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Most companies undergoing transformation of some kind recognise the importance and value of bringing their people along with it, not just to ensure everyone is on board with the goals and objectives, but to retain key talent and maintain employee wellbeing. 

But what do you do if management takes a more toxic, cut-throat approach?

For Kelley Rainwater, transformation leader and consultant, it’s about rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck in. 

A leader in transformation

“Transformations involve a lot of tension and conflict, so it’s important to surrender to that inevitability and be at ease with what’s going to happen and support the team through that, even if it means asking difficult questions or challenging the status quo,” she explains.  

“One of my key teachers in my field once told me that if I’m not perilously close to losing my job as an agent of change every single day, then I’m not doing my job.”

Kelley, who describes herself as a ‘fearless agent of change’, has successfully driven some of the most difficult, most complex transformations in corporate history, some of which were both revenue impacting and stock price impacting. 

She’s worked with several Fortune 500 companies including Cisco, NetApp, Symantec and The Gap. 

Due to her experience and innovative approach to transformation, she has recently been recognised as one of the top FTSE women in finance by the Global Finance Forum.

Kelley also set up the Institute of Applied Organisational Design and Transformation which mentors and trains hundreds of leaders and practitioners and she’s also one of just 69 people in the world who are certified Organisational Design Professionals. 

The importance of standing up

“The key aspect of my career has been helping senior executive leaders who are running extremely high risk transformations where their jobs are literally on the line if they fail,” she says. “I work with these people through my transformation consultancy practice but sometimes I’ve been an employee, too. And I’ve had to smash the glass ceiling several times in my career to get where I am today.”

As Kelley explains, smashing the glass ceiling can be dangerous.

“For the women who smash the glass ceiling, those shards of glass can cut.”

“I’ve had to stand up to those in power and deliver difficult news because no one else was being honest with them. I experienced extreme anxiety and lost a lot of sleep, but I did it regardless. Sometimes this got me expelled.” 

Kelley may have been ‘cut’ by these shards of glass in the past but it’s a process she sees as both inevitable and necessary and a key part of her development journey as a female leading high stakes corporate change. 

Yet there’s another, more spiritual string to Kelley’s bow, which doesn’t usually fit with finance and corporate culture, but which sits at the heart of Kelley’s approach to organisational change.

“My approach is about balancing the masculine and feminine and honouring our humanity by being truthful, honest and authentic.”

“And one of the ways you do this is by bringing shadow to light. So if there’s toxic behaviour, you call it out.”

How Kelley brings spiritual practices into transformation

Kelley runs her own spiritual practice alongside her corporate transformation role, where she coaches and mentors women to help them find their ‘true power’.

“I’m also able to anticipate things and I’ve developed the sense of knowing things before they happen and I’m alert to signs. I often get warnings in dreams and I’ve learned to listen to my dreams and make a choice on how I’m going to approach the issue.”

Kelley brings her spiritual practices into the work she does with organisations who are going through transformations and the results, she says, are highly effective. 

“It’s almost a stealth process. You slowly introduce key concepts such as foreshadowing and intuition and guide people to use passion and emotion in the right way.”

“My fearlessness means I can come up with innovative ideas and ask difficult questions to management. If you’re going to do things differently and challenge the status quo you need to be fearless and truthful, honest and authentic. For me, that’s absolutely key.”

KELLEY’S POWER PROFILE

Who is her hero? 

Anyone in helping professions that give from their heart to help others grow, heal, face the dying process and lessen suffering in the world. Anyone trying to create positive change for the earth. Indigenous peoples who have been systematically suffering genocide for hundreds of years.  Animals, plants and the earth for continuing to survive the destruction we are perpetrating.

What music empowers her? 

Anything from Tori Amos and Thievery Corporation. I’m also a classical music fan.