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Episode 1: Being Human at Work


In this episode, host Chris Thornton interviews Senior Principal Michelle Mahony. Michelle leads the U.S. team at Daggerwing Group where she partners with some of the world’s leading organizations to get the most out of transformations by facilitating executive alignment on business goals, designing and driving organizational, operational and cultural change and creating inspired employee experiences. Michelle discusses the powerful position leaders hold in driving change. She and Chris examine what it means to be human and how “being real” and empathetic with employees has a positive impact effect. She emphasizes that the connection between emotion and rationale during a change is crucial for success.


This transcript was automatically generated with artificial intelligence. It’s in the queue to go through a review with human eyes!

00;00;00;00 – 00;00;33;03

Hello and welcome to Change@Work, a podcast about the ever evolving world of work and the human behaviors that drive it. I’m Chris Thornton, principal here at Daggerwing Group. We’re consultants who take a slightly different approach to change and how we work with our clients. We’ll explore some of the things we’ve learned, what to do, what not to do, who we are as a team and as individuals.

00;00;33;04 – 00;00;52;25

And with me today is Michelle Mahony, senior principal change expert, my boss. Welcome, Michelle. I’m glad you put that last part in. Thank you. They want the power dynamic to be very clear and it needs to be clear from the start the hierarchy. Exactly. And that’s the kind of thing we should really be talking about, how to preserve the hierarchy.

00;00;52;27 – 00;01;35;29

Very important. So that’s a really powerful position to be driving Change is just reinforce the hierarchy. Is that is that a good principle for people? Is that would you say jumps out that it’s really not. Turns out it’s not great. So that’s the kind of flavor and that’s that’s what you can expect from from this podcast. Our intent is to have some really straightforward, very human conversations about what it means to lead change and how we have helped our clients and lessons from our clients, lessons that we are picking up from outside it.

00;01;36;01 – 00;01;54;03

I don’t know where. Where have you picked up an idea recently? Michelle At the art museum that I was at last week. Seriously? Yeah. Did you really? Yes, it happened. What did you say? Do you go to the art museum all the time? Really? Pretty much every week. Never mentioned that once in the 20 years that I’ve known.

00;01;54;03 – 00;02;19;22

You just went to an art museum. I think more. More interpretive down. Sure, Sure. Actually, I think staying fluid with motion. Okay, that’s. That’s enough. And what I what I actually would expect you to say is from one of your big nature walks, because that’s usually what you’re posting. That’s true. On Instagram, a lot you can learn from nature, walks from downhill skiing and from yoga.

00;02;19;24 – 00;02;40;02

Me to pretty much those. The three things that i33 exercises of very, very nice mine would involve drinking and under groaning every night I’m you know you actually don’t want that turn me on to that so I’ve been emulating you in that area because that mental you can learn from your subordinates leaders can take a lesson take a note.

00;02;40;05 – 00;02;59;15

So we are going to talk about some of the things that we’ve learned along the way and maybe some tips that we can quickly share with you. But first, I think we’ve done a pretty good job proving that you are a human and not just a change management robot. Congratulations. Good. We’re just going to just double check. Check on that.

00;02;59;15 – 00;03;16;13

It’s part of our brand. Yeah. Let’s. Let’s prove that you’re human. And I’m not being sarcastic. Not a joke at all. Yeah, that is not a joke. It is definitely part of our brand. And the way we work with our clients and the way we work with each other. So let’s just prove once and for all that you are human.

00;03;16;13 – 00;03;37;18

I’m going to give you three questions. Be kind of rapid fire, or you can go off, talk about it as much as you want. I may stop you. I mean, you know, play a little bit. I ask you to dig deeper. Let’s let’s see how you do. So question number one, what is your favorite way to spend a weekend go?

00;03;37;20 – 00;04;03;04

Well, it may start with one of those nature walks or museum. Yes. You know that actually, that used to be a way I would spend a weekend when I lived in New York City. But now that I’m living in the wilds of Rhode Island, it’s not doesn’t quite have the same draw for me. So the what? The beautiful outdoors is much more available to me now than it was in Rhode Island.

