What Is A Catalyst And Why Should I Care With Shannon Lucas of Catalyst Constellations

Are you ready to view your ‘disruptors’ and ‘troublemakers’ in a brand-new light? Shannon Lucas, co-CEO of Catalyst Constellations, joins us to define the word catalyst. A catalyst is an organizational change-makers that can help your business not just survive, but thrive amid drastic transformation. He shares how these underappreciated individuals can be self-identified and why it’s essential for us to recognize and support them within our organizations.

We then zone in on the attributes that make a catalyst. Brace yourself as Shannon uncovers their six key qualities.  They include being a visionary, quick to action, comfortable with risk, and more. We also discuss the pivotal role of managers in cultivating a nurturing environment for catalysts to reach their full potential.

The episode concludes with a deep dive into the role of these special people in regards to organizational change. Shannon illuminates the challenges catalysts often face within organizational structures and emphasizes why readiness to change is key to their success. Join us as we unravel the power of organizational change makers, and learn how to harness their potential in your organization.

Listening Time: 25 minutes

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Shannon Lucas
Co-founder & Co-CEO Catalyst Constellations

I am the Co-CEO of Catalyst Constellations, a change accelerator that leverages research-driven insights and executive experience to catalyze innate changemakers to build future-proof companies that thrive. I am also the co-author of the #1 Amazon best seller "Move Fast. Break Shit. Burn Out. The Catalyst's Guide to Working Well", a book that empowers Catalysts to harness their unique strengths and avoid burnout.


What Is A Catalyst And Why Should I Care With Shannon Lucas

William Tincup: [00:00:00] This is William Tincup, and you are listening to the Recruiting Daily podcast. Today, we have Shannon on from Catalyst Constellations. And our topic today is what is a catalyst? And why should you care? So while we do introductions first, Shannon, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and Catalyst Constellations?

Shannon Lucas: I would love to. And thanks for having me, William. Shannon Lucas, co CEO of Catalyst Constellations with my lovely co CEO, [00:01:00] Tracy Lovejoy. I spent the last 20 plus years. and technology companies driving innovation, either from a technology perspective, the actual innovation program, business models, et cetera have also been in and out of corporate starting my own ventures, and we’ve been doing Catalyst Constellation since 2017.

Most recently in the corporate world, I was Executive Vice President of Emerging Business at Ericsson leading a 150 million P& L there, helping them find ways It’s to enter adjacent markets and so for the past, almost decade, I’ve been looking at how do we activate the innate change makers in our organizations to help us not just survive, but thrive through change.

And so that’s what Catalyst Constellations is. We help organizations accelerate change by identifying these amazing innate natural change makers across their organization and connecting them with the strategic initiatives to, to not just survive, but thrive.

William Tincup: A hundred percent. I love it. So [00:02:00] I think first time you and I talked, one of the things I asked you is if self identifying is a thing around catalysts, being a catalyst, wouldn’t everybody just raise their hand?

Just I’m creative. I’m a great marketer. I’m, it’s almost I don’t even want to say that I w I would think that I’m a catalyst.

Shannon Lucas: I think you are, William. You get to self identify if you want to, but after our conversation, I 100 percent think you’re a catalyst. There’s no doubt in my mind.

William Tincup: It’s like, why would you not want to, why would you not think of yourself as a catalyst? Which, of course, isn’t the point. The point is trying to figure out who those fakes people are that can actually spark change, can handle change, can help others with change, et cetera, et cetera.

So I understand it’s… Deeper than that, but cause at the far, at the front end of it, I’m like. How do we understand who is and isn’t, or what are the behavior markers that make a great catalyst?

Shannon Lucas: I want to address how you entered that though, [00:03:00] because we, we’ve chosen the word catalyst to put on this category of people, but we’ve often been given other names.

And we may have used these other labels as a badge of honor, but they weren’t always given to us with that intent, right? We’re called disruptors, we’re called troublemakers and we’re like, yeah, I am, I’m a troublemaker, yeah, but that’s not necessarily what the organization, that’s not the positive feedback they’re necessarily intending with that, right?

Jamie, could

William Tincup: HR? Yeah, great. That’s not the call you want. I get it. Yeah, you’re right. Yeah,

Shannon Lucas: exactly. So Catalyst is the positive version of this. And you ask a really great question. And the other thing that we say to people is I tell people, if I was to give you all of the Myers Briggs profiles and had you read the 16 profiles, the one that you liked the best would probably be the one that you were if you took the test.

