Podcast 0031: Change management, with Devon Persing

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Change management, readiness and adoption, otherwise pulling nerds across the chasm. Whatever you call it, it’s important work that my guest and I are accidentally getting better at. A conversation with Devon Persing. Discussed: remote work, organizational and individual change, Muppets.

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Transcript

Brian Kerr:

Hey, y’all. Welcome back to Improve something today. It’s me. It’s Brian. I bring you an idea from the world of lean and continuous improvement, except I haven’t been doing that lately. Once again, instead of an idea, I have a person. I’m joined by my dear friend Devon Persing who will get into conversation with in just a moment. By way of introduction. I should say that Devon and I almost collided or maybe slightly overlapped in grad school thousands of miles and 15 years ago. And we’ve been sort of orbiting around the occasional pitcher of beer ever since. Devon is a UX leader. She’s done a lot of work in accessibility and she’s working up at Shopify, not the music one, but the making a store one. And I’m just delighted that Devon is able to join us for a couple of minutes today. With no further ado, I bring you Devon Persing.

Devon Persing:

Hello.

Brian Kerr:

How the hell are ya?

Devon Persing:

I miss having beer with you. I’m not bad. It’s actually sunny today. And my allergies are better. So just working at home, sitting at my little desk, doing my little tasks.

Brian Kerr:

How’s your little desk doing, whatever it is, 13 months into our little desk thing that we’re all doing?

Devon Persing:

So I’ve been working remotely for about five years altogether. So that part hasn’t been that different. It’s mostly been adjusting to working with people who are not used to working remotely, but has been a change. But my company is deciding to go fully remote forever. So which has been nice it’s it was more stressful being kind of one of the little or big heads on a projector in an office talking to a whole bunch of people in a conference room. I couldn’t hear very well. It’s much nicer to just be like in a wall of heads in a call. So in general, like working remotely has not, has actually gotten easier strangely.

Brian Kerr:

Yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s weird. I really struggled with working remotely for a while. And then I did a project last fall–so you know what, like six months into everybody being in their little rectangles–with a company that has their like fancy office in Seattle with a couple of hundred employees in it. And they very much identified as we’re a Seattle company, but if you looked at the numbers only like a third of their people were in Seattle, everybody’s all over the place. Cause they had their distribution center in Indiana and like salespeople all over the place and supply chain in Vietnam. So it’s like a global organization, but they were very fixated on, oh, we can’t get into our crappy little office in Seattle. And it turns out that not being in the office made things better for everybody, at least from my perspective, as I was trying to do some change and adoption work there. Which by the way is the topic that we’re going to talk about in a minute. But know I was trying to do some change and adoption work there and they very much had this like home team, we’re doing what we’re doing in the Seattle office. And then we’ll like, go do what we’re going to do for everybody else. And it turned out that that flattening effect of, you know, it’s just whatever this meeting is or this content let’s figure out a bunch of different ways to present it. And let’s figure out how to present the same thing at like four different time slots and people will just join. And everybody has the same experience, which is going to be as good or bad as it’s going to be, you know, based on our preparation and materials and so forth. And I feel like that’s a lot better. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m going to miss that once it starts to go away a little bit, you know?

Devon Persing:

I’m hoping at least some of it sticks around. To your point about like figuring out the best way to do the, whatever it is. Shopify used to be, I was working remotely but Shopify used to be a Ontario based, I mean, technically still is Ontario based company. And so I was already a weirdo for being remote and almost all my colleagues were in Toronto or, or Ottawa, which has changed in the last year. Obviously, in addition to closing down the main offices, they have also just been hiring all over the world. And so to that point about time zones, I’m doing a kickoff event next week. And looking at the people that have signed up that are interested, I’m also going to also need to do kick off events for other time zones, which is totally fine. And I’m happy to do that. But it’s really been the last few months that that has even become like a norm, even for a company that has ostensibly been worldwide. But to bring it back to change management some of that too has just been a cultural shift to figuring out what’s the best way to convey this information. Whereas it used to be the default used to be, let’s have a meeting. And now there’s just so many better ways to do things that aren’t meetings.