00;04;03;04 – 00;04;36;14

So that might that’s probably how I would be spending much of my time. Got it. And I’d probably some children, you know, involved somewhere in that. Are they your children? I hope so. We can also other also part of the last couple of decades have been really interesting. All right. So you’re on a nature walk. There are probably some kids around nature walk with their most definitely hiking, you know, things.

00;04;36;15 – 00;04;54;08

Another word for nature walks. I used to take those when I was five, but I like to think of those are evolved. I think I would tell you that’s probably the last time I took a nature walk. Right. That’s fine. That’s. I believe you. Thank you. Thank you for that. You’re with your kids. You’ve got three kids. What?

00;04;54;09 – 00;05;17;12

What else are you doing on a on a perfect weekend? On a perfect weekend? I’m probably cooking and eating something. What’s the last best thing? The best thing I ate was it’s one of my children’s favorite meals. Easy for me to do, which is chicken teriyaki. Good stuff. yeah, Excellent stuff. Do it on the stove, get some good bone in chicken thighs.

00;05;17;16 – 00;05;40;04

Yeah. See here for flavor abs? absolutely. I don’t know where this boneless crap ever came. Wow. Yeah. Come. Coming down Harsh on boneless. I really am. All right, Question number two. Okay. What was your favorite age growing up? Well, I just turned 50 over the last month. And so far, so far, it’s been my favorite age. Are you serious?

00;05;40;04 – 00;06;02;29

I actually am. I actually am serious. I’ve actually enjoyed every I want to say every year in my life. That is definitely not the case. But as I think about it, like decade by decade, I wouldn’t I can’t think of a time I would want to go back to. All right. Well, congrats on 50. Thank you, Michelle. Question number three.

00;06;03;02 – 00;06;31;03

Yes. To prove that you are human and I think you were there, so don’t screw it up, okay? I will try not to mess that up at this point. Where’s your favorite place in the world? Who? You know, one really, really beautiful thing that I really love doing is I got into kayaking a couple of years ago, and I feel like in the river kayaking, not kayaking.

00;06;31;03 – 00;06;55;02

And you know, a lake or on the ocean. So what is awesome about that is when you are on a on a river, it really feels like you’re in the middle of a of either a mark Twain novel or deliverance. And both are very compelling. But it’s it’s deliverance might not inspire most people to think about their favorite place, but it is it’s the lushness.

00;06;55;02 – 00;07;16;04

It’s beautiful. It feels like you’re far, far away. And it just makes me really happy. That’s cool. All right. Thanks. You are human. Thanks. You are human. Good job, Michelle. Congrats. Thank you. Can you think about a time when you’ve worked with a client where they wanted to be human? But there was fear attached to being human.

00;07;16;04 – 00;07;50;02

Because being human sometimes means not using coded language, not hiding behind words, but saying what is true and saying it directly, that that can feel really scary for some leaders. So have you worked with a client to help them through that? And can you describe that situation? Yeah, I think that happens all the time. And it’s it’s not that, you know, the leaders that we work with or people that we work with, you know, have a hard time getting in touch with being human.

00;07;50;04 – 00;08;21;00

It’s more of a matter of fear and discomfort from doing that in a context where they have not before. Yeah, you know, e.g. the workplace. We’re often, I think, taught in the workplace to lead with rationality, to lead with intellect, to make the, you know, that rational case for change to to communicate in the context of, you know, this kind of corporate language that taps into a very specific kind of mindset.

00;08;21;02 – 00;08;39;26

And that’s what’s made people a lot of people really successful. Now, this is not to say that’s not important if you don’t have a rational case. That’s sort of a that’s a good point. It’s sort of a problem, but it’s more of an what we try to coach leaders around is really understanding that everybody, including them, are human.

00;08;39;29 – 00;09;01;10

And when going through change, you know, we talk about the emotional elephant a little bit and and the rational writer and the rational writer is that person that sits on top of the elephants. That’s the part of the brain that is processing, processing information in that sort of you know, rational, logical mindset. Some people more than others, it really depends.