And so the same is true. This is a self identification process. And so other people that we talked to about Catalyst, like Ooh, that sounds hard and awful and messy. And just tell me what to do and I’ll get on with business and go on my way. The way that we identify catalysts the sort of the six attributes of them [00:04:00] is we are dot connectors.

And for those of you who can’t see William’s amazing background, he’s an artist, he talks with all these people there’s all of this dot connecting going on in his world. And from that we start to see these infinite possibilities of the way that things could be better which can be tiring, we can talk about the downsides of being a catalyst but from that we start to create visions like a specific vision of something in our work, in our home, in our life, in the world that has to be better, that we have to make better.

If we stopped there, we would call them visionaries, but one of the most important attributes to them, to us, is that we move quickly into action. We literally can’t stop ourselves from moving into action. The final two pieces are, we have an experimentation mindset. We have to. Almost by default, everything we’re doing is net new.

There is no operating or playbook. And then finally, other people will describe us as being comfortable with risk and ambiguity. But A, we’ve already done the dot connecting, so it’s not super ambiguous to us, although there might still be [00:05:00] some ambiguity, but more importantly, we’re like, it’s risky not to do it.

That’s the question, right? It’s almost

William Tincup: like we have a moral obligation to get it done. A

Shannon Lucas: hundred percent. And what we’re starting to see is, if you’re in a business, you’ll say, if we don’t do this, we’re going to fall behind the competition. If we don’t do this, we’re going to lose our customers.

And often we’re so much at the forefront that it is hard to get the business case in the way that people are used to it. But we know if we don’t do this, we’re going to fall off that cliff.

William Tincup: So the action let’s, we’ll unpack all of those, but the action, it seems like with. These types of people, it has to get out of them.

Like it’s inside of them and it has to get out. You know what I’m saying? It has to get out. It can’t contain it. It can’t, I can’t stay in the body. Can’t stay in my brain. Can’t get, gotta get it out.

Shannon Lucas: That’s right. It’s almost a physical imperative. And we talk about that. And I should have also said at the beginning, Tracy and I wrote a best selling book called Move Fast, Break Shit, Burn Out, The Catalyst’s Guide to Working and you hit on something. That is our default [00:06:00] mode when we’re not intentional. We’re moving fast, we’re breaking shit unintentionally, and because all of that, we’re burning out. And that stems from what we call a catalyst formula, which is how we move through the world. We come up with a vision. We move into action fast, we iterate, and then we go back to vision and start all over again.

And that’s where we lose people in the process and we break shit without intentionality. And so yes, we don’t want to dampen the urge to, to motion, to action for catalysts, but we want catalysts to do it with intentionality so that they’re bringing people along with them in the organization and creating the positive change that they really want to while minimizing their burnout.

William Tincup: So okay. If you are a catalyst, what do you need to look for in an environment that you can thrive in, that you’ll thrive in? So you’ve helped people. You also were this person in corporate America. What did people, what, how did you know to have things around you or have a, have you, both people that [00:07:00] work for you, with you, for people you work for.

Again, it’s like a little tornado. Yeah, it can be. In a good way. If we can think of a positive tornado, right?

Shannon Lucas: Yeah, totally. We work with catalysts to hone their skills, because we can be disruptive if we’re not intentional. So I don’t want to paint us all as superheroes, like we have our own self management and skill building just like everyone else does.

But it’s pretty easy to channel that because we’re so purpose and passion driven that If we see the means to the end, if that’s what I have to do, I will do that thing. You ask a great question. Tracy and I have a vision. On our midterm horizon of how do we create slash identify the top 100 catalyst friendly places to work.

And so for your listeners, I think this is a call to action because if you can create It’s the container where Catalysts will thrive. You will crush your competition. You’ll have just the most impactful get shit done, power people in your organization and they will flock to you because it’s hard.

It’s hard for [00:08:00] Catalysts to find places like this. What Catalysts will say is, and this is, we work with C level Catalysts. It’s, across the company, across the country from major companies. And even these people who have been like CIOs of Walmart are like, I just want to work my next project.

I want to work on wicked, interesting problems with great people. And that’s, that’s a hard job description match, right? It’s like, where is that job description? So the things that I’ll say is, you got to look at companies who are really committed to change and the leadership. And so it’s doing a lot of research about.

What the leaders, what the CHROs in particular are saying about what their commitment to change is, how they’re dealing with ambiguity, how they’re committing to their transformation initiatives, and how long they’re staying with them, because everyone knows that, everyone can get whiplash from the 18 month cycle of the next transformation initiative.

