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Learn More About Ashley Goodall

What do employees say about a company when its leaders aren’t in the room? Do they say the environment is one that’s people-focused and nurturing, or do they say constant disruption has created an atmosphere of skepticism and detachment? Does the company make it easier or harder for them to do their jobs? And, does that matter?

“My fundamental conviction is that if an organization doesn’t work for the humans in it, it doesn’t work,” explains leadership expert, consultant and author Ashley Goodall.

With expertise refined during his time in top HR roles at both Cisco and Deloitte, Goodall is a uniquely qualified expert whose hands-on method begins by observing an organization from within, finding the things that don’t work that (often) people have just become accustomed to, and bringing sensible solutions to the table.

With the belief and experience that organizational performance must be founded on human performance, he offers a series of practical and research-based methods for increasing employee performance and engagement.

In his highly anticipated new book, “The Problem with Change: And the Essential Nature of Human Performance” (Little, Brown Spark, 2024), which was named a Financial Times Best Summer Book of 2024, Goodall reveals the psychological costs of constant change and demonstrates how it can stymie the progress it seeks to create. Instead, he argues, leaders should rethink the narrative that insists innovation and success can only come from change and disruption to instead allow improvement to emerge as opposed to forcing it from above.

“The conventional wisdom is that if you run an organization, you need to change it — and the more change the better,” he explains. “So, we have a predominant management philosophy that is purportedly about improvement, but actually, because of the way that constant change and instability make it harder for people to do their jobs, has the effect of creating unimprovement on the front lines.”

In the book, Goodall emphasizes that stability is the foundation of improvement. He explains that stability is not the same as standing still and offers practical steps leaders can easily take to ensure effective stability management in the face of change:

  • Prioritize team cohesion instead of reshuffling teams at will.
  • Use real words rather than corporate-speak.
  • Share secrets not mission statements.
  • Honor shared rituals rather than mandated bonding.
  • Fix only the things that are truly broken instead of moving fast and breaking everything in sight.

By drawing a clear distinction between “change” and “improvement,” Goodall provides leaders with a new understanding of the consequences of implementing change initiatives simply for the sake of shaking things up.

While annual goal setting, a five-point rating scale, and once-a-year feedback delivered in a performance review has become almost universal, the system is hardly universally loved by employees.

With extensive experience implementing an alternative approach to performance management at two multinational organizations, Goodall shows that the traditional tools used for performance reviews not only cause frustration and take up a huge amount of organizational time, but also put workers in an unreceptive frame of mind, ultimately having the opposite effect of their intention.

“By focusing instead on team engagement, you turn an individual performance measurement tool into a team improvement tool,” explains Goodall, Deloitte’s former Chief Learning Officer for Leadership and Professional Development. “An accessible system of feedback and check-ins can bolster great teams that in turn help people do better at work.” 

Trained at the University of Oxford as a classical music conductor, he’s uniquely qualified to understand how, much like the members of an orchestra, engaged employees who are uniquely useful to one another can work together to create something special. He offers this powerful analogy:

“In an orchestra, you have a group of people who each bring different strengths and each have a different role to play. When the musicians and their leader all work together, those individual contributions become fused into a single, coherent, whole—and when that happens, it’s nothing less than magical.”

Co-author of “Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World,” which was selected as the best management book of 2019 by strategy+business, Goodall urges HR leaders to embrace their core purpose – to create a better, more productive working environment by giving employees the tools they need to succeed. His practical three-step framework for reestablishing HR as a full-throated advocate for employees envisions Human Resources as a truly empowering function of an organization.

“The best way to serve an organization is to serve the people in the organization,” explains Goodall. “The way to achieve that is to understand what humans need at work in order to contribute their best.”

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Ashley Goodall is a leadership expert, consultant, and author who has spent his career exploring large organizations from the inside. He looks for the lessons from the real world that help people and teams thrive, and that make work a more human place for all of the humans in it.  

Goodall is the co-author, with Marcus Buckingham, of “Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2019), which was selected as the best management book of 2019 by strategy+business and as one of Amazon’s best business and leadership books of 2019. He is also the co-author of two cover stories in the Harvard Business Review: “The Feedback Fallacy” (March/April 2019) — which was named as a Harvard Business Review must-read article of 2019 — and “Reinventing Performance Management” (April 2015). Goodall’s work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Forbes, Business Insider, and Inc. Magazine. His latest book is “The Problem with Change: and the Essential Nature of Human Performance” (Little, Brown Spark, May 2024). 

Goodall’s first experiences of teams and leadership were as a student musician and conductor. He was fascinated by the unspoken understanding between people playing together and carried this fascination into the corporate world. He most recently spent six years as a Senior Vice President of HR at Cisco, where he led organizations focused on leadership, teams and research. Prior to Cisco, Goodall spent fourteen years at Deloitte as a consultant and as the Chief Learning Officer for Leadership and Professional Development. 

Ashley Goodall is available to advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting meetings, interactive workshops and customized keynotes through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers & Advisors, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Ashley Goodall was last modified: June 18th, 2024 by Meg Virag

Read More Read Less

The Problem with Change

In today’s fast-paced business world, many have come to think of change and disruption as the building blocks of innovation and success, but what if the reality is actually the opposite? According to research by leadership expert and former Deloitte and Cisco HR executive Ashley Goodall, change initiatives are often launched with little thought of the cost in human terms, thereby alienating employees and harming innovation and productivity. In this eye-opening presentation, Goodall draws from his new book “The Problem with Change,” to illustrate the psychological costs of constant change, and to demonstrate how change can itself stymie the progress it seeks. Instead, Goodall argues, leaders should allow change to emerge, as opposed to forcing it from above. By differentiating between “change” and “improvement,” audiences will leave with a new understanding of the consequences of implementing change initiatives simply for the sake of shaking things up. With stability management strategies in hand, leaders will gain practical tools for creating environments where teams are better positioned to contribute to ongoing success.

Reinventing Performance Management

Traditional performance management — annual goal setting, a five-point rating scale, and once-a-year feedback presented in a performance review — has been with us for a long time. It’s hardly universally loved, but organizations have struggled to come up with a better system. According to leadership expert and former Deloitte and Cisco HR executive Ashley Goodall, however, this traditional system not only doesn’t work, but actually impairs performance. In this paradigm-shifting presentation which draws on Goodall’s experience of implementing a different approach at two multinational organizations, audiences will learn practical methods for doing away with the 1-5 rating scale and introducing an accessible system of feedback and check-ins that will help workers do better, ultimately leading to happier employees and customers as well as increased overall company performance.

HR for the People: Three Steps to Reestablishing Employee Advocacy

In today’s business environment of constant disruption, workplaces have become surprisingly hard places to get things done. How can Human Resources rethink its function to give employees the tools they need to do their best work? In this revealing presentation, leadership expert and former Deloitte and Cisco HR executive Ashley Goodall gives clear examples of how HR has lost its way. Drawing from his new book, “The Problem with Change,” he emphasizes that Human Resources has a limited ability to create a better, more productive working environment if HR leaders don’t view the interests of the business as differing from the interests of the people working there, especially in times of change. Audiences will leave with a practical three-step framework for reestablishing HR as a full-throated advocate for employees, becoming a truly empowering function of an organization.

Make Magic Happen by Thinking of Your Teams Like an Orchestra

One of the great mysteries of leadership is identifying what makes the best teams special. So, how can organizations provide exceptional leaders with the tools to build successful, engaged teams? According to leadership expert Ashley Goodall, engaged teams come from engaged employees who are uniquely useful to one another. Goodall draws from his diverse experience as the former SVP of Leadership and Team Intelligence at Cisco as well as his training as a classical music conductor to illustrate how, much like an orchestra, bringing individuals with different strengths together can create a collective magic that wouldn’t have been possible without all members working as a unit. With his unique lens on leading teams, Goodall provides audiences with powerful tools for measuring team engagement and understanding what is joyful to humans in life and work to bring more humanity to the art of empowering teams to excel.

