Corner Office Coaching

Change: A Perspective from a Future Leader

At the beginning of March, things were going extremely well for me. After applying to 85 summer internships and going through what seemed like endless rounds of interviews and rejection letters, I landed an internship at a financial non-profit in Durham. I found housing for the summer in Chapel Hill and was preparing to sign a sublease. I was at the beach with friends over spring break when we got the email that we were being kicked out of our on-campus housing and sent home. 

And just like that, everything changed.

Suddenly, I was forced to adapt to doing online classes. As a humanities major, I thrive off of close interactions with my professors and classmates. With everyone stuck behind a screen and trying to do assignments at home with both parents, my brother and my dog constantly around, my focus and attention took a nosedive. Within a week of being home, I got the call that my summer internship had been canceled. I was devastated. I was supposed to use the summers in between college to figure out what to do with my life and what career path I should take. How could I develop professional career skills without an internship? 

I struggled this summer with feeling behind. Many of my friends also had their internships canceled, but many didn’t. They got lucky that theirs were transferable to being remote and while they had no control over that, I still spent much of the summer feeling resentful and bitter. I tried to make the best of my situation. I took a summer class, worked at a smoothie shop, and participated in a product marketing case challenge analysis program. 

Every day I was plagued with worries and concerns for my future. I have always been a future-oriented person planning for success and I was overwhelmed with the possibility of everything I had worked for being thrown down the drain due to external factors. I will graduate in the class of ‘22, most likely still in the middle of a pandemic, economic recession, and budget cuts for the career fields I want to work in. I am already worrying about finding an internship for next summer, and the fear of landing one but it being canceled and this cycle repeating itself again is keeping me up most nights. 

I will end with some pleas to hiring managers and employers: please show kindness and empathy to the classes of ‘20, ‘21 and ‘22. We are doing our best with a rotten situation. We are constantly in crisis mode and watching the world fall apart around us. It is incredibly difficult to stay motivated when you feel like you no longer have a purpose or an ability to make the world better. 

My name is Erin Campagna and I am a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill, double majoring in English and Communication Studies with a minor in History. This semester I have the opportunity to intern at Adastra Talent Partners and learn from Sarah Katherine Tucker, a Certified Executive Coach. Acknowledging the significant changes in the world currently, we wanted to create space for a conversation around successfully navigating change in the midst of chaos. 

What are some best practices to stop worrying about things you can’t control?

I always tell myself and my clients, control what you can control, let go of what you can’t. We waste so much mental and physical energy on worrying – about near-term problems and long-term issues, when the reality is, sometimes it’s entirely outside of our control. Take your internship search, for instance. I won’t claim to understand the stress you were experiencing or judge that experience for you. However, it became a situation that was outside of your control the minute companies began closing their intern reqs due to the pandemic. When we acknowledge what is within our control and what is not, it can be a freeing mindset shift.

When you find yourself worrying about things you can’t control, that energy, those emotions, need to find a way out. A productive movement of this energy looks different for everyone – for some it may be a run, others cook or bake, and many move through anxiety and worry by journaling. Find those outlets for your feelings so you don’t hold onto them and spiral into unhealthy and unhelpful thought patterns.

How do you stop comparing your success to the success of others and let go of bitterness when things aren’t going your way?

The comparison game is a tricky one. We all inevitably fall into comparing ourselves to others, in part because our brains are naturally conditioned to operate “in the negative.” Our brain chemistry is actually wired to look for the bad in life instead of the good. So when we compare ourselves, our experiences, our lives to others, it’s how we’re wired. Acknowledging this is the first step to letting go of the bitterness (or any other feeling you attach to the comparison game).

From there, we must consciously train our minds to focus on the good. In order to rewire our brains, it takes a pattern of focused effort. Practicing gratitude can be transformational and can be as simple as naming three things you’re thankful for each day. Many of my clients keep a gratitude journal and integrate this practice into their morning or evening routine. Engaging your brain in this way brings awareness to your own success and abundance. It’s about shifting perspective to focus on the good in your own life.  

How can college students successfully navigate times of excessive change within the job markets?

We are all in a state of constant change. There is a confluence of external forces in our world right now between the pandemic, social issues, and economic uncertainty. It’s only natural that our mindset changes as our circumstances do as well.