What I will also say is when catalysts find a manager who really gets them and gives them the space and support to thrive, they will [00:09:00] follow them from company to company. And so it’s important for, HR people and leaders across the organizations to tap into that, hone that and help other managers learn how to do that.


William Tincup: I can see people being jealous. of Catalyst in a way, because they get to do things that normal people, and I say normal, I don’t mean that as an offensive way, but that normal people don’t get to do. They question the status quo. Like, why are we doing it this way? I don’t understand why we’re doing it this way.

I find myself, again, it’s all about me. It’s not really about me, the audience knows that, I’m joking, but it’s I find myself always asking the same similar questions. Like, why are we doing this? Why are we doing it this way? Who created this? Why is it done this way? And again, that’s off-putting to some because we’ve always done it this way.

It’s I don’t care how long we’ve done it this way. Why? Why? Explain the logic. Tell me why. And, but I can also see that other people that don’t do that or can’t do that, [00:10:00] however, That’s phrased. I could see them being jealous of that.

Shannon Lucas: I don’t know. You even said in your, in the way that you set that up, that people can get frustrated or annoyed with that.

And the path of what we actually hear more often than not, especially when catalysts are first coming to us, is Can I not be a catalyst? Because it’s really hard. It’s really hard.

William Tincup: No. I’m gonna go ahead and say

Shannon Lucas: no. No, and that’s it. And that’s the answer, right? This is an innate way of being and we haven’t done the research, and we have anecdotal, is it nurture or nature?

And there’s a lot of… of, points in both camps. But because in the best of circumstances, when we are given some latitude, I was very fortunate. I got to build out the innovation program at Vodafone from scratch and, doing Horizon 3 Innovation at CHIL. I got these amazing opportunities.

But even then, at some point that the antibodies of the organization are going to come out to attack it. [00:11:00] Those people who are like, But we don’t do it that way. That’s not the way that it’s done. And so the individual, and the individual catalyst becomes that lightning rod for the change resistance.

And it’s ironic because we’re often like, look, you sent me on a mission to go do, to go search out X, Y, or Z. I don’t even have a horse in the race. I’m just telling you what the answer is, don’t shoot the messenger. But that’s the role that we often get put into. And it leads to burnout. Then we talk about, but it also leads to trauma.

It can be really hard and you, most catalysts are lonely. They don’t know how to find the other catalysts in their organizations. They’re really misunderstood by leadership for the most part. People don’t know how to unpack or, give space for the superpowers that they have. So it’s a hard road until you know as a catalyst, A, that you’re a catalyst.

That’s a big pivot point. Oh, that stuff that I’ve been told that I’m bad for my whole life, too fast, too loud to all the things, that’s good. And then you’re like, damn, now I’m going to [00:12:00] stand on my power and find places that value that.

William Tincup: It’s good. And I was thinking about Petri dish, but it’s good if the work environment.

is set up for that. It’s got to be, they’ve got to, you mentioned, they’ve got to want change or transformation. They’ve got to want that and be set up. Again, it’s one thing to say, oh, we want change and then not be set up for it. Just not be structurally ready for change, but you want it, just not ready for it.

And then I can see a catalyst being thrown into that environment with all the best intentions. And just bumping into nothing but bureaucracy and really again, burning out or just running into walls and getting frustrated. Like I can see that, but so it’s almost like you got to find a, there’s almost, there’s got to be a gauge.

of, or an understanding of, okay, you say you’re ready for change as an organization or as an executive, fantastic. We’re going to turn this person loose in a very [00:13:00] specific way in a direction to go find things and go break things, et cetera. Are you really ready? Are you really ready for what’s about to happen?

Shannon Lucas: So when we were framing up the conversation we’re going to have, we have, we’re having right now, we’re like, okay, so what is a catalyst and why do I care? And it’s really interesting because, I’ve been talking about VUCA, volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous for 10 plus years, right?

I used to have to go make the case, whether you were talking about innovation or catalyst, right? Go make the case you can’t continue to operate the way that you’ve always operated. But there, the, some of the silver linings of all of the change that are around us in the world, like the pandemic and climate change and, the political system is like, why should you change?

Is your, hey, is your organization dealing with change? I’m sorry, why should you care? Is your organization dealing with change? Obviously the answer is yes. Is the pace of change in your organization accelerating? Obviously the answer is yes. Exactly. Exactly. That’s. So we don’t have to make that argument anymore, but the next piece that you asked is really interesting.[00:14:00]

Are you ready? Do you know how? And almost no organizations do, and this is the work that we do, that we love doing. If you look at, McKinsey cites that 70 percent of transformation initiatives fail. Why do they fail? There’s a lot of reasons why they fail. They’ll say the aspirations were too high, or you didn’t build in the sustaining capabilities for it, or you didn’t do the employee engagement.

