THE CHANGE MAKER: Tony Reynolds

Tony Reynolds, better known to us as The Change Maker, has been blazing a change trail across three continents for almost two decades. We’ve been lucky enough to work with Tony and experience first hand his wisdom and impact. 

Tony is currently working as the Head of Talent Acquisition and Workforce Planning at Cathay Pacific where he is re-imagining their recruitment function, creating a signature candidate experience. 

When he’s not creating change in Hong Kong, you’ll find him at Octoberfest in Germany, golfing in Las Vegas or hiking in his homeland, New Zealand. 

E3: How did you get where you are now?

TR: I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do at University. My strategy was to try lots of different things and figure it out from there. So I did a mixture of Law, Science and Business papers. People thought I was a little crazy and I know my parents weren’t too happy, but I think the experimental approach allowed me to test out a few things and discover what I really liked doing.

It was the business side of things that I enjoyed the most. And looking back on it now I realise my Dad inadvertently influenced me too. He worked as a consultant while I was growing up and from a really young age I remember him bringing home Myers Briggs tests for me to do. I found that side of things really interesting.

E3: So where did you end up after University?

TR: I managed to get a HR Advisor role working for New Zealand’s largest government department, Work and Income New Zealand. I was 22 years old and had no clue what I was doing.

To this day it’s still the leanest HR department I’ve ever worked in, 22 people looking after 5,500 employees. I’m not sure if they saw some incredible potential in me or just misjudged my capabilities, but I was assigned to design a new performance management system for their call centres nationwide. 

It really was the deep end for me! Accelerated learning I like to call it.

I failed many, many times but I didn’t really dwell on those failures. There was too much else to focus on. I got a taste of everything in that role. And once I’d been there for two and a half years I felt like it was time for me to make a move to the UK to build on my experience. 

I worked with a charity called the Refugee Council in London. They provide housing in different sites across London to support refugees and had to close one of their sites due to budget cuts. My role was to tell staff about the closure and let a whole team of people know they were going to be made redundant.

That role made me realise what a huge impact change can have on a person. I’d finish a session and it felt like I’d just taken them through therapy. I learnt how important it is to listen to people, really letting them voice their feelings and concerns before anything else.

It was after those meetings that I built the pillars of my first mini-change project: communicate, inform, support. I told them I would spend as much time as they needed with them. I was there often, I never delegated work and eventually I earned their trust. That could have been a really bad experience for all of us. But when I finished my contract, they were thrilled because they felt like someone actually cared about them.

E3: How did that realisation influence your direction?

TR: It really cemented my passion for what I did. People spend more time at work than they do anywhere else in their lives. Knowing the work I do improves their experience is a really strong purpose for me. Those lessons from my early career and my first mini-change project served me well as I embarked upon my consultancy. A lot of the work I have since done focuses on organisational design, culture and performance management. Often the projects are quite ambiguous to begin with but I find that a rewarding challenge. Change is an intense process, I think a lot of people see it as a marathon more than a sprint. I disagree with that approach; change is more like a marathon distance sprint - if that makes sense. 

E3: So you need some serious ‘change fitness’ then! How important is pace in the change process?

TR: So important. HR has a bad reputation for moving slowly. Things get drawn out, 6 months turns into a year and then two years. Everything gets fragmented and loses its relevancy. To make people stand up and take notice you need to be constantly doing things at pace. 

E3: What’s your secret to making change happen?

TR: Knowing your audience is the foundation for making change happen. You need to start with the people who are going to be impacted by the change. It’s easy to get stuck in project plans and stakeholder meetings, but taking the step to connect with, listen to and build empathy for people is going to help you address the right problems. Often what you hear leads you to a completely different approach. 

Equally important is the role leadership play. If leaders don’t have the time to invest in change it’s guaranteed to fail. They need to embrace it completely. I see that as a big part of the role I play, spending time with leaders and helping them to understand how crucial it is that they dedicate time to it. What we’re trying to achieve with change isn’t always tangible, I find that being able to bring something visual to the table goes a long way towards inspiring leadership. Getting out of Excel and PowerPoint has been a game changer for me. Telling a story about the future state you’re striving for is much more engaging than leading with data. Although data is still important for measuring your success.

E3: So what about when a change project comes to an end?

TR: Well the thing is – it never ends! Change is a fluid, endless state and to keep it on track you need a relentless engine room - people who are dedicated to the vision and constantly thinking about what’s next. That’s where a roadmap becomes a great asset. The best roadmaps hit a balance between high level strategy and tactical elements. They need to be flexible to adapt to changes in the business but at the same time act as a compass. And of course to be achieved, roadmaps need that engine room. 

E3: There’s a quote we hear people using a lot when it comes to change ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ is this something you abide by?

TR: Never! There’s always room for improvement. If you’re standing still, you’re actually going backwards. An aversion to change breeds complacency, and I’ve seen what that can do to a business. Complacency is one of the most detrimental states for a business to be in. Especially now when disruption is rampant, there’s always someone right behind you ready to take your place in the industry.

Tony’s Top Tips for Change

1.  KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE: 

Start by listening and gaining empathy for the people who are going to be affected by the change. Understanding their reality will lead you to solving the right problems.

2.  WIN LEADERSHIP TIME:

Help leaders to understand how much time they need to invest to make fundamental change happen. Inspire them with a vision brought to life outside of PowerPoint and Excel. 

3.  BUILD A RELENTLESS ENGINE ROOM: 

Have a team ready to be constantly thinking about what’s next and executing on it. Change never ends, you need people ready to keep it going.