Brian Kerr:

Oh, that’s a great point. Yeah. I feel like the default for a lot of these things has been, you know, the question of how do you get an idea across to people inside the organization? And I feel like in the, before times, the kind of generic solution was tell people once in a meeting when they’re sort of impatiently waiting to get out of the meeting or, you know, their mind is on something else, but you tell people once in a meeting and then you send them one memo or email about it that they will not read. And then they’re done. They’ve been like communicated with and you know, if people don’t get the message or people don’t really like receive the message and process it, then screw them. You know, they, they should have paid attention in the meeting and carefully considered, deeply contemplated that the email that somebody sent them and having that channel kind of drop away and like having online meetings and distributed work feels so different.

I think there’s actually been a real good opportunity to give people different ways to like send and receive some of these messages or communications and maybe even give people a shot who aren’t like you know, people who aren’t auditory learners. I know I’m a person like that or, you know, you can tell me something eight times and then eventually I’ll read it somewhere and I’ll remember it for life. And, you know, a lot of people are the opposite and there’s a sort of layer of accessibility concerns with, you know, you already mentioned the, the big room with one person talking at the front of the room and, you know, I’ve got a hearing a pyramid, I’ve been the person at the front of the room talking and not hearing the people in the back of the room. And I’ve also been the person in the back of the room, not hearing a goddamn thing that’s happening in the meeting. And we do have some real sort of opportunities to make things materially better, both in terms of how people participate and how, you know, how they can sort of show up to a meeting. And, yeah, I really hope we don’t lose that in our rush to, you know, shove a hundred people in a giant conference room and have them, you know, express viral particles all over one another in some sort of grand meeting.

Devon Persing:

Yeah, I do. There’s definitely some things I miss. Like there’s people I miss being around. Like, it’s been very strange, not just not seeing people or even having a chance to see certain people in person or just, you know, spend time with them professionally or not. And yeah, a lot of the reason I like the, the meeting I’m actually that I’m scheduling. I don’t really run a lot of meetings. I mostly help other people run meetings or I create, or co-create learning materials that are meant to be used kind of asynchronously or kind of self-serve. So actually scheduling meetings and figuring out the best time to have a meeting is just a whole science that I am not good at. I was talking to my coworkers about like, when should I schedule these? I don’t even know what’s the best way to do this.

And the answers are very early in the morning or very late in the evening and that’s fine. But yeah, a lot of the stuff that kind of tying it back to change management, a lot of the stuff I do is well, my primary job is I do accessibility program management basically. So I primarily work with people to do UX work friend developers, people that do research, people do content, all that kind of stuff. But because I’m a specialist in a field, I also get requests for support for, from all over the org. So while I’m, you know, on paper supporting one discipline I’m usually talking to people at least once a day from all over the company and which, you know, requires some amount of task switching, but I’ve just kind of accepted that doing any sort of advocacy related work is going to come with it, some sort of cross discipline communication.

So I ended up talking to people that are in talent, like people are doing hiring. I talked to people that are doing support for our customers and kind of being comfortable with all of that. And then weirdly becoming a person that people go to when they’re talking about, like, you seem to be pretty good at talking to people about stuff. How can I get better at talking to people about stuff? Unless I’ve been more recent where people are asking for my advice and support and helping to like share things that they’re working on, which is not something I ever imagined I would be doing, but here we are. But yeah, I think it comes with the territory of doing any sort of work where you’re having to kind of poke at people and prod at them and chip away at them over long periods of time. Because change always, always takes time, for better or for worse, like any sort of true systemic change takes time. So being patient is weirdly is a virtue I never thought I would have possessed, but here we are.

Brian Kerr:

You sort of described yourself as an expert in something who’s trying to transmit that or change the way things are happening. I feel like everything I know about change management kind of comes from that same perspective, right? You know, I do my like lean and continuous improvement stuff. And part of that is just getting changes to stick or motivating people to change their behavior and the way they think about their work. It’s such a strange secondary skill to have that I think increasingly is becoming a more important one, but there’s a paradox in there, which is I remember looking at some research from ProSci–the ADKAR folks, right? Like they’ll, they’ll sell you lots of research on change management crapola. And one thing that I remembered seeing in there that really terrified me was that they do a bunch of, you know, longitudinal like surveys of what are employee’s preferences around like change and communication and that stuff in the workplace. And they asked a simple question, which I’ll characterize as sort of who do you want to receive messages from about changes that are important to you? And like the usual stuff, when something is afoot, you know, you want to hear kind of what’s changing from like your leadership, right? Like the, like the big boss and you want to hear, like, what does it mean for me, maybe from your supervisor or somebody that’s closer to you. And way down at the bottom of the responses, 2% of respondents said they want to hear about the change from the like consultant or the change management person. When I first encountered that two things happened first, I thought about all the times where I was sending messages to people and not being the right person to do that. So a course correction there, and all for the better. But then the second thing was I realized my entire approach to change management activities when I have to do it is what did I call the shoot? What did they call the people that, that operate a Muppet?

