What I’ve Learned about Organizational Change

I have always shied away from facilitating change.  I felt like it was too large, it took too much poise and grace to do and it was painful.  I signed up for Change Strategies to challenge those ideas and perceptions.  Through the semester, I learned theories of organizational change and examples of it at work.  I also learned more about what it takes to facilitate organizational change – both on the inside and the outside.  Finally, I got to “try on” a few large scale interventions as a participant and a facilitator.  This is my story…

Theory and Examples of Organizational Change

Change is incredibly complex because it affects an entire system.  If you change one part, no matter how small, it can change the rest of the system.  It requires thinking about the forest AND the trees.

This is intuitive for me.  This means it is also frustrating for me.  I have been in many roll-outs or meetings with different organizations where they announce what the new strategies or product or rules or ideas or dress code will be.  One of my favorites was very simple.  An organization issued a memo saying they had decided to start “letting employees wear open-toed shoes during warm weather.”  I remember shaking my head while the rest of the staff let out a breathless “Ohhh…” and there was even applause.  There was no definition of warm weather, no one addressed if this applied to males and females, no one thought about OSHA requirements for stockings/socks.  So, here’s this one change and it exploded in their face.  Next thing management knew, employees all over the organization were frustrated.  “Who wants to wear pantyhose with sandals?”  “So the rules only apply to women?  That’s not fair.”  The memo was repealed and there was no more talk about the possibility of casual footwear again.

This is a very simple example of a highly complex and emotional topic.  Rarely can a large-scale change be made by just a few people.  By my example, even a small, simple change requires the input of many.  This makes the process of change highly complex.  Everyone today is highly dependent and interdependent on others.  We are an ecosystem of humans that are interacting.  Everyone has emotions that run the gamut from excitement to fear when it comes to change.  We listened (and listened and listened) to the characters in Mindwalk talk about this interdependence.  I was charmed as we followed the poet, the politician and the scientist as they explored the web of society.  But, they made a good point.  Everything is related in some way.  You can’t change one thing without changing another.

The Haitian proverb “Beyond mountains, there are more mountains,” is a great analogy for wide-sweeping, large-scale change.  No matter what mountain you ascend, there are other mountains beyond it.  No matter what problem or challenge you surmount, there are other mountains beyond it.  In the book Mountains Beyond Mountains, the author explores how Dr. Paul Farmer worked tirelessly to change the face health care in Haiti but also around the world.  Parts of this story did not seem like a good example of good organizational change (or it’s a great example of how to not do it!).  Dr. Farmer often alienated himself from others.  This is not the way to bring everyone together to make change.  It does however speak to the iterative cycle that change requires.

Looking at Lewin’s model for change – unfreezing, movement and then refreezing – maybe Farmer is still in the process of unfreezing.  Unfreezing is about getting ready for change.  Some times, it takes a crisis for this stage to occur.  Whatever the cause, change cannot happen unless an organization (or system) is ready for the challenge of making a change.  The second step, movement, is the actual transition.  Farmer is probably here.  There are changes to health care in the impoverished countries at this point.  But as far as the final step, refreezing, I don’t think that there is much stability around the changes he has created.

Developing Skills for Facilitating and Leading Change

One of the most intriguing assignments of the semester was to interview someone who is a professional change agent.  When we were talking about the assignment, I immediately thought of John Sarvay of Floricane.  He is an old friend who has been doing exciting things and creating good dialog all over Richmond and beyond.  John is a natural as a facilitator, a leader and a change agent.  He exemplified these skills when we met over 20 years ago and he’s still got it going on!  We sat for a couple of hours on Valentine’s Day, enjoying coffee and talking about leading and facilitating change.

Some of the highlights of my conversation with John have really stuck with me.  First, the most important tool that any change agent can take into a meeting is their self.  Knowing my own thoughts and feelings, being aware of my own biases, being conscious of my own strengths and weaknesses are all vital.  They walk into the room with me everywhere I go.  When leading teams, not knowing these things could have as big an influence on a group as the influence of being highly attuned to these skills and attitudes.  Really, I think this applies to any leadership role, whether it’s about change or not.