Exactly, but you, they all come in with a one size fits all. If we just get the right change management technique or tool, we’ll be successful. It’s the, at the base of humans, we, most of us are afraid of change. And so why would you assume that everyone’s gonna lean into change the same way?

No. Organizations need to start with these people who have an insanely positive relationship with change, give them the skills to then go into the early adopters right behind them and get to that 20 percent tipping point that can then bring the rest of the organization along. Most organizations aren’t set up for that

William Tincup: yet.

A dumb question, Laura, are we, can we assess for [00:15:00] people that are more accepting of change? That can consume change is what I’m, because I, the reason I asked the question is I studied user adoption for a number of years and it’s the same adoption curve that you would imagine, right? But I, what I also discovered in, in, in doing all that research was that some people just consume change at a different way.

There’s a velocity that they can handle that other people can’t. And I don’t know if it can’t or won’t, there’s probably… That’s

Shannon Lucas: an existential question, William.

William Tincup: That’s an existential conversation. But I did notice that there’s some people just okay, we’re going to do it this way. Yeah.

Yeah. Okay. Yeah. Give me a day. Not a problem.

Shannon Lucas: That’s right. That’s right. The Diffusions of Innovation, the Diffusions of Innovation curve is there and there’s a sliding scale, like if you go to, some of the tech companies, there’ll be a sliding scale, more change positive versus maybe some other industries.

The work that we do is [00:16:00] exactly on that. A huge part of it is their comfort and level with change and ambiguity. And so we have the IP to be able to identify that. There’s also a scale about how catalysts show up. It’s not a one size fits all. So Tracy is a researcher by background and training, and she likes data.

She’s a little bit more considered. You and I are probably more on the ultra catalyst side. It’s we’re moving lightning fast. So there’s still a range in there, and we can help identify that. People who apply who don’t fit into, as we’re curating cohorts for organizations of catalysts, we’re also then, as they’re applying, maybe they’re not a full on catalyst, but they’re those early adopters that we want to bring into the fold.

And those are important people because they’re going to be like the army that works with the catalyst to bring the rest of the organization along. So yeah, we need to think deeply about people’s relationship with change.

William Tincup: Is there any relationship that you’ve seen in the kind of the historical way that we’ve looked at talent with like high potentials, high performers, top [00:17:00] performers, whatever the words are that we’ve used in the past, is there any correlation causes, is there any relationship?

Between how we’ve historically looked at talent and how we, how y’all look at Catalyst.

Shannon Lucas: Again, this is more anecdotal. We haven’t we do a lot of research. We haven’t done research head to head on this, but we do work with a lot of organizations identifying Catalyst and the conversation we have is how this fits in with our, their Hypo Hypotential program.

I think if, if you look at the metrics. that and the frameworks that generally try to identify the high potential, the way that I think about it is, they’re they have great skill domain expertise they can take a set of objectives, and it may even be, somewhat ambiguous, and figure out on their own how to execute and to crush those, and they’re good political maneuvers often, right?

That’s just part of that game. And what’s missing So what the, the companies that we’re working with are starting to see is there’s a new skill set that is being missed by those high potential [00:18:00] people. And it’s the skill set of coming up with the things that need to be done a priori, like sometimes before the senior leadership team even knows that they need to be on the docket.

They’re often working across the silos and in the seams to get stuff done. And so they don’t have an executive. sponsor, one executive sponsor who’s really paying attention to the impact that they’re having. Sometimes it takes 18 months for the thing that they started to actually, come to fruition.

And usually if they’re successful, the words that they were saying at the beginning of the 18 months are coming out of someone else’s mouth who is now a convert who might’ve been a resistor before. So it’s sometimes even hard to trace back to. where that, that killer initiative that we’re all grateful for now actually started from.

And because catalysts are so purpose and passion driven, they are often using rewards and recognition for the other people that are helping to support them and not out to get it on their own. So as you listen to all of those things, it would be hard for [00:19:00] high potential, traditional high potential tools and evaluations to find them.

William Tincup: I can absolutely see that. So with Catalysts that you work with and companies that you help identify Catalysts, have you found anything that they’re like where some of their powers, some of their superpowers. Is it in the details? Is it in tactics? Is it in strategy?

