Ali Girard

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#ChangeConnect4: Top 4 Takeaways

Last week I had the opportunity to attend Change Connect 4, an annual symposium held by the ACMP Pacific Northwest Regional Network. Located at the Portland Art Museum, the symposium explored the art & science of change. It was my first change management conference – in fact, it was my first conference ever.

It was really exciting the have the opportunity to spend two days meeting other change strategists and practitioners, and focus on improving my change management knowledge bank and skill set. Oh, and a colleague of mine and I got up on stage to talk about our own experience with organizational change:

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What a learning experience that was. We were in the first breakout session time slot. I was nervous at first, but quickly got over that when I realised how invested the audience was in our story (thank you, in particular, to the blonde lady up front with the exaggerated reactions). The audience participated in our session by brainstorming what they would have done had they been in our shoes when our project was, let’s just say, not doing so well. From the conversation we had with those in the room, I formulated my first of four takeaways.

1. Find an external sounding board when your change goes sideways

The whole point of our presentation was to show how the actions we took as a project team to change the way we engaged our stakeholders enabled the change the organization needed. When we stopped to ask attendees what they would have done in our shoes, I was amazed. So many of their suggestions lined up with what we did.

When we were trying to figure out what to do, it was really hard for us to get “unstuck” from our mindset of what was possible. What took us weeks to figure out took a room of about 70 roughly 10 minutes. It was a good reminder to me that some things transcend organizational context. The next time I get into a situation where things seem impossible, I’ll reach out to someone else to help me get unstuck.

2. Change tolerance is tied to risk tolerance

The second day of the conference started with a leaders panel – a group of executives from companies in the Pacific Northwest Region. Interestingly, each leader touched on healthcare in some way. In talking about change in their business, this amazing quote came out:

In technology, the motto is “go fast and break things.” In healthcare, the motto is “go slow and don’t kill anyone.”

It had never struck me so clearly before: an organization is only as tolerant to change as it is to risk. In navigating this, the business leaders recommended using conversation to determine what is, indeed, okay to break – such as unfounded traditions – and to show them where changes can fail before introducing them broadly.

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3. Data can give the illusion of insight – interpersonal engagement is irreplaceable

In Justin Uhler’s presentation he outlined the changing landscape organizations are facing: data volumes, disruption and complexity are going up, predictability and action are going down. In this information rich environment, it can be easy to assume leaders have enough to make decisions. Yet, with increasing complexity and lack of predictability, decision making actually becomes more difficult. That is why Justin advocated for decentralizing decision making to those who have relationships with the impacted parties. In his team-based model, it’s the leader’s role to set the purpose, define success, foster the culture, and then invite others to make the decisions. If the right guidelines are put in place (e.g. anything bigger than X gets escalated) then this model leads to increasingly risk-tolerant, and therefore change-tolerant, organizations.

4. Tap into informal leadership structures

Finally, the coolest thing I learned about at Change Connect 4, by far, was Pacific Gas and Electric’s (PGE) implementation and use of Change Agent Networks (CANs). I had heard of CANs before, but never thought they would really gain traction in an organization. They seemed like a head office idea that most employees would roll their eyes at. PGE proved this assumption wrong. Two of the panel members were actually Change Agent Leads – leaders embedded within the business who believed that CANs were valuable and that contributing to them was a good use of their time (so much so that they attended a conference about change management).

PGE made the point that CANs were not an instant success. In the space of about 6 years, they have been built up into a success through the work of many dedicated people – those in the Change Management Office and others who believed in the idea. People now know who’s “in the know” about a change, which means the vision and support of the change gets more widely communicated. There are change role models embedded in the organization, who are poised to coach others through the change process. Additionally, when there isn’t a specific initiative for a CAN, they determine what needs to change within their part of the organization and contribute to continuous improvement both for their employee group and the organization as a whole. This session in particular energized me, and I’m excited to see where it can go in my own organization.

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