Category Archives: Professional

Appreciating change

To be quite candid, I did not know what I was in for when I signed up for the graduate certification in Organization Design program at Royal Roads University. Nevertheless, I opened my mind, did the work, and now I can safely say studying at RRU was indeed a “life changing” experience. I am now a proud OD practitioner with a Graduate Certificate in Organization Design and Development from Royal Roads University.

I rekindled my interest in how organizations work last year while on a nine-month assignment at Vancouver Island University filling in for a leader who was on leave. During that time I grappled with the usual things administrators face: changing technologies, shrinking budgets, increasing demands. I took a week-long change management course, which turned out to be a catalyst for a turning point in my career.

One thing I have learned, often with shocking clarity, time and again, is that people are resilient, and the more solid and trusting their relationships with their team and their coworkers, the more they can leverage their resiliency into effective and productive organizational change.
I wanted my leadership and change management skills to be intentional, consistent, and grounded in theory and practice.

I was intrigued by the RRU program, but I was expecting more “traditional” management/business program. During my first residency, I realized Organization Design (or OD) is much richer and more complex than I first imagined. I consider myself fortunate to have, in essence, stumbled upon this area of practice.

At first, I thought this “touchy-feely” stuff would be a waste of my time, to be quite honest. However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. OD, expertly implemented, is good for morale, it fosters productivity, it enhances the bottom line.

It works.

Foundational to OD is what SFU professor and author Gervase Bush calls “the secret sauce”: a dialogic, rather than a diagnostic, mindset that uses methods like Appreciative Inquiry to tap into the strengths of people and groups.

Appreciative Inquiry is an approach to human systems: strategic planning, “change management,” community engagement, organization design, leadership, business, etc. It focuses on strengths rather than deficiencies. Appreciative Inquiry seeks out what works well and avoids dwelling on what’s wrong; it’s comprised of “interactions designed to bring out the best in people so that they can imagine a preferred future together that is more hopeful, boundless, and inherently good .. about socially constructing a shared future … through the questions asked” (from the Appreciative Inquiry Handbook).

The field of OD is based on the premise that the command-and-control management model that focuses on problems to be solved is a holdover from an industrial past. In a complex, creative, knowledge-based economy where change is a given, leadership in a resilient, healthy organization means being in continual relationship-building mode. It means increasing the capacity of the entire organization to engage in continuous learning, adaptation, engagement, and innovation. It means choosing leadership qualities like emotional intelligence, honesty, openness, trust, and empowerment rather than directive, hierarchical, task-oriented, and transactional management styles.

In the communications profession, we’ve realized for a long time that “broadcast” (one-to-many) methods don’t work anymore. Effective communication is many-to-many; it’s a dialogue. It’s widely distributed and it can’t be tightly controlled any more. So too is leadership and organization development.

I didn’t realize until I put it onto practice for myself that to consistently ask, per Appreciative Inquiry, “Where is the good here?” is the most productive question anyone in a leadership position could ask. In my latest leadership position, I deliberately and consciously switched from a “diagnostic” to a “dialogic” mindset and immediately saw how taking an appreciative, strengths-based approach raised morale, and thus could enhance organizational health and effectiveness. People have an enormous resilience and capacity for change; when they resist, it is an opportunity to listen to the reasons why and engage in charting a new course together.

In many ways, my taking the Organization Design program was an extension of the question that sparked my interest in sociology and politics twenty years ago: people spend their lives working and have a thirst for meaning. What can we do to make their working life more meaningful? How can we enlist the wisdom of our stakeholders: clients, employees, vendors, rivals, community – to weather the changes we need to make to thrive in an uncertain time?

Very few of us who are chosen for management positions deliberately hone our leadership skills, or are prepared to shepherd our departments through an ever-changing landscape. We get promoted because of our technical expertise. That’s important, but in the 21st century it’s not enough. OD shows how everyone, regardless of job title or position, can be encouraged to take a leading role in their organization, and can be aligned to organizational goals and purpose.

I am excited for the journey ahead – and I’m available for more assignments to use design thinking to help create a culture of learning and change in your organization.

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Universities make up for lack of technology with great staff

So, besides getting a new job and getting engaged, all within two weeks, I’m also applying to a a six-month blended-delivery graduate certificate program at RRU. Because I’m not busy enough, apparently. Don’t worry, I already gave up the volunteer Board position and the extra teaching gig for the fall – because I’m not completely insane. I like sleep and exercise and occasionally a date night with my fiancé (it still feels all tingly and exciting to ay that word!).

The deadline for admissions to the Graduate Certificate in Organization Design and Development is next week. A week or two ago I wrote my personal statement, solicited my letters of reference, arranged for my transcript from University of Regina, where I completed my undergrad and my graduate degrees.

Today I got an email from RRU saying they also need my transcript from the year I spent at Carleton University — thirty one (31!) years ago. While I remember my year on Ottawa fondly, it had not entered my mind that I would need to get a transcript from there ever again.

With a deadline looming, and knowing that official transcript exchange is still – except in limited circumstances – in the dark ages of official paper copies only – no faxes, no emails, I am trying not to bite my nails. I can’t event get Carleton to email me an unofficial transcript, which RRU will happily consider while they wait for the official version.

Nevertheless, I think it can be done. The folks at both institutions are responsive and happy to help out in any way they can. Carleton sent me detailed instructions for arranging for a courier to get my transcript to RRU by next Friday.

The new job, by the way, is at Emily Carr University of Art + Design, where I will be the Executive Director, Communications. If there’s a way I could feel any more blessed and grateful in my life right now, I don’t know how.

 

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Week 18: Finding the Raven and new heroes

An event I attended at the end of March marked, for me, the beginning of the homestretch of my temporary appointment. It was the raising of a prayer pole and warrior canoe at the Cowichan campus in Duncan, where Megan Joe became my latest hero.

Her grandfather Harold was lead carver on the project: overseeing the pole carving and doing the work alongside a team of carvers on the warrior canoe. They’re very impressive – go see them if you get a chance.

He couldn’t be there for the ceremony, so Megan read his words to the 100 or so people assembled. She was visibly petrified of speaking in public. Shaking and near tears, bolstered by her family and her community, She did it. She stood up there and did it anyway. We patiently waited and listened to Elder Harold’s words spoken through her. She was a brave young woman among all the veterans on that day. I was almost in tears with her.

I wondered if it was simply the age-old fear of public speaking that 90% of the world has, or if there was an added weight on her shoulders to represent her family in place of her grandfather, in front of her whole community. I wanted to go up to her afterwards and tell her what a wonderful job she did, that public speaking gets easier, that it’s good to feel the weight of responsibility, that she’ll grow into it, because she’s got such a strong community behind her.
I was also acutely aware this was one of my last events as a VIU employee, and it made me a little verklempt. I’m a sentimental fool, as anyone close to me knows.

One of the speakers that day explained why the Veterans Prayer pole is Raven. “The shapeshifter – he changes. Warriors must change to go to war. Some of them didn’t change back when they returned.”

April was a blur – the realization that my term here at VIU is ending has spurred a different set of tasks: reports to write, files to hand off, vacations to plan. After my last day here, I’m taking three weeks off, then deciding what direction I want to head next.

I am going to miss this place. I chose to take this job despite the distance from my home and my family, because I knew it would be a tremendous learning opportunity – a chance to shift and change in new and productive ways. I realized that day in Cowichan: I’m always seeking to learn, to grow, to change. I’ll always be touched by new heroes like Megan, and I’ll always be on the lookout for The Raven.

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