
– Today, the external environment has become so unpredictable that it is very difficult to stay afloat without internal changes or readiness for them. In this sense, my book is a certain motivator, a kind of guide to action. I want to believe that it will be interesting and useful for not only top managers but also a very wide range of readers.
It is not a memory book, a textbook, or a methodological guide. This is a very emotional and very personal book based solely on my professional experience.
The book includes not only theory but also about 40 different cases. They represent brief illustrations of some steps in the introduction of changes.
– What social mission did you set when writing the book?
– At some point we reach a certain maturity. This is the state when we no longer have to prove anything to anyone. We have a need to share our experience, knowledge, and thoughts free of charge. I experienced that when I was informed about the need for such information from adult entrepreneurs and business leaders and from young people and students. They were all interested in my view of change management. That is why I adapted my lecture for audiences of different ages.
When noticing how attentively and enthusiastically people listen to me, I thought that my social mission, as a professional, is to help them get on the path of transformation.
Change is an important stage on the way to growth and development. Changes allow us to get out of the stagnation phase. It is not only about business. This is, in fact, about our whole life.
– What is change management? What are the peculiarities of projects in this field?
– I believe, change management projects in companies differ from other projects. They are more unpredictable and uncertain. When we start to change something, a lot of unexpected pitfalls emerge. When introducing changes, we need to move step by step, constantly analyse the situation, the response of the team, the environment, and adjust the action plan if necessary.
Changes in companies and business systems are a very complex process. That presupposes the changes in the psychology of people and culture in the team, which is not fast. Many additional elements of the puzzle are needed here.
First of all, when discussing projects related to the introduction of changes, we talk about people. In China, there is a proverb that the most terrible curse for a person is to live in an era of change. People are naturally very conservative. They prefer staying in the comfort zone and that always leads to stagnation. To change the environment, it is necessary to change people’s attitude towards their work and life. That is why a significant part of my book is dedicated to emotional intelligence.
– Any transformation gives us new opportunities but at the same time frightens us with its uncertainty and unpredictability. What is important to know to stop being afraid of change?
– You can’t isolate yourself because of being afraid of change. This is a psychological barrier that one must overcome. It is important for each person to do it individually.
I give a lot of advice on this subject in my book. Let me share one good example now. It is related to the time when I was responsible for reforming the Russian railroads. That was a huge project. At that time, the railroads provided 78% of the country’s cargo turnover (without pipeline transport). Any mistake could lead to the destruction of economic chains and an avalanche-like bankruptcy process.
We were afraid of changing something because the responsibility was too great. And then we worked out one simple principle for ourselves: to move forward but not to take steps with irreversible consequences.
People often do not see a way out and do not understand what direction to choose. That’s the main problem that leads to lagging behind and loss of competitiveness both for companies and individuals. Sometimes it is enough to divide your transformation path into separate stages. It is important to imagine what obstacles you and your team can face and what opportunities and solutions to problems may arise. This is very useful for both project or company development and personal growth. People learn to think differently when passing through the changes.
– How can one learn change management? What qualities, skills, and knowledge must a leader possess?
– In my book, I describe typical situations and reasons why people often postpone the start of the change process. That can be caused by previous experience, different doubts, or lack of time. However, when a leader removes all obstacles to change, he or she faces a number of questions. Who can lead the transformation process? What qualities should this person possess? What criteria should he use to select a team?
In my opinion, there are two sets of qualities necessary for change management. The first set is the professional skills including the desire for continuous learning and development, the ability to hold attention and divide a large task into elements, and various managerial competencies. The second set includes emotional intelligence qualities, such as empathy, the ability to win the trust of the team, independence and autonomy, and the ability to make quick decisions.
The main thing is never to give up and always remember that there are no unsolvable problems.
Many problems appear when managers lose confidence in the correctness of their actions and begin to doubt the chosen path. The feeling that there is a way out in any situation is the key to success here.
– Why developing empathy is particularly important today?
– If you want to change something, people must hear and understand you. That is why you need to have respect and trust from the team you work with. It is important to create a certain inner atmosphere that will bring together the manager and the team emotionally. It is vital that the team consists of your like-minders.
People may not coincide in character, occupation, social status, or interests but they should have a similar system of values. Only then the trust necessary for change management and any development process appears.
When I came to Sovcomflot as a Board Member, the first thing I asked was to give me an opportunity to go on a voyage. Many people were surprised but it was important for me to understand and feel the people working in the fleet, see their attitude to their business, and learn about their problems and experiences. That’s how my voyage on the Northern Sea Route started. During 11 days I communicated with the ship’s captain and sailors. That brought us closer together and created an atmosphere of trust. After such a voyage, captains of other vessels and other employees began to address me directly telling about existing problems and sharing their ideas and wishes. Social trust appeared. That is a vivid example of how empathy works.
When you come into a business, you must understand how it is arranged from the perspective of not administration but ordinary employees.
Today, in the period of pandemic and self-isolation and the era of digitalisation, the topic of empathy between management and employees is particularly important. Communication based on trust and understanding helps make remote work as effective as possible. The success of the company and any project depends on the development of corporate culture.
– You said it was important for you to adapt the information for people of different ages. Why is it so important today to involve young people in change management?
– I would like young people to find useful knowledge that would supplement their life experience. I think this is relevant information that will be useful for them in the future.
Today’s world sets many new challenges before humanity. We have never faced many of them before. One of the urgent problems faced by young people today is digital burnout. To avoid this, they must be able to support themselves emotionally, adapt to new realities, and control their inner state.
The amount of information in today’s world is too large. Educational and communication processes are gradually moving to a digital space. That makes it more and more difficult to assimilate information. It is still live communication that helps to learn new knowledge and immerse in complex topics most effectively.
We live in a complex world, which is changing rapidly. The demand for quality information about the new reality and overcoming new challenges is very high.
I believe that it is very useful to read any expert materials and books that reflect the entire depth of certain processes. That helps us form the dominant neural connections in the human cerebral cortex.
– The modern world is changing very quickly. Sometimes it is difficult for people to keep up with the changes. As an experienced expert, one of the leading international top managers, and a wise woman, what advice could you share with young people?
– I think it is necessary to love the world, to be constantly interested in how it is arranged and keep up with the newest discoveries. Love is always curiosity, the desire to understand everything that happens around. If a person likes to look at the stars, then he or she does not just watch them but also begins to think, to study them, and to learn new things.
The ability to stop and think and the desire to dive into details are what helps us move forward.
I worked in many fields in my life. Every time I faced a new sphere, I saw a new challenge before me. When I came to the company to carry out change management processes, I was often asked, about what I can know about the nuclear industry, power industry, or venture business. Such an attitude can undermine your confidence. However, a new industry is not a problem if you have vast experience and knowledge in the field in which you consider yourself to be an expert. Yes, I may not know about the venture business but I am a professional in change management. I can always receive the rest of the missing knowledge.
To be successful in life, a person must form professional skills. He or she should know something better than his peers or colleagues. In this case, there are respect and trust. Even if this person failed in something, everyone knows that he or she is competent and authoritative in his or her field.
If we like to do something, we start to immerse ourselves more and more in this field. Over time, we turn to related fields of activity, thus expanding our boundaries. That’s why I believe that if a person loves this world and is interested in how it works, his or her curiosity will certainly become a driver for personal and professional development.
Marina Volynkina, Viktoria Yezhova, Global Women Media news agency
Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov