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October 11, 2017

Meet the Experts: Sarah Shirck

5 mins read

In this interview, Excella’s Change Management Xpert Sarah Shirck discusses the importance of empathy and adaptability in Change Management.

What lead you into a change management career?

A desire to make a difference and to help others.

Growing up with a father who taught, consulted, and wrote about strategic planning, management development, leadership development, and emotional intelligence, I was conditioned from an early age. I grew up around terms like micro manage, clear and consistent communication, engagement, EQ, and IQ. With two parents who are educators, it was very intuitive for me ask “Why?”, to be curious, and to want to learn and teach. I loved not only watching the impact my parents had on their students but the relationships they developed and how their interactions enriched their own lives.

Throughout my early career, I began to recognize that the challenges and opportunities I was identifying at one organization were relevant and true at the next. There were little changes that could make a significant impact if people slowed down, listened, asked the right questions, empathized, and were open to stakeholder feedback and recommendations.

My appetite to become more grounded in Organizational Management and the strong desire to learn, led me to pursue my masters in Organizational Management at The George Washington University and ultimately led me to lead the Change Management Practice at Excella. One of the components of my role that I value and enjoy most is the ever evolving nature of the Change Management field and Excella’s willingness to adapt and evolve with these new practices, activities, and techniques. We strive to promote an environment of learning, collaboration, and iteration. While we ground our practice in Communication, Engagement, and Processes/Procedure, we promote innovation and creativity in how the practice crafts strategies, outreach, and initiatives. This approach has allowed us to better support our clients’ professional development, priorities and initiatives, and ability to realize their goals, mission, and vision.

What’s one piece of advice you’ve found particularly helpful in your career?

“Be a good person and do good things.” –Dr. John Park (yes, that is my father)

Every day each of us has the opportunity to make a conscience decision as to how we will interact with others and the quality of work we will deliver. It is up to you as an individual to determine whether you learn and grow in those moments or whether to act on them.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about change management?

That they don’t have time and that managing change isn’t a priority.

I challenge that misconception by explaining to skeptics that you can create the best software, design the dynamic user interface, or craft an incredible user experience but if no one uses it, what’s the point? When you create something new, anything, there is a learning curve. You will, at some point, need buy-in from someone, whether that be leaders, law makers, CEO’s, your organization, or your team. Being aware of how you are communicating, engaging, and managing expectations will increase your opportunity for success.

Are people actually resistant to change?

Yes! Unless it is your idea, chances are you are going to have questions and concerns. Resistance can manifest in a variety of ways, both overtly and covertly. The opportunity for those leading, driving, and championing change is to be cognizant of the impact these efforts have on their people and stakeholders.

Change can create uncertainty within an organization, prompting resistance, and contributing to failed initiatives. I go more in depth about resistance to change in my blog “It’s just Change, Why is Everyone Resisting?”.

What’s one success story you’ve experienced?

One of my favorite professional experiences was from a time when I was facilitating a weekly workgroup and I had a disengaged resister. When I first joined the group we were doing a lot of user centered design activities, card sorting, sketching, and exploring designs. We had one participant who would show up every week but always played the devils advocate or distracted the group from the desired outcome.

Nothing we did or tried was something this individual wanted to be a part of. It truthfully got to a point where I asked myself “Why do they even come?” I couldn’t understand why someone would take an hour out of their busy day to “participate” in a workgroup that they did not wish to contribute to or seem to want to be a part of.

One day, determined to engage this person, I waited until the others had left and asked their perspective on the group. As we talked, we unpacked that this individual didn’t understand what was happening with the design. To their understanding, the changes being made would make their skills obsolete, which raised concern about how their work and job would be impacted.

This conversation created an opportunity to explore their concerns and encourage this individual to participate in this forum. Once we came to a mutual understanding of the product and intended outcome, a significant change happened. Rather than acting as a distraction and, at times, a roadblock, this person became our greatest advocate and champion. From that day forward, this person began holding others accountable to attend the workgroup with an understanding of the value of each members perspective and contributions.

This experience emphasized the importance of empathy, slowing down, asking questions, and listening. We were able to convert a resister into a champion and that individual not only inspired me but challenged me to have a heightened awareness of the value of communication and engagement that I carry with me everyday.

Anything you want to add?

I think the greatest opportunity for any of our collaborative relationships, efforts, initiatives, products, or projects to be successful is to consider the value of our team member’s contributions and to be more empathetic on a daily basis. You might not be able to walk in someone else’s shoes but maybe, for a moment, consider trying them on.

Where can we find your research/work?

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