Check out our latest installment of SocialEx, Humentum’s monthly podcast, George Miller sits down with Nancy Murphy, Founder and President of CSR Communications. Nancy has a wealth of experience working with associations, companies, foundations, government agencies, and various nonprofit organizations, helping conceptualize, articulate, realize, and problem-solve change. In this conversation, George and Nancy discuss her formative years in a Catholic education system before exploring her entry to the professional world and her subsequent journey to her work today. They also cover commonalities between sectors, psychological triggers that can make it hard to accept change, the battle between ‘systems’ and ‘culture,’ and more.
Below is an excerpt from the full transcript—watch the video or listen to the podcast recording for the full episode!
George Miller: I was thinking —if you push change to its ultimate—the internal slogan that Facebook came up within its early years was move fast and break things. And I guess that’s a radical change manifesto. So perhaps one can see that change is a very broad terrain as it’s understood, and it’s even sort of used by different people in different ways. So, it’s kind of understandable that there might be a barrier to change and that it isn’t always an easy thing to implement.
Nancy Murphy: Well, absolutely, and I don’t think that change is in and of itself always good, right? You gave some examples of change being a euphemism for things. Sometimes…I see leaders who sort of get addicted to change—in a way, it’s a little bit of that bright, shiny object syndrome. But it’s almost like sometimes I will ask people, ‘What is it? What difficult thing might you be avoiding by constantly pursuing change?’ So sometimes, the change becomes a distraction for something else that really needs attention.
There are five psychological triggers I teach that make change hard for human beings, and so to the extent that all of us are human, we’re all going to find change difficult for different reasons in different moments. Sometimes we might think of ourselves as extremely open to change—’I love change. I always try to incentivize change or to drive change.’ And I think that might be true in some areas of one’s life, but maybe not true in every area. So try to think about areas where perhaps you’re resistant to change, because that helps us realize that when people give us pushback on an idea or on a change we’re leading, it’s not because they’re sort of inherently, necessarily so protective and preserving of the status quo, or because they’re just trying to be difficult, and that we might find ourselves in that situation in other areas of our life. And so, it just sort of helps make the conversations more empathetic and more productive.
GM: So clearly, it’s very important—and this must be a significant part of your work with clients, in getting them to think really hard about what the vision is—what the end state of the change they want to achieve will lead to….
NM: I think that’s a really tricky balance to have in terms of having a really clear vision for the destination—where you want to end up and also not falling so in love with every detail of your plan that you don’t leave room for evolution or co-creation with the folks who are impacted by the change. So, one thing I spend a lot of time working with leaders on is getting super clear on the why. You know, can you put into place, or can you create, a one-minute speech that really gets to the principles underneath the reason for change right now and what’s not negotiable in this? …
GM: Now you’ve mentioned, Nancy, the challenges that the last year has presented to so many of us just keeping the show on the road has been a major challenge, and of course change by its nature is a process that happens over time, it happens at different speeds, it sometimes happens by fits and starts, and therefore resilience is another key attribute that you work in order to develop and build with the organizations that you collaborate with. Can you say something about resilience in the time of COVID has come to the fore even more than ever before?
NM: I think certainly the last year has probably shown many of us what we’re really capable of in the face of a crisis and I think for many people it showed us that we were capable of more than we thought. I think, taking that and appreciating that just because we’re now beyond our breaking point doesn’t mean that we failed, right? Because this has been a lot for a lot of people.
And so, there are these four elements of resilience. One is accepting reality. We know that denial just make things harder so if there are things that continue to be challenges in your organizations right now because of the current environment, don’t try to pretend they’re not there. Accepting reality is a key part of resilience. Then we want to boost our ability to improvise so even when we’re not in a crisis or when we feel like we’ve got that even-keel space and we don’t need to be extra-resilient how are we investing in our creativity and our open-mindedness our curiosity?
So, ability to improvise is a key element of resilience. And then going back to the why, really having a deep connection with core values for your organization with the principles that are important to your work- grounding in that why for the change you’re leading or the work you’re doing, going back to your mission – that is really powerful for boosting resilience.
And finally strengthening relationships. We know that strong connections—strong bonds—are key to resilience. So what are we doing in our organizations to facilitate cross-team bonding to support relationship building and connection when we’re in global organizations, where we oftentimes don’t see colleagues in person for months or ever sometimes? Or now when we’re in a remote work environment? How do we maintain and deepen those connections that will support us and help us boost our resilience?
GM: That was fascinating and if I were to pick up on just one thing—what do you see the relationship between business systems and improvisation? How do they coexist in a harmonious way, would you say?
NM: Probably all the systems people listening to this are saying they absolutely do not coexist! Obviously, I don’t think we can just have you know, hey, today let’s improvise how we you know, plan travel or let’s improvise how we on-board new team members. No, we probably don’t want to do that and at the same time I think where the creativity the improvisation, the open-mindedness the curiosity can serve us well is when all of a sudden the systems that we had in place to serve us in a current context are no longer workable, relevant or possible…
So think about the day we were told we all had to work from home and our policies, protocols systems were not designed for that but that had to happen in 72 hours. Well, if we lack the ability ever to think creatively, to think on our feet to test things out, to iterate, to learn and improve on a constant basis then we’re faced with that challenge and we don’t know what to do. We fall apart or it becomes so hard, or we make so many mistakes that we don’t learn from that we can’t recover. So when we’re talking about resilience it’s not that we’re improvising every day but how can we bring creativity into our work life regularly in appropriate ways so that when a system no longer works, is possible, or is not relevant for the context, we have that ability to adjust it appropriately, to think creatively to solve the problem.