John also talked about staying connected with his clients and groups.  His approach felt very nurturing and supportive.  I’m not sure if this was conscious on his part, but it definitely resonated with me!  I have worked with vendors in the past and this part of a relationship, after the delivery, comes across as being very sales-oriented.  They want to know how to get more gigs and more money.  John’s approach felt more like a cycle or an assessment plan.  How are you now?  How have things changed since we worked together?  Are you still working your plan?  John shared that he has gotten some valuable feedback by taking this approach.

The last thing that has really stuck with me from my interview with John is the importance of asking questions.  Often, I think that people and organizations get stuck in the rut of doing what they have always done.  It’s crucial to start asking questions about why things are done the way they are and how can they be done differently.  It’s a good habit to form.  The game (by game, I mean life) changes constantly, as do the rules.  The constant question for me has now become, “Is it okay to stay the same?”

From my interview with John, I created my own Philosophy of Change.    In it, I highlighted the three things I know about change.

First – Change in Inevitable. No matter what we do, how we feel or who we are, it’s coming.  It can be exciting and exhilarating.  Or, it can be overwhelming and scary.  A lot of that lies in the eyes of the beholder and their attitude.

Second – Change Creates Leaders. For the most part, great leaders prepare for and manage change well.  I think of the grace and confidence exuded by those who approach change deftly.  On the other hand, I can think of a few “hot messes” that did not manage change well – think of the local news whenever there was a mass layoff at a local employer!

Third – Change Requires Individual Authenticity. Everyone involved in change efforts has to come to the table as their true, authentic self.  I can think of times that I have worked on projects with people who had ulterior motives.  I remember not trusting them.  It still seems like if they had voiced those motives or concerns, we could have worked on them together!  It might not always tickle and it might be hard, but authenticity is crucial for any change.

Practicing the Art of Change: Large Group Interventions

Open Space Technology (OST) was the first large group intervention that we experienced.  I was really excited to try this one again.  I was also a little disappointed that we essentially facilitated ourselves out of the actual model.  It was one of those moments where I could see what we were doing but I didn’t want to speak out against the group.  I think everyone walked away with a little bit of a different idea about “Outrageous Diversity” though.  (Or, they were at least wondering what my thing with honey bees is all about!)  In hindsight, I would like to have experienced this intervention with a much more diverse group of people.  I’m sure I would have had a lot of my own thoughts and perceptions challenged a great deal more.

Here’s what I think makes OST unique and different from other interventions.

  • It has a very low emphasis on closure.  There’s no plan at the end of the exercises, you might just be thinking differently.  Or, you might have your thoughts confirmed.
  • OST is better served by focusing on broad themes than a focus on an organization or department or team.  People are attracted because of their passion (whether positive or negative) to that theme.
  • OST is highly structured but made to feel quite the opposite – it is “organized chaos.”  It is not linear, there are no defined groups or activities, and it is ambiguous. This may be uncomfortable for some people more steeped in traditional meetings and conferences.

Future Search is a large group intervention that focuses on taking groups from their past and into their future.  The intervention is also very structured and highly prescribed.  I like that it takes the time to let participants honor their collective and individual past.  Everyone is given the opportunity to think about where they have come from.  So many times in training, I get that one person who constantly wants to talk about how they used to do it.  I know from my experience in facilitation that this means they are applying new information over the old.  They are indeed learning and equating new processes (or policies or actions) to the new.  They are connecting the dots.  Future Search lets everyone connect their dots!

I originally signed up to facilitate Future Search based solely on its name.  I probably need to learn more but it turned out to be the one I am least engaged by!  I found it to be too structured and regimented.  Even the fact that the authors felt it necessary to prescribe how the room should be set was too much for me.  I am fairly experienced in facilitation (even the kinds that I don’t like) so I felt like this was rudimentary.  My own ego speaking here!  One good thing is that makes this intervention really good for groups that have never done any large scale intervention – or facilitators who are just testing the water for the first time.

Appreciative Inquiry is the final large group intervention that we experienced.  The strength of Appreciative Inquiry is that participants think about what they do well and move in that direction.  There is no focus on what is wrong or problem solving.  It takes a while to get used to keeping everything in the positive but once you get the hang of it, it is a very powerful way of thinking!  The facilitation of Appreciative Inquiry is also very structured.  It puts a tremendous amount of focus on interviewing and dialog among and between participants.

Appreciative Inquiry and Future Search seem to have a lot in common too.  They both require participants to imagine and define some future state and work towards it.  Creative expression is used liberally.  Finally, the group can walk away with actionable items when they are done.  All of these things make both interventions fun and engaging for participants.

Overall, all three interventions share some qualities that are imperative.  First, there is an emphasis on dialog.  We learned in Appreciative Inquiry that “Words create worlds.”  By talking openly and honestly, change can start to happen.  Second, participation across the organization is vital.  “Bring everyone to the table.”  Imagine if that had been done on the open-toe shoes example I started with…  It might have taken longer to make the decision, but everyone would have been happier (and there wouldn’t have been a mess to clean up afterwards).  Finally, in all three interventions, the facilitator plays a key role to the process and its outcomes.


What I have learned from all of this is HUGE!  The following are the most important highlights:

  • Assume nothing, ask. By making assumptions, both as a facilitator and a participant, means that I might miss a valuable opportunity to create and encourage change.
  • Stay in touch with me. Like John says, the only tool I take into every group facilitation is me.  I need to make sure that I know me and that I take very good care of me!
  • A few bad apples… Just because I have had a few bad experiences with change does not mean that all of them have to follow the same suit.  Let it go, shake ‘em off!
  • Encourage dialog. This is the nice way of saying to myself that I need to shut up and listen more!
  • Be more inclusive. I have learned to ask, quite often, “Is there a benefit to bringing anyone else to the table to talk about this?”

Thanks for a great semester!  Cheers!

Open Space Technology

From the moment that I learned about Open Space Technology last year, I have loved it! This year, I was hoping to get a deeper understanding of the model – even if to just understand my affinity towards it.

I generally avoid talk and conversations about strategy and change. I barrel through the ideas and I’m ready to implement. I recently shared with someone that the “sweet spot” for my company, Building Aptitude, is after an organization has done their strategic planning. Then, once everyone is on board, I can jump on board and help implementation – design new training, update processes, document new operating procedures. Of course, I know that it helps to be part of the conversation to start with too! But I like the idea of being excused from it. Because of this, I tend to not feel as strongly about Future Search and Appreciative Inquiry. (I still like them, just not as much.)

Dr. Carter and I were on a team together when we were comparing and contrasting Open Space Technology (OST) with the other large group interventions that we had practiced. I think this is where it all came together for me.

I like OST because it involves people who are passionate about the topic. It’s not going to be an organization trying to stay competitive (or even open for business). There may be competing priorities but it seems like OST celebrates these differences. They aren’t something to work through.

I also like the role of a facilitator(s). It’s not really a leader, it’s not really a facilitator even. They keep the structure together, they support the participants, they celebrate success. As a former event planner, I know that the level of planning to pull off something this loose, is enormous! You can’t depend on the group to help pull the plan together. I like the idea of working hard, making the pieces come together and seeing what comes of it.

“Organized chaos” was a term that came out of my conversation with Dr. Carter about OST. I like it still. It sounds like fun!

What I’ve Learned about Designing eLearning

This semester has been an interesting one for learning more about instructional design.  I was fairly confident in my design skills when I walked into the classroom the first night.  I have craved learning more about the tools used for creating and offering online learning.  I did learn a great deal about Course Sites this semester, which has been a nice addition to my design toolbox.  There were definitely other learning opportunities that I outline here.

Challenges encountered

While working on the Primary Sources in the Classroom online course for LVA, I learned just how much creating instruction for an organization could influence changes for that organization.  The deeper that I got into the design with my SME, the more inconsistencies (opportunities?) we uncovered.  Each one of them is an opportunity to improve the organization overall.  However, dealing with each one slowed down the design process considerably.  My experience has been to design in such different environments.  Either I have been an internal trainer so I already know a lot more about what those challenges are so I intuitively work around them.  From an external design role, I have been given a design template to follow.