Stability Management in the Face of Change Bolsters Team Productivity

What does a human need in order to be productive at work and how does change affect these needs? According to leadership expert and former Deloitte and Cisco HR executive Ashley Goodall, people do best at work when organizations implement stability management – ensuring a predictable environment and giving employees a sense of control over their surroundings to allow the point of their efforts to be readily apparent. In this revealing presentation, Goodall emphasizes that stability is not the same as standing still and draws from his upcoming book “The Problem with Change,” to outline ways in which executives can build stability in the face of change. Goodall will offer specific, accessible strategies that allow leaders at every level to create the stability that people need to thrive. Attendees will leave understanding how building stability into an organization can better position teams to contribute productively.

HBR Harvard Business Review 2022

The Feedback Fallacy

March-April 2019

Make Work More Human for the Humans in It

According to leadership expert and HR executive Ashley Goodall, organizations risk losing sight of the human aspect of the workplace. Urging leaders to rethink change and turn performance management into an empowering team building tool, he helps leaders understand what makes the best teams special and how stability can lead to powerful innovation from within. Ashley Goodall is available to discuss any or all of the following topics during keynote presentations and consultations plus small group and one-on-one advisory meetings. Each program can be customized to meet the needs and goals of your organization with the added option of meeting virtually or in-person.

  • The Problem with Change and How to Fix It
  • Reinventing Performance Management
  • Employee Advocacy First: A Radical Rethink of HR
  • Leadership and Teaming: Make Magic Happen by Thinking of Your Teams Like an Orchestra

The Problem With Change and How To Fix It

The conventional wisdom in organizations is that change and disruption necessarily lead to innovation. But, according to leadership expert and HR executive Ashley Goodall, this is often not the case.  It’s vital for leaders to understand the essential nature of human performance and how change and instability can actually impair performance. In this highly interactive workshop, Goodall draws from his upcoming book, “The Problem with Change” to guide leaders through a practical breakdown of the human impacts of change. Through hands-on exercises and group discussions, participants will gain practical methods for strengthening organizational stability, and thereby for giving people more of what they need at work in order to contribute.

Praise for "The Problem With Change"

"'Business worships disruption' to its own detriment, according to this refreshing treatise. Business consultant Goodall (coauthor of Nine Lies About Work), a former Cisco executive, argues that mistakenly conflating frequent internal changes with innovation hurts employee morale. In his view, mergers and other shake-ups often cause breakdowns in communication that leave workers uncertain about their employer’s future, producing unease and distracting from productive activity. Case studies illustrate other negative consequences of disruption, as when Goodall recounts how a South African banker quit his job because a company reorganization caused constant disputes between coworkers about 'who was responsible for which pieces of work.' Outlining commonsense principles for reining in unnecessary overhauls, Goodall recommends that business leaders 'raise the bar on what we consider sufficient cause to embark on a large change initiative' and consider such 'programs and transactions the exception, not the rule.' It’s not always clear how directly the numerous animal studies cited relate to the business world (for instance, Goodall emphasizes the importance of employees feeling that they have agency over their work by describing a study in which dogs became distressed after failing to figure out how to avoid electric shocks). Nevertheless, the book’s heterodox thesis puts needless corporate reshuffling to shame. It’s an emphatic case for staying the course."

“In a world that can be obsessed with disruption for its own sake, 'The Problem with Change' is an urgent wake-up call for managers and executives at all levels. In this refreshingly clear-eyed new book, Ashley Goodall argues that excessive and indiscriminate change comes at a steep cost, one that leaders are often unaware of. For change to be beneficial, it must be undertaken thoughtfully, deliberately, and with the employees and their experience front and center.”

Hubert Joly, Former Best Buy CEO, Harvard Business School Senior Lecturer, Author of " The Heart of Business"

“How incredibly refreshing to find a leadership expert who will admit the truth—that change isn't the same as improvement, and that companies need stability, community, and real respect for workers as much if not more so than (yet another) round of ‘disruption.’ Corporate leaders could save a lot of money, time and pain by taking Goodall's advice.”

