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We’re all going on a summer holiday

Sadly I’m not going on a summer holiday although I feel like I really need one but with a new house and 3 children not much chance of that.

But, that doesn’t mean that the holiday memories can’t be kept alive by remembering lovely holidays gone by and by combining this with a workshop on change management, that thing called “work” can all become a bit more fun. It’s a winner all round. :)

The brief

So, a couple of months ago I was asked to contribute to the HEA and LFHE programme – Changing the Learning Landscape – which is looking at support needed to embed educational technologies into HEIs with a focus on the curriculum rather than the technology.  I was asked to run a session at the end of the workshop on Influencing strategy and change processes to enable the embedding of digital literacies which was scheduled to run twice, once in Leeds and once in London.  My brief was to provide a theoretical approach to change, address issues around dealing with the unexpected and provide suggestions on how to maintain buy-in and avoid change “fatigue”. Not much then! At least I have a good hour to an hour and half.

I love doing this kind of thing and so I jumped at the chance and in my organisational zeal on my return to work I dutifully blocked out days to write my workshop weeks in advance. Oh for best laid plans! Of course the “situation” in work demanded my immediate attention and ate up all those lovely blocked out days to think and craft a beautiful workshop and needless to say the Thursday before the first workshop I had barely written the prezi, spent all afternoon in the office, literally sweating over the damn thing, achieving nothing, certainly nothing inspirational and engaging and was stressed.  And given I don’t work Fridays and Mondays and the workshop was on the following Tuesday I felt a bit pressured to say the least. BUT, I should know by now how my mind works, I left work to go and get some craft things and within 5 minutes of being in the craft shop I had a clear plan and theme for my workshop – something that had eluded me during the whole 3 hours I spent attempting to write it at my desk.  This meant working on the Sunday but after begging a time out from my other half I cracked the prezi in no time and only had to prepare my packs the night before – with the help of my long suffering OH!

I decided that I wanted to tell a story as change is a story and then I thought that actually change is a journey – any change project involves a sense of direction or travel and hopefully going to a “new” place. I do like a good metaphor and taking this idea further chose the metaphor of change as a holiday. This also enabled me to include gratuitous photos of my holiday – win, win.  I wanted to make the workshop as interactive as possible so that 1) I could wake attendees up after their lovely lunches and 2) I could give them something to take away with them as these sessions are always painfully short and people will want ideas to take back to their own institutions.

3 is a magic number

3 is a good number and I thought I would split the workshop into 3 sections to address the three parts of the brief: 1) theories of change; 2) unexpected events; 3) avoiding change fatigue; with the following structure: continuing the metaphor; short piece by me and an exercise.  Then this will allow some time for questions as each section will last about 20 minutes or so and we have about an hour and a quarter.   The exercises will be at a group level and an individual level. This is what I did:

Section 1: Packing (or planning for change)

When packing for your holiday you always take more stuff than you need – cue comedy photo of us going to Turkey when I&M were 6 months and S was 5 – but you try to plan for the unexpected. To demonstrate this in relation to change this section takes a very brief overview of the plethora of change theories, how they generally all see change as a lovely, clear, stepped process (if only) whereas the reality is messy.  It also considers what other tools we might need for change and uses the example from City of the vision for the Strategic Learning Environment.

Exercise – group

Each table (of about 8 or so people) is given a “suitcase” (read coloured plastic folder) of tools to take on their holiday. The suitcase is “packed” with 23 coloured (and I mean coloured – eye-burning florescent) card and each card has on it a particular tool. So there are four categories – communication, planning, structures and resources) and examples might be “project plan”, “champions”, “money”.  The suitcase also contains a scenario which is about introducing a new VLE to a University.  Each group is asked to then choose 3 tools to keep, 3 to discard and 3 to change for their change “holiday”.  I gave them about 10 minutes or so.

Exercise – individual

Then to make this individual I also have packed some stickers and postcards.  Each attendee is asked to choose a sticker to stick on their postcard that indicates their approach to change and one word to sum this up.  I gave them 1 minute for this.

Section 2: On holiday (the unexpected)

You arrive to find your 5 star hotel is a building site. One of your children develops an aversion to the sun/pool/their family. Your flight is delayed or cancelled – cue our experience of being delayed at Antalya for 4.5 hours late into the night. You know the thing. No matter WHAT you have packed, life will throw you a curve ball and you won’t have the tools to deal with so will have to improvise.  In terms of the scenario, I use the Johnson and Scholes model of understanding the culture in which you are working which will help you to deal with these experiences more adeptly, as well as considering that the whole thing about a “change project” (don’t like this phrase) means you are changing the very environment in which you are working so that very environment you planned to work in at the beginning naturally changes as your project progresses – so how do you deal with that? And I use the example of the SLE in terms of what was non-negotiable and which battles to fight to enable you to deal more effectively with the unexpected.

Group Exercise:

Each group is given a scenario which is around the introduction of a replacement VLE to a University and it is found out at the last minute that content cannot be migrated from one system to another. The group then has to go back to those tools they selected in the first exercise and decide which ones would be useful to deal with this challenge.  This is probably a good time to use the “wild cards” ie blank cards. Again they have about 10 minutes.

Individual Exercise:

For individuals they had to then select a sticker and word that indicated their approach to dealing with the unexpected. In one minute.

Section 3: Keeping the dream alive

This section looks at how to sustain change beyond a project or when a project is long term.  Its the classic feeling of excitement when you return from a holiday and decide that you will always eat Greek salad at every meal, eat outside, read a book a week, be more relaxed etc etc all those good intentions but then two weeks have returned to how you were before you holiday.  In this part I talk about the “A, B, C” approach to change, which I promise I will blog about in a separate post as this one is way too long already but basically I think the key to sustaining change is “as easy as A, B, C” where A = associate your projects/changes with other, existing initiatives; B = ban the “t” word ie don’t talk about technology, connect with people’s problems, talk about people and solutions and C “create” – create champions, awards, prizes etc to recognise what people are doing.  I gave a version of this at BETT earlier this year.

Group Exercise:

For the group exercise they were given a suitably cheesy “photo frame” template and they had to choose three tools that they would put in their photo frame – ie those that were the most useful for dealing with change or perhaps the least useful and that they wanted to remember they shouldn’t use again! Again they were given 10 minutes for this.

Individual Exercise:

And the last thing for the postcard, other than writing their name and address on it, was to identify one thing they would do differently after today. Then I collected the postcards in to send back to everyone in 3 months.

I really enjoyed running these workshops and designing the exercises. The feedback was great too and I hope that I have contributed to making change management a bit more er “fun”.  I think the holiday metaphor worked although as someone said to me the thing with a holiday is that you go back to where you started whereas with change you don’t its a never ending journey but then with a holiday you are different on your return.  I think the metaphor does engage people easily though and that is important.

If you want to use any of these exercises feel free but please do cite this blog and I’d love to know your thoughts on change management and this post.


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