How can you manage change?
Farra Trompeter, co-director, sits down with Mara Mintz, consultant, and account lead, and Caitlin Corda, head of marketing, brand, and business development, from Blue Beyond Consulting to discuss the importance of change management for nonprofits, especially those going through branding, major campaigns, or strategic planning.
Farra Trompeter: Welcome to The Smart Communications Podcast. This is Farra Trompeter, co-director and worker-owner at Big Duck. Today we’re going to ask the question, “How can you manage change?” Now, for those of you out there who’ve been through a major rebrand, fundraising campaign, strategic plan, and so many other things, you’ve probably also thought about change management. And if you’re newer to that question, we’re also going to learn what that is today as well. Recently, Big Duck had the pleasure of working on a few projects where we’re thinking about the communications pieces related to a strategic plan. So not just what goes in a strategic plan, how do you talk about it? What does that strategic plan say? How can we use it to engage our community? How can we use it to raise funds? And we had the pleasure of working with our friends at Blue Beyond Consulting on a recent project, and I invited them to come on the podcast. And I’m delighted to be joined by Mara and Caitlin and I’m going to introduce you to them now.
Farra Trompeter: Mara Mintz, she/her, is a consultant and account lead at Blue Beyond Consulting. She has over 15 years of experience in communications, change management, program management, strategic planning, culture transformations, employee engagement, and more for nonprofits, universities, and for-profit companies. She has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MA in Communication Management from the University of Southern California. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two kids, and her pitbull Moose.
Farra Trompeter: Caitlin Corda, she/her, is head of marketing, brand, and business development at Blue Beyond Consulting. Caitlin brings a holistic approach to her client work and knows how to architect and orchestrate key moments that stick. She’s known for her team building and collaboration skills, her effectiveness and efficiency, and her ability to bring an easygoing yet focused nature to everything she does. Caitlin received a bachelor’s in Social Sciences and Psychology from the University of Southern California and lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and two daughters. Caitlin and Mara, welcome to the show.
Mara Mintz: Thank you.
Caitlin Corda: Thanks. Happy to be here.
Farra Trompeter: So change management. You know, I had the pleasure of getting a graduate degree. I got my master’s in Nonprofit Management from the New School, and there was a companion program called Organizational and Change Management, and I always regret that I didn’t take more classes in that. And I’ve been fascinated by change management ever since I really started thinking about management and structures within the nonprofit sector. And it’s just a big topic. And we see change management all the time, show up in our work every day at Big Duck again as we’re building brands, creating campaigns, developing plans to guide communications, and fundraising. And I was just wondering if you could start off by explaining what change management is and why it’s so important. Maybe, Mara, you can talk about how do you define change management?
Mara Mintz: When I was listening to your list of all the different things you support, the thing that comes up for me is people. The thing that’s central to all of that is people. And so when we think about change management, what we think about is that it’s really all about supporting people and embracing and adopting new ways of being. So whether that’s their behaviors, their beliefs, their mindsets, their ways of working, those are all the things that are really critical to making change stick.
Farra Trompeter: I think change management makes sense for everyone. But I’m curious, Caitlin, why you think it’s so important for nonprofits to make space for this?
Caitlin Corda: It’s critical. I think it’s critical, like you said, for all organizations, but in nonprofits, there’s so many different types of stakeholders that you’re managing that you’re working with. You’ve got your staff, you’ve got leadership, you have a board, you have donors, you have fundraisers, constituents. I mean, the list goes on and on, and I think if you’re not thinking holistically about the change and how it’s going to impact all the different stakeholders that you have, you’re not going to be successful. And it’s really about how do you relate it to humans? How do you relate it to what they care about and why they either join that nonprofit or why they follow that nonprofit, why they volunteer at that nonprofit in the first place? So creating a real clear and compelling case for that change from the very beginning and engaging the folks that are going to need to actually implement it is really critical to the success of any change. But particularly for nonprofits, there’s a lot of stakeholders involved, for sure.
Farra Trompeter: Yeah. Well, speaking of so many stakeholders, I want to just go a little more into this, like where do you see as the difference between change management and project management? ‘Cause we have a team that we call account management that actually, I think blends both of these things. But I’m curious how they are different in your mind?
Caitlin Corda: Project management is really all about making sure that something is scoped, delivered on time, people know what they’re doing, we have a plan, we’re working against that plan, we’re doing the things that we need to do to get it done. It’s critical for any project. And that is true actually, of change management too. There’s some project management, even inherent change management. Change management is really about managing the entire change. There’s definitely an element of that project management, but it really is about thinking about the people, the stakeholders that I mentioned earlier. You have to think about groups of stakeholders. In some cases, individual stakeholders. If you’re dealing with a board, you’ve got to think about every single individual, human, how they’re going to react or relate to the change and how that’s going to impact the success or failure of what you’re trying to do.
