Yvonne Wolf on dismantling and rebuilding people systems for ‘Cultures of All Belong’ rather than ‘Just Some Belong

This article is a lightly-edited summary of the key takeaways from our speakers’ appearance on our podcast, The Shape of Work. If you haven’t listened to our show yet, be sure to check it out here. These speakers have an incredible stable of startup experiences to draw from, the kind of stories that are unbelievably helpful for HR/people managers to hear.

Having navigated six organisations through structural and cultural changes, Yvonne Wolf, Founder of TalentMatters LLC talks about change management and shares her approach to getting organizational redesign right.

Our conversation with her on ‘The Shape of Work’ podcast also covers a variety of insightful tidbits on the subjects of leadership development, DEI, and culture alignment to accelerate organizational performance.


Name of the guest: Yvonne Wolf

What she does: Founder and Chief Collaborator at TalentMatters LLC

Find her onLinkedIn

Get Smart: “It is incumbent upon leadership to create an environment that says, All lives matter, all opinions matter, all talent matters. And I think it’s incumbent upon HR to create systems and processes that produce such outcomes.”


  1. Organizational change management principles
  2. Democratic decision-making vs drawing the line
  3. People manager’s role in influencing leaders for the transformation
  4. Thoughts on banning employees’ political thoughts at work
  5. Positive workplace impacts of Covid
  6. Traits of a good leader

Organizational change management principles

Yvonne shares the three important principles she learned about change management while working at Partners in Health.

a) Who decides, how does it get done, and at what pace?

The organization or the target that you are seeking to change should decide. They should tell what they need from you and offer a top-down hierarchical approach to what they require from you. The leader’s job is to set the tone for what is being done from a strategic standpoint. However, they should also go right to the people to navigate this change and get a sense of what they really need. 

b) Side by side

A phrase by Partners In Health, originally is a creole word, which means side by side. Hence, you co-create the solutions. 

c) Small, small

Another creole word from Sierre Leone, where Yvonne worked, which means a little at a time. This generates the idea of micro-changes.

Democratic decision-making vs drawing the line

Yvonne has worked in organizations varying from 100 employees to 100,000 employees. She suggests that the practice of asking people what they need should happen in all organizations. It does not take away the leaders’ responsibility to make decisions. However, decision-making should be done differently in a small organization versus a large organization. For example, an organization with 180 people might have 6 to 7 middle managers who can influence the team. Here the decision-making process is short. However, with a large company with 1,000,000 employees, the number of middle managers has to be more.

A curious and open-minded listening leader is the core of a successful decision-making process irrespective of the size of the organization. Hence, a leader’s responsibility is to decide after getting opinions and ideas from multiple people.

People manager’s role in influencing leaders for the transformation

Back in the day, people were a little more mindful of hierarchy. If someone in the team was 12 layers below, they wouldn’t dare approach the CEO. Yvonne loves today’s social media culture and how people feel they have every right to send a note right to the CEO about things that bother them. CEOs and leaders need to ensure that kind of openness everywhere in order to avoid affecting the employer brand. 

Thoughts on banning employees’ political thoughts at work

The highest place for trust is in the workplace. Thus to ban conversations would be to ask people to leave a part of themselves. And it is also a missed opportunity to have some necessary and insightful conversations. According to Yvonne, the actual challenge is to promote civility in the conversation.

Yvonne suggests teaching employees how to have conversations. They need to build that curiosity for the conversation while having some ground rules at the same time.

Positive workplace impacts of Covid

Covid is one of the hardest phases for everyone. Despite changes in the way we work today, engagement scores have continued to rise since last year.

These tough environmental organizational changes can bring out the best in us because nobody had time to debate whether remote work is a good option or not.

The organizations that are really doing well with this had already built resilience and they already had good leaders. They offered psychological safety to their employees so people could bring their opinions and ideas to work. Hence, it has put an emphasis on the kind of leader every organization needs to have today.

Traits of a good leader

Inclusion, curiosity, empathy, and compassion- are the qualities of a good leader. Regardless of what’s happening in the world, Yvonne believes that these qualities are the factors that are going to be the difference between organizations that can both predict or navigate.

Priya Bhatt

I cover Employee stories at Springworks.

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