Leadership Interview: Morten Mortensen ‘Checking the Temperature of Employee Response to Change’

Successful leaders recognise they have a crucial role to play during organisational change.

Morten Mortensen

The recognised wisdom about organisational change is that we do not change people – they choose to change for their own reasons. This means the unit of change in this process is ONE. It is not about one-way briefings or team sessions – it is about the individual. This means the ‘real’ dialogue about change is about ‘What’s in it for me’ (WIIFM) and takes place in private in short structured sessions between a colleague and his/her Leader. In 2013 I interviewed Morten Mortensen, APALOC Head of Contract Management for Maersk Singapore, about how he was coaching for change leadership and checking the temperature of employee response to change.

I first started working with the Top Team at Maersk Asia Pacific Liner Operations Cluster (APALOC) in Singapore when I visited them to kick off the Coaching Master Class program in April 2013. By July that year I was completing the Coach-the-Coach sessions and the conversation with the leadership team was all about change.

The previous month Maersk Line, MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company S.A. and CMA CGM announced their intention to establish a long-term operational vessel sharing agreement on the East – West trades, called the P3 Network (P3). The overall aim with P3 was to make container liner shipping more efficient and improve service quality for the shippers due to more frequent and reliable services.

This announcement was having a big impact on everyone at Maersk APALOC Singapore. My coaching emphasis at that time switched from coaching leaders as internal coaches to coaching them to deal with the impact of change.

It was on our July 2013 coach-the-coach session that my FOFF (Facts Opinions Feelings & Future) model caught the attention of Morten Mortensen in relation to his coaching for change leadership. I only realised the impact this had made on his coaching when he stood up at the Coaching Refresher Workshop in Singapore in September and made an impassioned plea to his peers in the management team to follow the ideas embodied in the Coaching for Change Leadership Tool  – particularly the FOFF model. I realised at that moment Morten had become an ambassador for the tool and the process. Here is my interview with Morten conducted in October 2013.

Trevor: “Tell me the background to how you came to be actively engaged in APALOC with Coaching for Change Leadership”

Morten: “The sharing of news in June 2013 that we would join in a P3 alliance with MSC and CMA created a lot of uncertainty within the organisation, both globally and locally. Locally there were a multitude of questions popping up. Although Maersk Line Centre had prepared an instruction pack, a number of these questions could not be addressed immediately. Some of them of a sensitive nature, and some of the questions we simply do not yet have the answers for”.

Trevor: “What did you and your peers in the management team do to deal with this uncertainty?”

Morten: “All this uncertainty does create some anxiety amongst the staff. So we got together as a management team to see how we could use the Coaching for Change Leadership tool to take the temperature on change amongst our staff. Since then I have personally on an average of bi-weekly, sat down with my team members – each and every one of them – for five to ten minutes and just gone over the FOFF model to take the temperature with regards to the change coming with P3”.

Trevor: “Tell me how you apply the FOFF model to take the temperature.”


Morten: “It’s my experience simply sitting down and asking, “What is going on? Tell me the facts about this change ongoing as you see it” is a golden opportunity to first of all get the discussion going, and secondly to hear exactly with which words and facts the employee sees the change coming. This is a good opportunity to address any misunderstandings”.


Morten: “I would then go into the opinions stage and ask “What does this mean to you? What do you see from this perspective of change? What’s the best that could happen to you or the worst that could happen to you personally from this change? ”It’s my experience this gets their mind going quite well and reveals how well this change is being absorbed by colleagues”.


Morten: “And that funnels us into the feelings side. “So how do you feel about this? Would you say that you are feeling more anger or confusion, uncertainty, detachment? How does this make you feel?” And “On a scale from one to ten, how positive do you feel about this?”


Morten: “By now I understand where the employee is emotionally with regards to the change. I try to anchor today into the future by saying: “In six or twelve months’ time, where do you see yourself following this change? Where would you like to be? In which position, which role, which function – which company?” And try to fast-forward in the employee’s mind to where they would see themselves. And if they would see themselves within P3 or not, then I would ask: “How can I support you to get there? How can we make sure you are not stagnating and that we make sure the future will actually happen”. And then, a thing that works quite well for me, I always ask them: “What support do you need from me?” To make the coachee feel we are in this situation together, that I care about them in this situation and it’s important for me to help them. More than anything, that they feel I’m there to help them. And in many cases they will say, “OK I’m fine”, in others they will say “I need your help with so and so”.

Trevor: “Why is this approach important to you personally? And how are you working with your peers in APALOC on this process?”

Morten:The important part for me about the FOFF model is that it’s the first time that I have used a structured model to understand what is going on with my team in a change situation. It’s easy to use, super-fast, it gets the discussion flowing and gets to gauge the temperature. Following our last session when you were here in September 2013 there was a lot of discussion, where do we take this change management? What’s next? A few of us in the management team decided subsequently to share what we had agreed during that session. It was highlighted that I had been brave to step forward with the FOFF model, so I produced some notes to share with my colleagues for them to use if they want to. What I did for myself was write the FOFF model down on a post-it note and I have it in front of me when I sit down with the employee”.

Trevor: “Take me back to the ‘temperature check’ and put it into a leadership context please. What is the value of the temperature check, and how have you and the management team used it?”

Morten: “First and foremost, we need to make sure we deliver while we establish and create P3, and while all the bricks fall together if you will. We have a business to run and we have a shipping line to operate and we need to make sure we have the people on board to do that. Not only still sitting behind their desk, but also energised and driving and delivering results. Secondly, we will need to keep our good resources within Maersk Line and P3 for the future. And I think it’s dawned on the organisation that we will probably need more hands than less. So losing good team members at this time because of uncertainty is simply not acceptable where we are right now. So it is to make sure we perform and still retain and build for the future”.

Trevor: “Any downsides that you found that you had to overcome in this process?”

Morten: “Not really. I found my team members not to be overly emotionally effected by the change. At least, so far. But it’s been manageable. I would reckon if someone is very distressed, using this model will spur emotions. But this is something we will have to deal with anyway. Personally I have not experienced anything too challenging – on the contrary”.

Trevor: “What is your advice to your peers in the LOCs around the world?”

Morten: “Use the model. It has an element of counselling to it if you will. There is no alternative because if our employees are not given a means to vent their emotions, it’s going to blow anyway”.


Further Reading: ‘Coaching for Change Leadership’ under Techniques in the Coaches Toolkit.

Morten Mortensen has left Maersk and returned to his native Denmark where he is Director Airline Sales at Copenhagen Airports A/S. LinkedIn Profile

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Author: Trevor Sherman

Trevor Sherman: Author, Blogger and Coach. What do I do? I develop leadership training material and personal learning modules. I am the owner and operator of this Blog. I coach senior executives for their development and role transition. I am based in Northamptonshire UK and operate globally - in person and through technology.

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