Change management and knowledge management holding each other’s hand

Jeanette Allom-Hill is the Change Leadership Director for the NSW State Treasury. She’ll be presenting Change Mangement—KM’s symbiotic partner or alter ego? at July’s KM Australia Congress. I spoke to her recently about her role in the NSW state government, and from our conversation, I’m sure she’ll have loads of fascinating stories about change management in the workplace.

1. As the change leadership director of the NSW Treasury, what are your day-to-day responsibilities and what sort of change projects do you oversee?
There is a change of leadership project which is about building a competency of our leaders and that’s an executive level project, which includes having done a change competency review on all of our leaders and looking at how we get them to be great change leaders, so we have road maps for each of them around, acting as visible leadership, communication, building a coalition, all the key components of being great leaders of change, but also great sponsors of change. So that’s like a one-on-one type of mentoring role.

The organisational design role is a role that talks about how do you manage change at an organisational level when you’re introducing a complete reorganisational design, so that’s everything from restructuring the organisation and then restructuring the processes but also supporting people through things like voluntary redundancies.

The last is managing the program of work, so the role in the whole of government financial management reform. I manage the program end-to-end that manages all of the components of stakeholder engagement, change communications and capability.

2. You’ve had experience in operational, service, and planning roles across the government and private sectors, (including Microsoft and Optus). Have you found that approaches or responses to change projects differ across those sectors?
Yes, generally speaking, private enterprises seem to really understand the concept of hiring people who have change as part of their DNA very early on, and then build change as a positive experience, because they think about how that benefits a person day-to-day. So, whenever they do change they think about building on the strategies of the person’s awareness of the change, their desire for the change, and how do we get them to realise that this is the best thing for them? Whereas, the public sector are just only starting to realise that that’s fundamental. So we’re starting to do a big piece of work around the fact that the people in the new Treasury need to adapt to change—and what does that look like? How do you measure that? How do you support that? How do you develop that?

I think its been a slower take up in government than it has in the private sector, because private has been thinking that way for a long time. The great thing is that governments are now starting to think that way but it’s more of, for Treasury, it’s after 185 years of an entrenched culture and way of being that we are having to change. I think having done operations roles, and customer service roles, and then a change role—everything in the operations world is fast-paced, compared in a change world to try to, first of all, build a belief that there needs to be someone who is managing change and that the people side of all change that we’re going through is just as important as the project side and the leadership side. It’s a harder piece of work to do than it is if you’re doing an operational role, or a role that is needed as part of the functional day-to-day operation of the business.

3. You’re also the Chair of the Community of Change Professionals for the NSW Public Sector. In what ways has the group improved the practice of change management in the NSW State Government?
We were established in December 2012, so we are half way through our first year. The core areas that we’re working on, and we had lots of really good small wins, but the big areas that we’re working on is obviously being able to build a network of Change people in the NSW Public Sector, so that junior people have access to senior people and resources and best practice information. They can also network with their colleagues, but they also have an ability for career development and opportunities, including a model that we’re put in, which is around mentoring specifically for change people.
Some of the runs we have on the board at the moment are obviously we’ve done some networking events to allow people to make connections at work together. We have a knowledge base where people can go and get information around change and pull resources from other people and colleagues across the NSW Public Sector, and that therefore drives that consistency in our approach. We try to strengthen best practice change leadership and change management capabilities, so what we’ve done is we’ve actually got all the senior people in Change, so directors and principal advisors, and we meet every month and talk about what we’re doing to try and strengthen our impact in the public sector—how we can work collaboratively, to work as a group, but also doing tactical things like developing the service offering section to the agencies, which is things like, if you want to hire a change professional, come to us and we will give you a selection of position descriptions, tell you what skills they need, we will help you interview them, we will put them in the mentoring program and we will also provide them with access to a knowledge base that gives them consistent information.

4. That sounds terrific! Is this sort of community a practice something that is rolling out in other parts of the government?
Yes, definitely. I go out and spruik it a lot. There’s currently a community of finance professionals that’s been going for 4 years and that’s chaired by as someone who actually works for me and we’ve actually, in the meantime, established a community practice for HR professionals, for IT professionals and we are just about to launch Legal. The model that we’ve used is now being used in different areas of the NSW Public Sector. I’ve gone to Victoria and Canberra to speak about this and the states are very, very interested in picking up the model and extending across their states as well, because the benefits are huge. It came from the Schott review. Kerry Schott did a big government review about a year ago now. A whole section of the Schott Review talks about communities of practice and the benefits that they can bring to the NSW Public Sector, and we really should work together to establish as many as possible to strive for those benefits.

5. Can a change manager make a great knowledge manager, and vice versa? Or do you think these are discrete skill-sets that complement each other?
It is my personal opinion—and I have had people who have done knowledge management for many years—I fundamentally believe that a change manager should have a really diverse mix of skills to really be effective in the business, and knowledge management is one of them. They have to be holding each other’s hand. It’s like saying you’re doing change without comms or you’re doing change without an HR understanding. You absolutely have to have an understanding of knowledge management and that the effect that it would have to not use a change management approach when you are doing knowledge management would be diabolical, as one could say. I think that they absolutely should be integrated. When you are talking about a skill set, you can’t say that one human being has a complete skill set, but I think what’s fundamental to Change people is they understand the role that they play in knowledge management and knowledge management people should understand the role that Change and change management has to play in knowledge management. One without the other is only 50% success.

6. Looking back on the work you’ve done internationally, have you found some cultures more adaptable to organisational change than others?
Absolutely! I spent pretty much six months living across Western Europe. I came with the perception that particular cultures were going to be more difficult than other cultures and that perception was 100% wrong. When I went into Germany, I found their level of structure, their level of discipline, their level of delivery that was so high, that it was one of the easiest implementations I’ve ever done. When I went to France, the culture, the lack of structure, it was the hardest migration I did. It wasn’t just language barrier, it was—and I don’t think people understand, and which I didn’t until I spent a lot of time overseas—is to absolutely understand that culture is so important to actually drive any type of change. You have to understand how that culture thinks and what they do and what their disciplines are and what they think works, and what their hot buttons are and desire points, and that’s even harder to do in a non-English speaking culture because you’ve got everything else on top of understanding the ways that people think. But there were definitely some cultures that far outweighed others when it came to delivery.

7. There’s no doubt that the introduction of a knowledge management program requires an amount of cultural and organisational change, if you could give one piece of advice what would it be?
I think when you look at what knowledge management is, the key words in the definition of knowledge management say “enable adoption of insights and experiences” and I just think of that word enable—that’s Change language. You absolutely have to understand that knowledge management is about people and if you are going to be successful in anything that you do, you need to take people along the journey. If you are going to get people to change what they do with the process, they way they think, what they do to get their information, what they are used to every day, and you’re asking them to do something differently, you absolutely have to embed and understand those people and build their desire to come along that journey with you. If you don’t apply fundamental change management principles to anything or knowledge management or anything else like that, people will not come on the journey and change will not be sustainable. For all of us, in every piece of work that we do, and knowledge management being one of them, we want that change to be sustainable and we want people to adapt their behaviour to use the system differently, to step up in things they are doing. In order to do that, we have to apply basic principles around people, which is what change is.

Thanks to Jeanette for taking the time to share some of her experiences in change and knowledge management. You can read more about the KM Congress on these two posts.

  • Atif

    Thanks Aprill for this insightful interview, we are undergoing similar experiences in Saudi Arabia