Yesterday a senior colleague paid me the best compliment I’ve ever had. When a peer pays you a compliment, it’s sometimes so much more sincere than from anyone else, either someone below or above you. This person has been wanting to build a formal management of change process ever since she got here over six years ago, and it’s always been an uphill battle. I think perhaps she didn’t have something I call the positional authority, at the time, to do so.
A note on terminology: management of change refers to making the system remain stable while external factors change. Change management seems to refer to the same; or refers to promoting innovation. Personally I’ve never been a fan of this second term nor the latter definition that it sometimes connotes. Consultants will say, “We need to get that change management piece in place to create new products.” Just call it innovation!
This morning I received three great pieces of advice:
- when rolling something out new that requires voluntary employee engagement, make sure it connects with corporate values (we’re lucky that at our company, our corporate values- patients, science and people- are well understood and deeply meaningful, and therefore powerful)
- don’t take “no” for an answer, period
- don’t take “no” for an answer that you end up building a workaround that places your work at a disadvantage.
K and I discussed about how to roll out our nascent chemical recycling program in a bigger way, heeding this advice. We’re not exactly competitive with existing business process of procuring new chemicals. If it’s not easy, people who try it once may never do it again. We’ll have lost them, and our brand will suffer. But it seems a shame not to roll it out at all. So I suggested to make it a beta roll-out. We’ll admit it’s not perfect just yet, but we invite the mavens to try it out, and provide us feedback, giving us time to get it right. Which will take some time unfortunately. The “no” is a pretty big one.
This blog’s helped me reflect and articulate some ideas that have been banging about in my head.
One is that, rather than just learn about something like Green BioPharma and know it at a profound and theoretical level, for me, it’s best to have the opportunity to do it.
It should come as no surprise that I did not pursue a PhD to take the role of hazardous waste operations manager. But what my role gives me is a kind of positional authority to pursue sustainability, particularly, green chemistry or green biopharma.
What has happened, among other things, I think, is that the image that others have of me started matching the image I had of myself. I think that’s a source of power. People in a sense cede to you- that’s your area, or I talked to someone who you should talk to, or when you do X this would be a good thing to include. But that’s just the first step. You have to turn mindshare, the story that, “That’s my area,” into achievements. “That’s my area, and I accomplished this to advance it.”
I’ve reflected on the last sentence of my intro to this week’s blog. I took ten plus years finally to start doing what I came to do. Why did it/I take so long? I thought about that long and hard when I brought K in. I used to feel badly about this, but an insight shared with me by a pretty seasoned leader in the project portfolio management group helped me think about this. I’m pretty sure the following were important factors:
- When I came in, I didn’t have any experience in the corporation, and my manager was too busy to mentor and coach me. She was quite visionary, perhaps ahead of her time. I didn’t know how to find resources for myself, I didn’t know doing was more important than knowing. I wasn’t fully awake.
- There was someone else who was competing with me on doing environmentally conscious design; on his last day working at the company he even apologized to me. I never quite understood this until that moment.
- Timing. At the time I joined, my company was in pure growth mode. Something like sustainability is a very advanced refinement to systems that we didn’t have in place. Only top-down leadership could have made it happen at a company that’s in storming mode. Sustainability was the last thing they were interested in; getting FDA approvals was everyone’s focus. Finally, this was pre-Inconvenient Truth.
So in the interim, I did other things; perhaps I hedged my bets, and I learned another side of the business and the corporate culture in general. I pursued personal and financial goals. Finally a window opened in the form of my taking on the hazardous waste responsibility. Before, my work, and the image of me that resulted from it, put me at arm’s length from sustainability. In my own department I wasn’t much more than a cheerleader for sustainability, despite my own personal identification with it. Once I took on the responsibility of waste operations manager, I could argue for funding to hire K, articulate a vision for Green BioPharma at my company, and begin building it out. I went to my managers and said, “We spend millions on hazardous waste management. Let me take a fraction of that to invest in the future.” And so they took the gamble, and here we are doing an external video on this new program.
I now had positional authority, and most important, the three conditions stated above were very different: I am more seasoned in the company, there is no one else doing what I wanted to do, and the timing couldn’t have been better: our parent company is very environmentally conscious, people are very much so, the company’s at the point where grass roots efforts in sustainability can be very effective.
A question that remains is, what does it mean to leave one’s PhD field? I just ran into a friend who earned a botany PhD, and now runs a database for a small non-profit, happily so. Part of her reasoning was not wanting to move around to follow her career. The point is, do you pursue your field, across different organizations? Or might you stay, and possibly leave your field to find other opportunities within? If the latter, then what skills are transferable from your PhD? Writing, framing problems methodically, trying to generalize and seek patterns, getting very deep into the details, intellectual rigor, being the lone wolf? What happens to your PhD identity, that you spent a significant amount of time developing, and, for most people, during a period in your life, say in your 20s, where you had few obligations and so many choices? In the end, outside of academia, how seminal to your career trajectory was your PhD, or how seminal should it be?
Sometimes I wonder if my career trajectory should continue to be defined by my field (enviro somethingeruther); other times, I think that I want to pursue skills and opportunities to use them. Like being a great leader, which to me means, identifying, developing and promoting talent. The opportunity to manage someone, a science PhD recently out of school, has put my learning into overdrive and I’ve enjoyed it so much. A manager I met for an informational interview recommended me a book now on my nightstand, called Multipliers. Another book is Greater Than Yourself. These two books challenge leaders to discover and develop the very best in their employees, and to make them better than they themselves are. That’s been my latest obsession: possibly a new identity and reputation that I’ll try to develop, both internally and externally.
Well that’s it. My many thanks to you, Dear Reader, for your time. I hope this peek into my work life has been interesting. I’m pretty easy to contact; feel free to do so if you’re moved. And many, many thanks to Michelle for this wonderful vision and all the great work she’s poured into it to bring it to life!