When we navigate change, whether imposed by ourselves or outside forces, we inevitably traverse a change journey. When I say it’s a change journey it’s not fluffy – the journey is filled with highs and lows, celebrations and losses, and where you choose to sit in that journey in the series of moments is important.

The beauty of change is that it holds tremendous opportunity for growth and evolution. Change allows you to build resilience by moving through resistance. Change offers you an opportunity to choose to operate differently. And within change you often discover you are capable of much more than you ever dreamed possible. But looking at change from this vantage point is a mindset shift.

Your generation is navigating an undoubtedly difficult time in our world’s history. As you ponder career opportunities post-graduation, consider this:

  • Be flexible when it comes to obtaining practical real-world experience. Internships have been the primary vehicle by which students learn, grow, and discover their areas of interest. In the absence of internships, get creative in how you gain exposure to business environments. 
  • Network with professional organizations and individuals from alumni groups to gain more insight into career journeys.
  • Be open to unpaid internship opportunities with companies that can help you build tangible skills in your area of interest. 
  • Pursue volunteer opportunities with nonprofits that will allow you to give back to the community while gaining experience. 
  • Engage in virtual workshops and training programs to learn new concepts and get creative in applying your learnings.

How can the process of change facilitation within a company be useful for college students?

Whether it’s an organization or a person, the one constant in life is change. Change facilitation within an organization involves multiple people and perspectives while personal change is singular and involves self-awareness and introspection. Regardless, the first step in change facilitation is awareness. Check-in with yourself and the change(s) you’re experiencing in life. What are the feelings around the change(s)? How would you like to navigate the change in a way that focuses on the good and your strengths? In what ways can you shift perspective in your life to view the change(s) as positive and for your own evolution as a person? This is a crucial piece of the change facilitation process.

From there, look at how you can increase your knowledge around the change itself. Are there particular skills you need to grow or gain in order to embrace the change? For many, the pandemic has forced us to expand our way of viewing personal interactions, learning, and work. What are you doing to move with this tide rather than fighting against it? We waste so much energy fighting change in our lives rather than acknowledging and accepting that change happens. Not only is this exhausting, but we begin to put up barriers for our own protection and this can close us off to new experiences and the opportunity to build new skills. 

A final key step in successfully navigating change is reinforcement. When you tackle a difficult task or take a path that’s unknown, you have to give yourself pats on the back along the way. Notice where you’ve moved through resistance to change and built resilience. Celebrate that for yourself. Perhaps you stepped outside of your comfort zone on a project or assignment. Big or small, instances where you approach the uncertain from a place of a growth mindset are empowering, reinforcing, and cause for celebration. 

A final thought on change and life in general is to meet yourself where you are. If you’re feeling super stressed, tune into your mind and body and give yourself permission to do what you feel is best for your wellbeing. So often we fight what our body and mind is telling us because we feel we always have to be our best selves. Acknowledge and accept that your feelings are not only completely normal, but also offer an opportunity for you to shift perspective and formulate a new way of operating and moving through change!

Investing in L&D Early

It’s been awhile since I’ve sat down to blog as I really hit the networking hard in late December and January to get the word out about Adastra and the work we’re doing. I can’t thank my network enough for showing up for early morning coffees and lunches all over the Triangle – being with like-minded individuals is really what fuels me to build a wildly successful consultancy!

Along my journey I was introduced to an organization that is growing rapidly, building their leadership and executive teams, and grooming future leaders. Not only have they signed on to be my first client, but they’ve become a standout organization in my mind for their focus on culture and growing their people. This organization has grown from 15 people to 40 in just six months and that’s a lot of new talent to inject into an organization. What’s great is that they’ve done it thoughtfully – hiring for skills, knowledge, and abilities with a focus on hiring diverse talent that aligns with their culture and core values.

What I find unique about this organization is not only their steadfastness in hiring to a set of key tenants, but also their early commitment to equipping their current and future leaders with the knowledge and tools to manage for results. Over the next 1.5 months I will support a group of 17 managers and future managers in their journey to set SMART goals, align expectations, delegate effectively while empowering their people, and have meaningful coaching and feedback conversations. I’m so excited to share some impactful tools and frameworks to help them be successful in their critical role.