Since this is the first online course that LVA will offer to the public, I knew that we were creating a precedent for future online courses.  What I created for this course could become a template for future class.  Another more subtle precedent is that I was creating a standard for online learning that includes interaction between the learner and their content and their instructor.  Instead of clicking through screen after screen of content, the design should include interactive activities and assessments.  It also includes an opportunity to create communities of learners outside of the library.

I have been reminded that technology should only be used to enhance the learning; it should not become the learning.  I get very excited about learning new tools and tricks.  These things can often take over instructional design.  I get so excited about including them, that learners could end up spending an inordinate amount of their learning energy and time just learning some new technology.  The new technology then becomes the focus of the learning rather than the content of the instructional design.  Technology needs to enhance the learning, not detract from it.

Another insight is that by sending learners all over the web for different tools and different interactions, it could diminish the sense of online presence and community that designers work so hard to create for online learners.  By having one central location, like a Google site or Course sites for examples, gives learners a sense of “place” for their learning.  Taking field trips is fun and exciting, but I think learners want the comfort of having their own classroom, even if it is online.

Instructional design comes quickly to me.  It is one of the reasons that I love it!  It has been good practice to articulate my vision to my stakeholders.  Then, be patient while they feel things out, try the training on, and articulate their own thoughts and ideas.  When I was working solo in a training capacity, my stakeholders usually just wanted to cross the training task of their strategic plan.  They were not engaged with exactly what I was training or how I was training it or even how the training could affect the organization in different ways.  It has been very different to work with an organization that thinks about these things and is very sensitive to how training influences their business.

What I learned

In the course of the semester, there are a several lessons about instructional design that really stand out for me.

My biggest ah-ha moment was finding the Rapid E-Learning Blog by Tom Kuhlman.  He pointed out that the design of eLearning courses should mirror the motivation level of the intended audience.  In hindsight, this feels kind of like a “Duh” but it really resonated with me.  My assumption is that all e-Learning design should be somewhat snazzy.  It should have amazing interactions between the learner and the instructor, the content and the other learners.  It should have rich activities and assessments that carry the learner through the learning experience.  I had not considered that the time and energy it takes to create the snazzy stuff might be wasted on a highly motivated learner.  They are there for the content.  In some instances, these learners may need or want the content as quickly as possible so holding it up to design the interface or the learning experiences could reduce the credibility of the designer.  It is one more facet of the audience that goes into the overall design consideration.

Getting other people involved in the instructional design process was powerful for me.  Not only brainstorming and sharing thoughts and ideas with my SME, but also the sessions with my design peers in class, gave me several new and different ideas.  I did not always incorporate the ideas that I got.  However, it was a thoughtful, purposeful process.  Some times, an idea from someone else led to yet another, even better idea as I went through the process.

Learning how incorporate key stakeholders in a better way is still a challenge for me.  This goes back to making sure that I am being very articulate about what I am trying to do.  At times, I still feel like I am over-explaining and/or defending my choices and design too much.  I know there is a way that I can get feedback in a better, more constructive way.

Designing eLearning used to be some elusive skill that I wanted to obtain.  I was worried that I didn’t have the skills to do it.  There was some magic piece of software that I needed to learn that would help me do it.  What I have found is that creating a quality online experience is not that different from creating that same experience in the face-to-face classroom.  A goal of creating quality online learning is to mimic some of the experiences that students get when they walk into a physical room to learn.  The learner needs to be able to interact with more than just the content; they also need to feel connected to their instructor and their peers.  The choice of software and interactive tools is important, but often secondary to making sure there are great activities and assessments and community.

Like my long ponytail?

Like my long ponytail?

Appreciative Inquiry

I seem to find Appreciative Inquiry, or at least big parts of it, every where I go now!

  • I was designing a brief seminar for a client on “Being Strategic.”  I based the seminar on a book by the same name by a Erika Andersen.  The focus of the book is to look towards a future state that is ideal.
  • “Everything you can imagine is real.” – Pablo Picasso (a new magnet on my parents’ refrigerator).
  • The Senate is demanding the that President describe the future of Libya if the United States becomes involved.