Rana Foroohar, Global Business Columnist at the Financial Times and Author of "Homecoming"

“Ashley Goodall has achieved something rare and wonderful: he has taken a subject with which we are all deeply familiar — change — and turned it upside down. And in so doing, he has not only revealed “the problem with change,” but also how to find within it all the resiliency and creativity we need to succeed. 'The Problem with Change' is a completely engaging book that causes us to reassess much of what we’ve all mistaken for “truth” and reveals insights and ideas we can never unsee. Given how much change we are all grappling with today, this book could not be more timely. It is a must read for any leader trying to find their bearings in these wildly turbulent times.”

Marcus Buckingham, Bestselling Author and Strengths Researcher

“Do you know that research shows that people undergoing organizational change are more likely to take antidepressants? While change and disruption have become catchwords, they exact an enormous toll on employees and their companies. This smart, well-written book can help leaders resist the temptations toward chaos so currently popular.”

Jeffrey Pfeffer, Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and author of "Dying for a Paycheck"

“Change is neither good, nor bad—and much of it is essential. But that doesn’t make it easy. In his brilliantly thought-provoking 'The Problem with Change,' Ashley Goodall argues persuasively that a big part of the job of leaders is to create stability—to dampen the disruptive nature of change and to allow their teams to perform.”

Stan McChrystal, General, US Army (Ret), CEO, McChrystal Group, and Co-author of "Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World"

“Ashley Goodall's 'The Problem with Change' is a timely exploration of the complexity of organizational transformation. It dispels the myth that change is an unqualified good and tackles the hard truths about the challenges it brings. With an honest and insightful look at the intricacies of change management, Goodall offers a fresh perspective that questions our readiness to disrupt and provides a nuanced discussion on stability in the workplace. As someone deeply invested in the growth and development of leaders and organizations, I believe this book is a crucial read for anyone looking to navigate the often turbulent waters of change.”

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith , Thinkers50 #1 Executive Coach and New York Times bestselling author of "The Earned Life, Triggers, and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There"

Praise for "Nine Lies About Work"

  • Named one of "Our 10 favorite new books for people managers" by SHRM (Society for Human Resource Managers)
  • One of the Financial Times "Business Books of the Month"
  • Named a Bloomberg Businessweek pick
  • Named one of "14 business books everyone will be reading in 2019" by Business Insider
  • Named one of "10 Leadership Books to Watch for in 2019" by the Washington Post
  • Named one of "10 Business Books You Need to Read in 2019" by Inc. magazine
  • Named one of "The 19 New Leadership Books to Read in 2019" by Adam Grant on LinkedIn

"'Nine Lies About Work,' by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, the year's best management book, challenges the assumptions that underlie contemporary managerial practices, many of which date back to Drucker's day. In doing so, the book offers a glimpse of a new management paradigm that may prove to be better suited to the times."

strategy+business magazine

"'Nine Lies' is utterly readable, often entertaining, and not just polite, but carefully reasoned and argued using some unusual real-world examples and even some from literature."

Human Resource Executive (hrexecutive.com)

"Leads to some free thinking about the way we do our jobs and how we can approach what we do in a different way."

Financial Times

"If a business book teaches me something new--and offers a fresh perspective on leadership--then I know it's a rare find in the category. 'Nine Lies About Work' is just such a book. It's so thought provoking, I contacted the authors to speak with them directly."

Forbes

"…should be on every boss's bookshelf."

Management Today

"A stimulating, no-nonsense, research-based look at things you likely believe that aren't true – and how to apply the new findings."

The Globe and Mail

"The act of work is human. Leading and following and working together is about human interaction and human relationships. The workplace, and the marketplace beyond it, is about emotions and attention and the desire to be seen. It is about trust and, yes, it is about love. I am always grateful to be reminded of that, to see it again clearly, to have it acknowledged. 'Nine Lies About Work' is a great reminder, and a great guide."

800 CEO READ

"Give a copy of this book to everyone in your organization who's leading a team and make it essential reading."

The Hamilton Spectator

"If you're looking for a refreshing read that challenges the conventional wisdom of the business world, this is a book for your shelf."

TD magazine (Association for Talent Development)

"There is much we can learn about managing and leading our schools from its pages."

Inside Higher Ed