However, before one can manage others, one has to manage one’s self so we’ll start by strengthening our emotional intelligence and building trust with one another, two key components of successful leadership. We’ll talk about motivating the elephant and directing the rider (see Chip and Dan Heath’s book Switch) so when we shape the path for the team, they aren’t going in circles. We’ll dive into Covey’s 13 Trust Behaviors and building character and competence behaviors that drive trust with their teams. And we’ll talk about change, because change is what makes managing people difficult.

For early stage companies, investing in learning and development may seem like an overwhelming commitment from a budget and resource perspective. But it doesn’t have to be. Adastra understands your L&D goals must be achieved because the strength of your leadership team can make or break your organization. I’m looking forward to supporting this team and others as they seek to differentiate themselves through growing and building their people!

Healthy Organizations Foster This Key Component in Their Culture

I will openly admit that I’ve been on a Patrick Lencioni kick with my business reading of late. One of the best gifts I received this year was a copy of The Truth About Employee Engagement, which sent me down a path of reading every Lencioni book I could find. After reading this gem I read The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team as part of my research in building a leadership development curriculum. Lencioni just makes business concepts so digestible and provides frameworks for organizational change that are easily accessible. I say all that to ultimately introduce a key component of healthy organizations, because there are some unhealthy ones out there for sure.

The foundation for a healthy organization is a culture of trust. Trust is the confidence among team members that their peers’ intentions are good, and that there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group. In business, trust encompasses a few things:

  • Anticipating the emotional effects that decisions and actions might have on others
  • Responding tactfully and respectfully in emotional situations
  • Eliciting the perceptions, feelings, and concerns of others
  • Recognizing that conflict is inevitable and using it to strengthen relationships

Why does trust matter so much? Trust lies at the heart of a functioning, cohesive team. And you guessed it, trust starts at the top with the CEO and their executive team. If this team doesn’t trust one another, no one does. When trust doesn’t exist the effects lead to an unhealthy organization, including a lack of commitment, lack of engagement, lack of respect, higher attrition, and a focus on the negative.

The economics of trust are clear. High trust organizations are higher performing and see greater profits from retaining their employees. Indeed, Gallup’s article “Why Some Leaders Have Their Employees’ Trust, and Some Don’t” highlights that “employees who trust their leadership are twice as likely to say they will be with their company one year from now. Additionally, even when there are periodic mistakes in decisions or communication, employees will give leaders the benefit of the doubt.” But trust doesn’t just happen if it’s left to chance, it’s something that takes time and effort.

I’ll point to Patrick Lencioni and Stephen Covey when it comes to how to build trust amongst a team and I rely on their methods in my work. I can’t emphasize the importance of the critical component of culture that is trust and how it must be engrained in an organization in order for it to succeed. Organizations must extend trust in order for it to be reciprocated. They must extend it to those who are earning it with their actions and to those who have earned it. They must not withhold trust because of the risk involved in doing so, for this is where the most magnificent growth happens.

Change is Emotional

Warren G. Bennis said “In life, change is inevitable. In business, change is vital.” What he failed to add is that change is hard. It’s sticky and uncomfortable and stirs up all sorts of emotions. But within change is where growth happens. So why do we fight change so much in our professional lives? Because change feels personal. Regardless of whether it’s a business necessity, change is a highly personal experience for everyone involved. It feels like change is happening to us instead of with us. Change bubbles up emotions slowly, and as it unfolds, it can upset our understanding of the reality of things. So how do we take the emotion out of change?

Well, you can’t simply remove the feeling center of one’s brain. But, you can engage it. One of my favorite books about change management is also about getting the most from your team: Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. The Heath brothers describe the Elephant and the Rider as two parts of the brain that must be engaged in order to move through change successfully. The Elephant is our emotional brain, which has to be influenced and won over in the midst of change. The Rider, our rational side, holds the reigns in the midst of change, but must have the confidence of the Elephant and know the path. Often the Elephant and the Rider disagree because the connection between the heart and the mind often has them at odds with one another, especially in the midst of a change journey. This is where the Path becomes important.