I hardly see members of the United States Senate interviewing each other extensively as to their ideas of successful past experiences or enacting the common vision of the United States in Libya.  But, I think the effort at thinking forward, thinking to a positive place, is somewhat instinctual for most people.

Often, I think it gets maligned in the process.  Hardly do I think that the US Senate is attempting to ask questions and create dialog so that they can create a positive message and grow in that direction!

Pablo Picasso

Adult Friendly & Kid Appropriate

When we walked through the Civil War exhibit at the Virginia Historical Society, Andy Talkov continued to point out the different pieces of technology included in the exhibit.  Several times, our conversation turned to whether or not that certain piece of interactive technology is for children or adults.  What I noticed is that even the pieces that were geared towards children engaged our class though.  I’ve walked through that exhibit twice now.  It seems that both times, adults couldn’t keep their hands off of the technology – any of it!

Ever since then, I’ve wondered if technology brings instructional design for adults and children closer together in style some how.  I’ve spent so much of my professional career championing the differences between andragogy (teaching adults) and pedagogy (teaching young people).  But two different times, I watched grown adults excitedly interact with technology aimed at kids.

Gaming seems to enforce this idea.  Grown adults enter the world of online gaming all the time.  Now, games have to have warnings, like movies, to inform parents of content that is not appropriate for children.  Let me say that again, “Games require warnings about content that is not appropriate for children.”

This non-formal learning environment seems to offer technology that aboth dults and children can interact with.  It almost reminds of old Disney movies.  The fairy tale story is for kids.  There are animated characters and a moral message to the story for young people.  But, there is also an undercurrent of adult humor and/or themes.  Kids don’t get it, they don’t even know it’s there.   Adults notice it and it keeps them engaged…

Going All The Way

I found this great article, “You Want E-Learning Success, But Are You Prepared to Go All the Way?” by Tom Kuhlman on The Rapid E-Learning Blog.  Tom outlines three key areas to consider before and after building online learning: Motivated to Learn, The E-Learning Course, and Support Ongoing Learning.

When thinking about your learners/audience, I found it interesting that Tom pointed out that if you have a highly motivated learner, your design can be very simple and rich in information.  I myself have tackled a peer-reviewed article, rich in statistics, with no pictures, just because it’s something that I’m interested in.  I will even have it open in one window and Google opened in another window so that I can continually look up things that I don’t know or understand.  Usually, I’m not that motivated though.  I’m just curious or I want to “get the gist” of what someone is talking about.  I think most learners are like that and Tom’s three tips are valuable – keep the course relevant, practical and as short as possible.

When actually designing the E-Learning course, Tom suggests three areas to focus on – content,  look, use of the content for the learner.  I have been participating in lots of online learning events and webinars lately.  Generally, it’s not for the content but rather to see how they are designed.   It amazes me that some of the big, snazzy webinars are so poorly constructed.  One that comes to mind is an online webinar put on by Ancestry.com about finding Irish Ancestors.  I am a novice genealogist and have a rich Irish ancestry so I was actually intrigued.  With all the hype about genealogy right now with the online tools and “Who Do U Think U R?” television show, I was also prepared for a good dose of marketing.  That’s just about all I got out of it.  It wasn’t 10 minutes into the presentation before I had another window open, surfing the web for things not related to genealogy or Irish ancestry at all.  I half-listened to the entire thing though and came away with nothing.  It was pure marketing, no content or application for me.  I was so frustrated that they had marketed their marketing as education.



Ongoing support is crucial – I don’t think any trainer or educator doubts this.  I like Tom’s ideas for making the learning relevant and useful, even after the training is over.  Getting managers involved and using social media might be tough sells, depending on the organization.  But, I think as time goes on, these will become the norm rather than the exception.  I choose to stay ahead of the curve and at least promote these methods!

If you haven’t checked out The Rapid E-Learning Blog and your serious about designing online learning, it is definitely worth your time!

