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On the Scene: Navigating Leadership in a Changing World

Executives should harness the power of collaboration to manage an array of changes reshaping the modern workplace, panelists said during an Oregon Business forum on Tuesday.

“We’re not too excited about hierarchy,” said Traci Ray, executive director of Barran Liebman.

To grow relationships and buy-in, the employment law firm has created mentorship teams comprised of partners, associates, paralegals, and administrative staff. 

“We’re bringing everybody to the table and saying everyone here is valuable," Ray said.

Panelists shared stories and insights about managing growth, new communication technologies and a diverse, multigenerational workforce.

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“We don't manufacture anything. Our greatest assets are our people: how we influence them and motivate them to come back every day and do their best work,” said Tom Broderick, a vice president and chief of staff at Puppet, one of Portland’s fastest growing software firms.

Puppet has transitioned its entire leadership team over the past 12-14 months to help manage the company's evolution from startup to mature global organization, said Broderick, a former senior director at EMC who starting working for Puppet last June.

Thirty percent of the company's 500-plus employees started after Broderick moved into his current position.

“How do you manage the cultural dynamics of an organization when it’s going through that kind of change?” he asked.

“My journey involved a lot of talking to people in the organization and a lot of priority setting that I needed to bounce off of people to make sure it was in alignment with the organization.”

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Diversity and inclusion take on new meaning in context of a global organization, Broderick said. 

“Portland has a set of cultural norms that are very local. Cultural norms in Singapore are much different than in Portland.”

Julie Huffaker, a consultant at Deeper Funner Change, said people who lead organizations need to “leverage the value of veterans and the gusto and verve of millennials.”

Huffaker defined leadership as a set of activities organized around three objectives: “direction, alignment and commitment.”

Organizational change is continuous, Huffaker said. “We need to stop thinking about navigating change but instead think about how do we design how we work so we can innovate continuously.”

Ray defined leadership as setting the tone, pace and attitude for the organization. Knowing her co-workers want to see her succeed in a leadership role is a powerful motivator, Ray said.

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“To this day I don't think I would have elected myself to this position or ever applied for it,” Ray said in a reference to her position as executive director. 

Panelists warned against adopting a surfeit of new communication technologies.

Don’t succumb to the “new shiny object” syndrome,” Broderick said. “Fewer tools is better.”

Linda Baker

Linda Baker is the editor of Oregon Business

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