Caitlin Corda: So in the change management effort, you really are thinking about a plan to engage those folks, to equip them, to get their hearts and minds around it, to communicate clearly with them and help them communicate clearly with others that they will need to engage with in a change. And you need to be flexible because humans adapt. They change, they think differently on day one about a change usually, oh yeah, let’s go do it, how hard can it be? Day 50, they’re like, oh man, what are we trudging through? Right? So you have to be able to adapt to what you’re getting feedback on things that you might’ve expected that would be roadblocks sometimes aren’t things, things that you didn’t anticipate as roadblocks sometimes are.
Mara Mintz: Yeah, and I would just add to Caitlin’s point, there’s a little bit more flexibility in change management maybe than there is in project management, but there’s still a framework to it. And I think there’s a way to structure it that allows you to stay on top of those tasks, the things you need to do, the roles and responsibilities, but within something a little bit broader and a little bit sort of more holistic. So one of the ways we think about change management at Blue Beyond is this “thinking there, getting there, living there” approach. There’s structure, there’s still key activities within each of those phases if you will. Still deliverables all of that, like project management, but it’s a bit more fluid. So you know, when you’re thinking about that, thinking there phase, that’s when a lot of the project management actually happens. It’s answering those questions like the what, the why, the who, the how, all of that stuff you do in the beginning either way,
Mara Mintz: In the “getting there” stage, we’re really thinking about managing the implementation of that change. So you’re engaging your stakeholders, you’re building their capabilities. It’s all about learning and adapting and adjusting as you go. And then you get to the “living there” stage, which I think sometimes maybe doesn’t even happen in project management, right? When you’re, you’re still managing that change and you’re really thinking about how to sustain it, that momentum, how do you improve, how do you celebrate those wins? How do you optimize as you move forward? And with that framework, again, there’s the project management within it, but it’s sort of this broader approach, the way we think about change management.
Farra Trompeter: Yeah, I appreciate that. “Thinking there, getting there, living there” approach that’s really easy to hold onto, and I know that you have that documented. In fact, we’ll link to that. So if you’re out there listening, head on over to bigduck.com/insights, look for the transcript and we’ll be sure to link to the document that really outlines that approach over at Blue Beyond’s website. Now, we often think about how to make projects more inclusive, engaging staff and community members, and not just senior leadership, board, or major donors here at Big Duck. And I’m curious, with your projects at Blue Beyond, how do you engage staff within organizations at all levels to make sure that whatever change you’re striving to create lasts and you get it to stick? Can you maybe share any tips for our listeners to consider as they’re planning big initiatives like strategic plans or rebrands? How can they make sure it really lasts? Caitlin, I know this was actually part of your bio, so maybe you can start us off with this.
Caitlin Corda: Yeah, thanks Farra. You know, I think really being sure that people are bought into that vision. They know what the change is, they know why, they know why it’s important. It’s really critical for leaders and it cannot be the change management person or what it has to be. The leader has a very clear vision and articulation of where they’re going and why. And I think for that leader, it can often feel like they’re way out in front, right? Like they’re talking about something that may not even affect people for a few weeks, months, or even years. And so it can feel a little funky sometimes to be talking about, you know, this vision for the future or a new system that they’re bringing in. Why and why do we have to disrupt? And it can feel like you’re dancing a little bit on your own when that happens, right?
Caitlin Corda: There’s this, you know, famous video that’s out there, that’s the guy dancing at like a rock concert. He starts dancing and he’s all by himself. And then pretty soon he’s got a few people coming in and dancing with him and then a few more. And then all of a sudden a whole crowd forms around. But it can feel as a leader often that you’re out in front doing that on your own. And it’s really about creating a movement– a lot of times how we think about change. Because you’re doing that with people, not to people, not for them, but with them. And you have to co-create these moments and these experiences that people want to be a part of, they have to feel a part of that change, a part of that dance. They have to feel pulled into that moment. And I think that’s a really critical part of being a leader who’s working with an organization to move through some big changes. There’s also some really practical things I think to think about too. And Mara, maybe you want to speak to a few of those.
Mara Mintz: Yeah, such great points Caitlin. And when you think about engaging people around the process, that example Caitlin’s giving of dancing, that’s what you have to do if you want lasting change. And lasting change, it happens with people, not to people. When people feel involved in the change, then they’re going to engage with it, then you’re going to be successful. And you had Farra asked about staff in particular, and I think in nonprofits especially, staff are critical to this. At the end of the day, your board has a 30,000 or 50,000-foot view of the direction of the organization, but staff are often the ones who are actually doing the work. They’re making it happen, they’re helping achieve the goals. And I think that can’t be sort of overstated. So for example, when we do strategic planning processes, there’s a few tips I would give or sort of things to keep in mind.