So Many Eyes, So Many Questions

I follow the Education Blog for the Rubin Museum of Art on an intermittent basis (as in when I have time to actually read all the amazing stuff in my Reader).  I thought that this particular post was a great reference to embracing and tolerating technology in a non-formal learning environment.  Is this blended learning – combining talk about technology while f2f with your learners?

Shiva Vishvarupa

Shiva Vishvarupa

What I particulary love about this post is the docent’s willingness to meet her audience right where they are.  She spoke to them based on their experience in the moment.  I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to convince our docents that know the material and they don’t need to prove that to everyone.  They need to stop doing an “information dump” on every patron that they meet.  I encourage them to try asking questions like – How people feel?  What do they know already?  What are they learning?  Are they learning new things?  Did they learn anything that challenges what they thought they knew?  What do they think the exhibit means?  Why do they think it’s organized the way it is?

So far, we’ve moving away from the “info dump” slowly.  But, we’re still moving!

These kinds questions seem to create an environment that supports a higher level of self-directed learning.  Patrons get to explore their own thoughts and how they measure up against the exhibit.  They get to interact with their docent and one another.  They also get to interact with content on a more personal basis.   What would need to happen to create a similar experience in an online environment?

Who’s Driving?

Nina Simon writes a great blog called Museum 2.0 and she also published my new favorite book – The Participatory Museum.  In these publications, she explores the intersection of Web 2.0 tools and the museum experience.  In a post to her blog from April 2009, called “Avoiding the Participatory Ghetto: Are Museums Evolving with their Innovative Web Strategies?“, Ms Simon explores how advancing online tools and presence may leave the physical museum behind.  This can create an experience for a visitor to either outlet (the website or the physical museum) that is confusing or disjointed.

I found the Ms. Simon’s (and her commenters) views compelling.  Now that I’m studying Large Group interventions in Change Strategies, it’s a great example of what could happen if you don’t touch all the points of a system when facilitating large, cross-departmental change in an organization.  Rob Stein is quoted as saying “institutional change has to start somewhere” and I thoroughly agree.  But what does this do to the consumer at the museum – the patron who is looking for an informal education experience – but the museum has a physical and online presence that doesn’t quite fit together?  Can this diminish the education experience?

On the other hand, as I am studying Online Instructional Design for Adults , I think it’s great that someone is raising the bar in museum settings.  Are the web designers and instructional technologists and instructional designers supposed to wait for archivists and curators to catch up?

A lot of this is managed by Vision and Mission statements and the like.  If an organization doesn’t value innovation, their web designers probably don’t face this dilemma.  I would venture to guess those organizations won’t be around for much longer either though!

So who drives this bus?  Who is invited along for the ride?  Who is the guide (shout out to Steve) that is managing or facilitating this process?  Mostly, where does the museum patron fit into the picture?  To continue with the metaphor, are they just at the destination when the bus pulls up, waiting to see what/who arrives?  Are they standing on the street watching it go by?  Or, do we invite them to ride the bus with us?  This last choice seems both outrageous and practical.  After all, they are the consumer.  Who’s going to take this FURTHER into the future?



Litmus Test

One thing that Tom Epperson mentioned is that the culture at Luck Stone is not for everyone.  Those folks who don’t buy in usually don’t make it.  That really resonated with me.  I got to thinking about some organizations that I have worked for…  Often, they never stop to consider that the attitude and behaviors of their employees were a reflection of the values of the organization as a whole.  No, not the values written on the key fob (thanks for the visual aid Laura).  But, the real values demonstrated across the organization.

I have five sisters who have given me ten of the most awesome nieces and nephews.  I have at times watched, somewhat painfully, as the kids reflect their parents back out to the world.  Watch a child at play for a few hours and you get a pretty clear picture of what happens at home.  One of my sisters uses this fact as a model for how she parents at home.  It’s not vain, it’s about being deliberate and thoughtful.  It’s a litmus test for her parenting decisions.  She has inadvertently and serendipitously created a values-based culture at home, right there in the kitchen.

Mirror Mirror

Mirror Mirror