00;09;01;17 – 00;09;32;13

But for everybody underneath that is the emotional element. And so whenever you’re talking about change, especially in the context of things that can really impact individuals, there’s a whole lot going going on there in that emotional space, even if they’re not overtly expressing that. Yeah. So for leaders to have the courage to speak in that language and, and talk about, you know, connect the emotion with the rational is incredibly powerful to people.

00;09;32;13 – 00;09;59;02

And I think we can all think of, you know, great leaders within organizations or even in the in the world that that are really effective at doing that. Can you think about a leader in your career? Maybe it was someone you reported to part of your the organization you were you were in or someone that you’ve worked with who embodies being exceedingly human?

00;09;59;04 – 00;10;26;03

And what was the impact on you? You know, I think that there are several people actually, that I can think of throughout my career that have been really good at that. And the reason they stand those people stand out in my mind is because they were good at that. Yeah. And I and I carry with me that feeling that I had for them, you know, on a on that emotional level, you know, through time, because they were very good about it, because they treated me like a human being and a person.

00;10;26;03 – 00;10;50;06

We got to know each other as people, but they were also great at that, you know, articulating change or articulating what’s going on in the business from that rational level too much. I’ll think about one person on your team. Don’t name them, okay? Why do you love that person? I love that person because they are funnier than they know.

00;10;50;12 – 00;11;19;16

Why else I love that person because they always are trying their best. I love that person because they are generous and kind. I love that person because they are always striving to be better and love it or because they’re really cute and they have nice glasses. Where are you talking about me? Are you talking about me? You’re really cute and you do have nice glasses.

00;11;19;18 – 00;11;35;24

Michel, the joke here was going to be that it wasn’t me and I was going to be so thirsty for, like, a compliment. It was you. I would have. I would have talked about the beard. It wasn’t me. God. I think I got the joke. But I can talk about why I love you. You would talk that.

00;11;35;24 – 00;11;56;25

No, no, no. You know I can’t. It’s not funny. That’s not funny. Hey, Michel. Hey, Chris. That was really good stuff. Thanks for the conversation. You made this much easier than I thought it would be. Yeah. Thank you. All right, Audience tune a next time, we’ll have another great special human from our team. We’ll talk about other elements of change and what we’ve seen.

00;11;56;25 – 00;12;13;03

Work, not work within organizations, and give you some tips on how you can make change happen even more effectively within your organization.

More in the Series

Chris Thornton is a Senior Principal and member of the global leadership team at Daggerwing Group. In his role, Chris serves as a source of strategic counsel for Senior Executives with client firms, advising them on how to help clients achieve Executive alignment, transform their cultures and equip and enable people managers to lead and embed change. An expert in the people side of change with both client-side and consulting experience, Chris has worked with leading companies including Nestlé, Pfizer, and GE Aviation to do change right and make it stick. He is also an active speaker on business transformation, a driver of innovation in Daggerwing’s breadth of change consulting services, and the host of Daggerwing Group’s podcast, Change@Work. Chris and his wife were featured in the New York Times for their love of pie.
Michelle is the Managing Partner & President of Daggerwing Group, as well as a member of Daggerwing’s Executive Leadership Team. In her role, Michelle leads all global client relationships and delivery of Daggerwing’s consulting services to ensure change is done right the first time, and sticks. She also ensures that Daggerwing’s consulting leaders are effectively driving career growth for our consultants, continuously building capability and experience. Michelle’s breadth of expertise in the people side of change includes facilitating Executive Alignment on every type of organizational transformation, orchestrating enterprise-level culture shifts to deliver on a CEO’s strategy, and helping clients custom-create and bring to life their Future of Work strategies. Michelle is passionate about creating leaders and employees who are energized, rather than exhausted, by the opportunities change creates – ultimately helping clients succeed by fostering a culture that delivers the desired experience for customers and enables employees to thrive. In her private time, Michelle enjoys singing 70s pop songs badly while playing her ukulele, buying musty old records, and spending tons of time in the woods and on snowy mountains.