Mara Mintz: The first is around communications. And it’s creating a communication plan that really ensures communications throughout the entire process. And that’s not just communicating to people, but it’s actually leaving room for giving input, for surfacing questions, for giving feedback, why we’re doing this now. Sure. Like Caitlin said, making sure you’re communicating where we are now, what we want to achieve, where we’re going, what people can expect. I think that transparent, regular clear communication is really critical. I think sometimes there’s sort of this assumption that, oh, staff are hearing this, people sort of know what’s going on. I think I’ve said this before and I think that can be a miss, right? Unless they’re a really clear stakeholder and you’re really clear about this timely, regular, ongoing communication with staff, you can sort of miss it out there. So I think that’s one tip that we always keep in mind is who we’re communicating to and making sure that’s happening in a really ongoing sort of two-way feedback sort of way.
Mara Mintz: I think the second piece is asking for input from everyone. So not just your board, not just your big donors, but really engaging all stakeholders in a really collaborative process. And that’s often through multiple opportunities too along the way. So whether that’s focus groups or one-on-one interviews or taking surveys or coming to workshops, or even just making time in regular staff meetings to share where you are and get input, that can be super critical to making sure that you have everybody’s buy-in and engagement along the way. And then I think the last piece of advice, or the last thing to think about is that implementation piece. Often we sort of get stuck at like, okay, here’s the plan, we’re going to go make it happen. And that tends to be wishful thinking, right? Where you need to be thinking about who’s going to do it and how do we hold people accountable and how do we share successes and when and what’s the cadence for that?
Mara Mintz: That’s that “living there” part of the equation that we were talking about before. And I think again, going back to the staff, it’s so critical that the staff are involved in that part, have an input into it, have buy-in, because ultimately they’re the ones responsible for making things happen. So you don’t want to lose sight of that. And ultimately the goal’s process, that’s not just asking for input, but it’s really building that shared context, building understanding, building ownership with all the stakeholders along the way so that people are ready to drive that progress, drive the organization forward and be successful.
Caitlin Corda: Yeah. One thing I want to point out about what Mara was saying is on that input, it’s really critical to get that input, but it’s also really critical to make sure folks know how you’re going to use that input. It is not that everything that everybody wants is going to be a part of this change or done or expected, but the fact that we’re listening to everyone, that we’re taking it into consideration and people understand what is going to happen with the survey feedback, what is going to happen with this interview or this focus group? How is it going to be incorporated? How might it not be incorporated? Being really clear about the rules of the road when you’re implementing these types of things is really important. But giving people a voice and giving people a moment to talk about that is important. But just being really clear because that can also stumble you later on, if “my input wasn’t taken” or “you didn’t do it this way”, can bite you a little bit. So just being clear as you go through is a lesson learned.
Farra Trompeter: Yeah. I would also say another lesson. I know that this has come up on some of our projects, “don’t ask for input if you either already made the decision or you don’t plan to use it at all”.
Caitlin Corda: Yes, yes. A hundred percent.
Farra Trompeter: So don’t ask people to pick between A and B when you only want A, because they’ll pick B inevitably. And then if you don’t go with B, they’re going to feel really frustrated and it will cause even bigger problems than if you hadn’t asked at all.
Caitlin Corda: Exactly. And there are times when you are leading a change and you have to just make the call because of speed or time or whatever the factors are. And just being clear about, we had to make this decision at this time and here’s why we did it. Sometimes that just has to be the way that it is too.
Farra Trompeter: Yeah, no, and just holding onto those tips I’m putting in my mind, communicate, ask, implement. So you know, holding on to all these lovely structures we have here. You know, when you were talking earlier, both of you actually Caitlin and Mara about the importance of communications, which of course on the Smart Communications Podcast, we appreciate some communications love. I’d love to talk more about this idea of internal communications, especially as more staff are working in remote and hybrid settings. And I think having strong internal communications has gotten more complicated, more difficult, and more essential. And we’ve talked about the idea of prioritizing internal communications on the podcast before. We’ve had Fatima Jones from The Apollo on, we’ll link to that in case people are interested in this topic. But what do you see as the main benefits of actually allocating time, staff, money to internal communications? Caitlin, any thoughts on that?
Caitlin Corda: Sure. It’s one of those things that’s hard to prioritize it. Man, if you do and you get it right, it just helps lift everybody. For folks to know where do I get critical information? Is it on the internet, is it you know, an email? How do I receive it? Do we have regular forums for leaders to be doing town halls and all of those things? I mean, they do take time and resources, but it is so important to create that environment for the staff and members of your organization to thrive. Leaders create the weather. They need help getting those messages out there, being very consistent in their message that their “say, do’s” really match. You need support as a leader around you to help make those things happen. There are a lot of, we call it like the “The Blue Energy”. You’ve got to communicate almost the same message seven times in seven different ways for someone, especially in a large organization, to even penetrate the noise, let alone take action or engage hearts and minds on that. So I think as a leader or someone who’s supporting a leader from a communications capacity, when you’re really tired of talking about it, that’s about when someone else might be hearing it for the first time. Whatever that message or that “go do” is. So just the repetition of it is really critical, I think particularly with the multimodal things that we have these days.