Devon Persing:

A puppeteer?

Brian Kerr:

Muppets, it’s like the Henson folks. It’s like, you, you perform the Muppet or something like that. Right. It’s sort of like some transformation, not just sticking your hand up some orange creature’s ass.

Devon Persing:

But there was a truly people that are truly experts at that. There is a, there is a trend, there is an apparent transformation. Yeah. I don’t know what the word for that is, but yeah.

Brian Kerr:

Whatever it is, I’m sure it’s a lovely word.

Devon Persing:

We can look it up later. You can add a postscript.

Brian Kerr:

This may appear in an important addendum to this episode. But anyways, it’s that, that puppeteer idea. So my job is to basically puppeteer though, like project sponsors and directors and managers and stuff, and like give them their talking points and like, you know, ask them to, Hey, do me a favor and just like mention this thing or send this email or whatever. And it’s such a, such a strange place to be in, but it’s at least for the sorts of projects I’m doing, it seems to be more effective. And I think is also an example of something that I probably wouldn’t have noticed how, what I was doing before was suboptimal because it basically worked right when people were in the office, especially when I would be like the fancy consultant coming in to visit the office. There’s a certain amount of like for about 30 seconds, people will pay attention to what you have to say in that context. And I, you know, I, I made that work, but then having learned and gotten a little better about this piece of it is something that I can hopefully continue with. You know, even as things go, go back to normal or whatever euphemism we’re using.

Devon Persing:

Well I think that, a word that comes to mind for that–I still don’t remember the Muppet word–but where we’ve been using a lot in my team is enablement. I spend a lot of my time not running workshops or telling people how to make things more accessible, but helping them discover the resources that are available and then helping them take those back to their team and figuring out however that they, however they should best work for them. So a little bit of is, is kind of helping people figure out what, how they should adjust their process or, or experiments they should do in their process. Based on, you know, the information they’re learning about how to make things more accessible. And so I will often turn around like very, very purposefully. I’ll get a request for a training session, for example, at a team, come to me for a request about training and they wanted like workshops.

Devon Persing:

And I was like, look, A, I don’t have time. B, I’ve been talking to you for the last like three months and I know that you’ve made a lot of progress and that you’ve done a lot of work in this area. Why don’t we turn it into you teaching each other? And so over a couple of months, we ended up planning a very short talk series that they gave for their team. And also that was available for everyone across the whole company could, could participate if they wanted. And so did that take work from me? Yes. Like we had, we would have periodic meetings. We did reviews of the material. Like it was definitely some hours of my time, but it wasn’t as much as it would to spend making them you know, a specialized, customized workshop for them when they were able to spend that time digging deeper into stuff that already been doing and then sharing it with other people, which then makes it seem a little bit more approachable for other people.

And I got messages from people I’d never talked to before in the company, because this was also a team that’s kind of outside my kind of main umbrella. And so that was really helpful for other people to see. And it was also helpful for me to see how the team had actually like digested the stuff that they had been learning. So that’s just an example of a thing I was able to do that did create change, but that wasn’t me going in and being like, here’s how to do it. It was more figuring out yourselves, but I will help you figure it out versus, you know, sending them off and not giving them any, any sort of support.

Brian Kerr:

Oh, that’s so cool. Yeah. You know that there’s a new term that I’ve been using instead of change management that I think you just sort of described exactly what the essence of this is in that experience you just shared, which is and this came from a typo but you know, a useful typo, which is readiness and adoption. That’s what you call it. So instead of saying change management, you just talk about readiness and adoption because it’s, you know, you have to figure out are people ready for whatever it is and are people going to adopt whatever it is. And it kind of takes for granted the idea that sort of similar to your enablement kind of concept that whatever it is probably already exists. With readiness and adoption, it’s like, are people ready to do whatever it is you need them to do and are they ready to adopt to whatever it is and you just kind of take as granted or as given that the thing already exists, right. So we’re just enabling people to use it or whatever you want to call it. And then the joke is that the and in readiness and adoption stands for change.