Is it seeing, as you said, dot connectors? Is it seeing what’s not being, it’s right there, but other people can’t see it? Or is it futurism? They can see around the corner? Maybe not. Find cars around the corner, but they can see enough around the corner to then help other people.

Is there any consistency across the board with

Shannon Lucas: it? It’s all of the above. It’s all of the above. So it’s the dot connecting and the moving, creating that specific vision and moving into action. And so sometimes catalysts will come to us before they have been able to self identify. And they’ll be like, I don’t know if I’m a catalyst and we’ll have a conversation and we’re like, yeah we’re, you seem like a catalyst to us.

What’s holding you back? And they’re [00:20:00] like I just create change on my team. I’m just, innovating the processes or improving the processes on my team. That may be also an earlier career thing. As you get a remit that’s bigger your ability to create change might expand. No, there’s not one.

Sort of not one approach, but what we know about catalysts is they are always creating change. They’re always moving into action. You don’t have to be solving, systemic racism or world peace to be a catalyst.

William Tincup: All right, the best way to support a capitalist, a catalyst, capitalist.

What’s the best way for, again, Team members, subordinates, executives, board members, whatever, like what is the best thing you can do to be supportive of the catalyst in your organization?

Shannon Lucas: Such a good question. The first thing I would say is the helping them with the self identification of it. And when catalysts come in contact with that, like I said, it’s like a lightning bolt.

That’s why it’s on the cover of our book. And we [00:21:00] still get, the book is three years old. We still get weekly emails from people. Saying this has changed my life. I’ve never felt so deeply seen or understood. So the first thing is helping them understand because they probably, if they’re a catalyst, have a long history of people not appreciating, to put it politely, some of the skills and aptitudes that they bring.

Another one, if you are a manager or a leader, is giving them those special projects. That is like drugs to catalysts. If they can, make change in a different way and, Sort out the new thing and make positive impact that, like I said, they will follow you. I followed one boss through three or four different companies because he just understood my superpowers so well.

Another great thing though is to understand that like we iterate really quickly and we’ll leave people behind. This is the skill. We have a class if people are interested. This is a skill that we teach Catalyst is to slow down so that we can bring people along. And so as a manager, I would set, a team member out on a project on Monday and.

By Friday, I’ve iterated [00:22:00] three times in my head and the poor person comes back to me with what I asked them to deliver and I’m like, that’s not what we talked about and they’re like, yeah, it is. So just having grace and reminding them and that we’re not intentionally being difficult. And reminding us to slow down, like that’s not a bad thing.

If you’re thinking about an organizational structure, I always joke like I need a chief of staff, a VP of operations, and an EA to help me keep the wheels on the bus. Catalysts need those bridgers to help us with the execution and keeping the stability so that it’s not a constant swirl.

So those are some ideas. I love it. Oh, and hold on. One more super important thing that I forgot is connect them with other catalysts. If you can create just like small cohorts around your organization that is an amazing employee retention. Like I said, there’s not enough great places for catalysts to work and if you are connecting them like that, it’s everything to a catalyst.

William Tincup: Last thing is I wanted to, we get back to the. Bookended for why you should care for folks that [00:23:00] are listening to this. If they’ve heard everything and they’ve heard it correctly in the way that we’ve positioned it, et cetera, these are folks that actually create positive change.

I guess we could also use the famous create trouble, create good trouble. If you don’t have that in your organization, you want that, this is, these are the things, this is where innovation comes from these kind of things bouncing together. So the care part, is there any other kind of way that you’d like to talk about, and here’s also why why you should care?

Shannon Lucas: Yeah, I would say it’s not just innovation anymore. We go back to There’s two reasons, right? How is your organization going to not just survive but thrive in all of this change? And one of the absolute best ways you can do it is by tapping these people. They want nothing more than to help your organization do it.

And there’s a different form of care that you can do because making this space for them, they will do this in addition to their day job, but that’s not the [00:24:00] right answer. That’s probably what they’re doing right now if you’re not tapping them, engaging them in the right way. And these are people that you want to keep, you want to keep engaged, and you want to help them manage their own burnout.

So the best thing that you can do is create this space and connect them with your strategic initiatives and then let them go. Just

William Tincup: get out of the way. Just Get out of the way. Yep. I love this. I could talk to you forever but I know that we’ve got other things to do. So thank you so much, Shannon, for coming on the show and talking about Catalyst.

Thanks for

Shannon Lucas: having me, William.

William Tincup: Absolutely. And thanks everybody for listening until next time.

The RecruitingDaily Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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