Over my years of leading change efforts, I’ve found it incredibly valuable to carve the Path to change by utilizing a change model. Whether it’s a leadership or process change or a total organizational realignment, a change model helps remove some of the emotion the Elephant is feeling and gives the Rider a direction to follow. The ADKAR Model is easily accessible and one that meets the emotional needs of vision and reason for our emotional brain while clearly spelling out the actions that need to take place, and WHY, which appeases our rational brain. Backed by 20 years of research by Prosci, the model is based on the common – yet often overlooked – reality that organizational change only happens when individuals change.

Using a change model also has a forcing function within the business. When you begin laying out the depth and breadth of change being proposed, not only does it set some of the emotion aside, it serves as a gut check to ensure the change effort is truly valid and necessary. Resistance to change can also mean a lack of clarity in where the business is attempting to go. If going through the exercise of a change model results in resistance due to lack of clarity, perhaps you have reason to hit pause on those particular changes for the moment.

Today, every market force (customers, competitors, technology, regulations, distribution channels, suppliers, etc.) creates change. Therefore, every business is an ongoing source of change. It’s important to remember that change is a process, not an event, and it’s a highly emotional one at that. To be successful in implementing change, you must engage people at a human level and engage both the heart and the mind. Without engagement from both, the Rider may simply lead the Elephant in circles.

What’s Your Approach to Coaching?

I received this question recently and my answer seemed so basic at the time: I meet people where they are. I’ve been fortunate to coach leaders and managers on both a personal and professional level, but my approach doesn’t begin much differently. It’s really about creating space for whatever is top of mind for them and then working to understand the root of where it’s coming from.

Leaders and managers bring their own challenges to a coaching session, sometimes wanting to be told how to solve a particular problem, but oftentimes just looking for validation. Coaching isn’t necessarily about validation of a particular solution, but getting individuals to rewire a pathway of preconceived notions or ways of doing things to think bigger. To think about their role and sphere of influence. Space to process and truly think is the greatest gift a coach can grant someone.

When you meet people where they are, the important things seem to surface in a really organic way. It’s not contrived or veiled, but genuine. I think it breaks down any walls that may be there initially and forces an honest conversation. From there, the true work can begin.

What are PE and VC Firms Missing?

There’s a gap in today’s due diligence process for PE and VC firms. And it’s a huge one, a gap that could mean the success or failure of the investment. Sure, most of these firms have thorough processes for due diligence on systems and financials, but what about the prospective company’s most important asset…their people?

What most PE and VC firms miss today is the critical component that drives a business forward – a due diligence on culture. If the hypothesis of engaged employees equals engaged customers which ultimately equals revenue is true (and we wholeheartedly believe it is) then a due diligence on people is arguably just as important as the standard due diligence in practice today. But what is culture and how do you measure it?

Let’s first define what culture isn’t. It’s not pool tables and open beer taps nor is it unlimited PTO and company paid health insurance benefits. Yes, those contribute to culture and are good for winning the war to attract and retain talent. But, these kinds of incentives drive very little engagement or solve core business problems. Culture is a more holistic view of the employee experience – how employees perceive and interpret the company’s intentions – from day-to-day interactions to 1:1s, to company-wide townhalls and every interaction in between.

Culture due diligence combines an analysis of your people processes and qualitative voice of team interviews to give you a complete culture picture from an employee experience and engagement standpoint. A quantitative baseline also supports the voice of team assessment and provides recommendations tailored to your people insights. The usefulness of these measures seems pretty clear to me after partnering with both PE and VC backed companies to build their teams and processes. The right firms recognize that culture isn’t some fluffy concept that encompasses free gym memberships and bring your pet to work day. Culture is a strategic imperative that can make or break an investment.


Hello World!

There’s so much potential in blogging and I’ve always loved writing. At times I’ve blogged for companies about talent acquisition, culture, the evolution of human resources, and other topics near and dear to me professionally. Other times I’ve blogged as a therapeutic practice, to work through connecting my head and my heart. Regardless of the reason, I’m drawn to written words and believe in the power of sharing ideas and thoughts so others can learn, find comfort and belonging, and think outside of the boxes we often find ourselves in.

I look forward to sharing many thoughts with you here in hopes that others can glean some small morsel from my experience and perspective. Happy reading!