Devon Persing:

Oh, something in that vein yes, somewhere I’ve also been using that community readiness model. I actually included it in my kind of scoping plan for the year as one of the frameworks I’m using. So I, I presented that as a sort of like introduction to the leadership folks I was talking to about kind of where we, where we are in our sort of accessibility journey as an organization. So yeah, I’ve been using that model. I’ve also been using the readiness as well as the of the chasm model, whether it’s sort of trying to get from early adopters to the early majority of a way of thinking or a way of doing something. And both of those have been very useful in communicating kind of like the, where are we in the process and kind of in the growth.

And that kind of idea of like, this is a thing that’s going to happen, where do you want to be when it happens and cognitive, like recognizing that organizations go through kind of like periods of growth and grief almost, and, and change and kind of denial and all those different things talking about at a macro scale. And just being like, yes, you’re going to have a bunch of feelings about this, but it’s happening at some point, so deal with it. And kind of letting people do that on their own time or sort of at their own pace. And it’s also one of the things I found enjoyable in this sort of weird role I found myself in is sort of identifying those–you might call them allies or co-conspirators, or kind of whatever your take on is–but finding those people along the way that like will really take some of that energy and run with it is always really fulfilling when you have a person that is really picking up what you’re putting down and not only are they jazzed about it, they’re so jazzed about it they will go out of their way to work with other people who are sort of on the fence kind of on your behalf, without you asking them that’s spectacular, that’s the best.

Brian Kerr:

Yeah. That is great. You got your like official sponsors and then the whole sponsor coalition, right? Like the people that will come on and do your work for you once you get them excited about it.

Devon Persing:

Which I think comes back to your puppeteering idea. It seems, it sounds a little sinister, but I don’t think it is inherently sinister.

Brian Kerr:

Who’s the Muppet that you would like to hang out with and who’s the Muppet you would like to eat as a meal?

Devon Persing:

Oh, I thought you were going to ask like, which of the Muppets I am. Which of the Muppets would I eat. Well, there’s a bunch of them that are actually chickens. Right. So sure. Which one would I like to hang out with? I was always a big fan of that–I can’t remember what their names are–there was the, there was the band, there was Animal and Dr., Dr.–

Brian Kerr:

Dr. Teeth.

Devon Persing:

Yeah. I was always a big Dr. Teeth fan.

Brian Kerr:

And Janice, right?

Devon Persing:

Janice. Yeah. I always liked the band. Okay. Hanging out with the band. Fozzy, I was kind of a Fozzy fan. He’s just seem silly, like straight up Muppets. As far as like the, the like Sesame street goes, definitely Grover. Excellent. My carpet–bedroom carpet was that like hot that like high pile, super flammable seventies, you know, carpet. Yeah.

Brian Kerr:

Awesome. Yeah. I think, I think I think I may have a new closing question for the show. I don’t know. I feel compelled to come up with an answer for myself and I don’t know–you know, a lot of the Muppets are inherently hangout-able. I think that’s part of the appeal. So I guess I would say Miss Piggy, because I could, I would want to like, if stuff was going to get real–Miss Piggy.

Devon Persing:

She know martial arts.

Brian Kerr:

A true fashion icon.

Devon Persing:

Yeah. Yup.

Brian Kerr:

Yeah. So I would hang out with Miss Piggy and I would eat Sam the Eagle because Sam the Eagle is the embodiment of everything that I hate in the world.

Devon Persing:

Bravo what a good answer.

Brian Kerr:

Sam the Eagle, put him on a plate.

Devon Persing:

What does he taste like?

Brian Kerr:

Cigarette ash.

Yeah. Devon, where do the good people find you?

Devon Persing:

I’m pretty much on Twitter. You can search for my name on Twitter. I do not check my LinkedIn messages, do not message on LinkedIn.

Brian Kerr:

Excellent. Thank you for joining me today and chatting a little bit about our weird experiences becoming accidentally proficient at change management or whatever the heck else you want to call it.

Devon Persing:

It’s a pleasure.