Hugh McGill is an Organizational Change Consultant with certifications in Lean Six Sigma, and Emotional Intelligence. Hugh has a deep dive understanding in employee engagement and culture adaptation. I met Hugh this past year on a project, and we haven’t shut up since, talking about our passion for change.
Dr. Mark Lesser: Hi, Hugh. Even though you are a Patriots fan and you are still listening to Pink Floyd, I enjoy our talks. It led me to really want to sit down and talk about your work.
Hugh McGill: Yes – still stuck in the world of classic rock. The Patriots, I support because when I came to this country in 1980, I came to Massachusetts. They were the local team. They were not very competitive and TV was blacked out locally. I lived near the stadium and would go up there on Sunday mornings to get great seats. “Taste great” and “Less filling” were the two main chants that rang out through the stadium. They moved from a team that few people cared about, to a team about which most people involved in watching American football have a strong feeling.
ML: Taste great, Less Filling, I forgot about that! Okay it’s been two minutes and we’ve already dated ourselves. First, where did you grow up?
HM: I was raised in the UK… born in India… my parents returned to England in time for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. I am told, we watched the parade from some flat along the route. “Where did I grow up?” is a very interesting question… I lived a sheltered life in England. I went to boarding school.
ML: Did you wear a cape and play Cricket or was it more of an Oliver Twist thing?
HM: Definitely not Oliver Twist. My parents were comfortably off so I was pretty protected in my upbringing. Took a lot for granted. I think I grew up when I went traveling in Europe for about six months, hitchhiking through Yugoslavia. I was living on beaches on the Greek Islands and ending up in Israel, where I lived for 14 months.
ML: What an incredible way to start your adult life.
HM: I got out of England, meeting and working with people from all over the world…this was in the early 70s. A time when people were exploring. I really began to recognize the diversity that existed in this world. I realized that, my perspective of the world was right for me. It was great learning and I think it is when I grew up… taking a more global perspective on life… how we interact and create partnerships. I learned how important it is to hear new perspectives.
ML: I am thinking that this, somehow, impacted your career. How did you come to do organizational work? I know that was a big leap in questioning.
HM: Yes! I started my career in manufacturing. Herbs and spices, bottling. I was promoted to Supervisor. But, on my first week in charge, I had my entire production team, walk off the job.
ML: Wow, that’s amazing! What happened?
HM: I was being too arrogant and coming across as if I knew everything. I was being disrespectful to their wisdom. They were not happy about it. Great learning experience. I really established strong thinking for me about the front-line employee. The people that do the work every day.
When I came to the US in 1980, I found supervisory work in the liquor industry in Boston. We were bottling private label brands in New England. But, it was very inefficient and lasted about a year. I found new work with two companies as a supervisor and went to school to complete an Associate’s Degree in Business and a Master’s Degree in Management. In 1994, after graduating from Cambridge College, I had the opportunity to move my career from manufacturing to organizational development.
My master’s degree focused on how organizations work, how leaders lead and how teams function. We focused on Emotional Intelligence, change management, personal development and my thesis focused on leadership within less hierarchical organizations. How do people get engaged in their work? How do you create organizations which have climates of inclusion, respect for diversity, recognition of collaborative behaviors and results created by the human capital? That has been my mission since then.
ML: You have extensive work in organizational change and cultural development. Why is this work frequently so difficult to sell… not only to the client, but to fellow consultants on your own team? By “sell”, of course I mean getting those around you to embrace the work?
HM: Fear! Creating organizations of inclusion, employee engagement and leadership. Organizations should focus on coaching and collaborating with employees to support their growth. This takes a lot of work and it is a long-term commitment. Organizations might not see immediate bottom-line results. To many leaders, these are “soft-skills”. This is a red flag!
It takes a commitment from the top and I mean the TOP! Many of the clients that I work with are senior leaders. They see this work as important, but they are not prepared to make the argument for culture change. It is a hard sell. The work that I have done over the past few years has been comprehensive culture change, which might include honest customer feedback. Allowing customers to be represented.
ML: Last year, you wrote an article called “Recognizing Skills and Building Confidence”. Can you tell us about this experience and how this group “adapted” in order to survive and ended up stronger as a result?
HM: This article was written as a result of a lot of work within this company to create a culture of continuous improvement. I was working at a site that was closing. A senior operator came to me soon after we had all signed our exit documents. She asked me if I remembered coming to the site late one night. This was a few years ago. Yes, I remembered it. She was an experienced person who had real difficulty working with her other team members. She did not listen. She did not respect what the team had to say and took a disruptive stance. We talked about the value she could add to the team, teaching could she do, and what partnerships could she create with the other teams?
As we drank together, she thanked me for the intervention. She said that it made a difference. She took ownership for her role and her behavior…certainly made changes. Two years later, when they were looking for somebody to step into an incoming role, there was no hesitation that she was a good fit.
The organization shifted to a process centric organization. It increased its performance by defining the processes, aligning the organization around those processes, and created a value-add environment. There was a commitment from the top of the organization for managers to become leaders. “Every interaction counts,” was the key phrase around coaching and teaching. We created a space for employee development, consistent messaging reinforced by visible leadership. The results were recognized and celebrated. The LinkedIn posting “Front-Line Engagement and Organizational Success” talks more about this.
ML: In my own practice, assessing and analyzing change readiness is first and foremost. Was this group ready for change, even though they may not have known that they almost lost their job?
HM: The whole conversation was about change. A change in the way we were going to function.
· How were we were going to lead the organization?
· How were teams were going to work?
· How were we going to talk with each other?
There was a purpose to our journey. It was a committed journey that was going to take some time. Leaders were held accountable and needed to support the change. The culture shift had prepared them to have confidence about the new business model. They were willing to go for it. The people were not aware of the power this change was going to give them. This allowed them to move forward when it was time. I sent a message to somebody to congratulate him on a promotion he received after a short time with a new company. His response, “It’s all about the trainings you gave us. I appreciate all the help and opportunities you gave me.”
ML: We spend a lot of time getting others to overcome limited beliefs, destructive thoughts, resistance. What do you do to stay adaptive?
HM: It is the voices in our heads that impact the choices we make. These choices impact the actions that we take. My own voice has to ensure that I remain curious and that I am not stuck in thinking that I am right. I learned this when I was traveling in the 70s… meeting many different people. I learned that in the organizations and communities in which I have been involved. My children remind me and I must be mindful of that.
ML: We all do. Hugh, thank you for being my first interview and chatting with me.