Farra Trompeter: I just want to jump in there, and you may have more to say on this, but I’m just smiling ’cause we always say with branding, the second something becomes boring to you and you’re like, oh, why do I have to keep using this font? Why do we always have to use this color? Why do we always have to start it off by saying this thing? That’s finally when you’re sick of it, is actually probably when your community is finally recognizing it. So I just appreciate that kindred spirit vibe that you’ve got going on here.
Mara Mintz: Yeah, I would just add to what Caitlin said, echoing everything she said, we know that ongoing effective communications leads to great work. It leads to engagement, it leads to retention, it leads to people doing their best, and I think that also can’t be understated. It’s not something that’s as easily measurable perhaps, but I think it’s so critical, especially when it comes to change. And we know there’s just endless change in organizations these days that you’re communicating regularly, that you’re making that a priority, that people know what they’re working towards and why, that they have that shared sense of sort of purpose and vision and what role do I play in it. That communication takes time, but it’s so important and you need to do it well and that’s why you need to invest in it.
Farra Trompeter: Yeah, great. Well, Mara, earlier in the conversation actually, and I know you said this when we were preparing for the call and it stuck with me as in you repeated it again, “Organizations don’t change, people change”. So before we wrap up, can you talk a little bit more about what that means and maybe share an example from one of your recent projects just so people can really picture what this looks like in action?
Mara Mintz: Yeah, so we love that saying, and I think anyone who’s been through a change or works at an organization knows it to be true sort of at their core. So for example, if you’re thinking of a university or in higher education, there’s lots of challenges facing higher education these days. And an institution itself isn’t going to change. Change doesn’t happen at that level. It’s the people within the institution, within the organization that are ultimately going to need to change. Whether that’s their ways of thinking, their ways of working, et cetera, their mindsets, in order for the institution to change. So it’s faculty and staff working together differently. It’s the way faculty and staff are supporting or approaching their students. It’s the way the administration is communicating with stakeholders, it’s values, it’s all of those things. And that, again, it doesn’t happen at the organizational level, it happens through people.
Mara Mintz: So an example of this is we’ve been supporting a higher ed organization in culture change. They’ve had some really toxic, challenging culture issues over the last number of years as many institutions have. So they saw this as an issue. They got a lot of input, they did all the right things from their community, they created new values, which is great, but new values, again, values don’t change a culture. It’s bringing those people along on the journey to actually live those values, to put those values into action that is going to ultimately evolve the institution. So they brought us in to help with things like training for different stakeholders to talk about what does it mean to live our values, to do workshops around what are these values and where do we see them showing up in our university and how do we do a better job of sort of holding each other accountable for living them.
Mara Mintz: We’ve done culture reports to share the progress we’ve made. So people are seeing, oh, okay, we’re not just talking about these values, but we’re living them, and here’s where we see them. They’ve asked us, we’ve solicited input along the way about what we’re doing well and where we still need work, and where creating these ongoing sort of tools and resources and touch points around their culture so that people again, don’t just understand the values, that’s one thing, but they know how to live them and they’re holding each other accountable for doing that. So that ultimately the culture at the institution will evolve. But again, that takes all of the people there to think different, be different, act different in order for that to happen. So again, just going back to the earlier conversations we were having, it’s bringing people along the journey because ultimately it’s those humans in any type of change that are going to make something a success.
Farra Trompeter: Yeah, from both of you, I’m really holding onto again that idea of “say, do” I think you said earlier. It’s not just about having a lovely set of values or new great brand messages. You have to really bring those to life. I remember us saying, I learned as a kid, “say what you mean, mean what you say, and don’t be mean when you say it.” So you know, I’m going to hold onto that one. That’s going to be my parting words. But if you’re out there and you’d like to learn more about Blue Beyond Consulting, you can visit their site bluebebeyondconsulting.com. You can also find Blue Beyond Consulting, Mara, Caitlin, all on LinkedIn. We will be sure to link to their profiles in the show notes at bigduck.com/insights. Before we go, Caitlin, since we just heard a bit more from Mara, maybe you can share some parting words for our listeners out there.
Caitlin Corda: Sure, I’ll keep it short and simple and we’ve already said it, but it’s that organizations don’t change, people change, people do. When you’re thinking about change management, when you’re thinking about, you know, moving your organization forward, think first about the who, the people that need to make that change in order to move your organization forward.
Farra Trompeter: Great. Well, thank you both for being here, and thank you all for listening.
Mara Mintz: Thank you.
Caitlin Corda: Thanks.