In Change Management

A chat about change with Brian Yim Lim

In a recent chat about change, Ranjit Sidhu, Founder of ChangeQuest, sat down with Brian Yim Lim, Interim Head of Funding Operations at Barts Charity. The conversation delved into Brian’s dynamic career journey and the evolving landscape of organisational change within the charity sector.  

Brian’s career trajectory has been anything but linear. Initially embarking on a path in research science, Brian pursued a Ph.D. in malaria research. Then in response to a shifting scientific landscape in the UK, he transitioned from laboratory work to a research funding organisation.  Here, he found a community of like-minded individuals and began his journey in science administration with the Wellcome Trust.  

Can you share with us some experiences that have shaped your professional journey?  

My career path has been quite organic, to say the least. Despite having initial aspirations, I found myself navigating through various roles and industries, driven by personal growth and evolving interests. It all began with my venture into research science, where I pursued a Ph.D. in malaria research over two decades ago. 

However, the scientific landscape’s instability in the UK prompted me to seek a more stable environment. This led me to transition from laboratory work to a research funding organisation, specifically the Wellcome Trust. Here, I found my niche in science administration,  

My journey took an unexpected turn as I delved deeper into process improvement within grant-related activities. This newfound passion propelled me through different roles, from business analysis to project and programme management.  

The opportunity for a shift arose when a systems implementation partner, offered me a role focusing on providing consultancy for non-profit organisations. Although it was interesting, after a while I realised that my heart lay in making a difference without the pressure of profit margins. 

This realisation led me to my current role as the Interim Head of Funding Operations at Barts Charity. It’s almost like coming full circle—from funding operations to systems and project management, and back to funding management, albeit from a different angle. I’ve always embraced opportunities that align with my interests, allowing my career path to unfold organically. 

Tell us more about your current role and the kind of work are you involved in? 

Barts Charity is one the UK’s largest funding organisations with a very specific focus on delivering meaningful benefit for the health of those in East London. The organisation has undergone significant transformation and growth and I’ve stepped into a leadership role that’s evolving to match the organisation’s strategy and growth trajectory. As well as stabilising and establishing best practice, we’re focussed on upgrading our processes and policies to align with our commitment to making impactful change. 

One of the key challenges we face is responding to, and integrating emerging technologies, such as AI, into our operations. This requires a delicate balance between innovation and maintaining our mission-driven focus. My role involves not only managing day-to-day operations but also identifying areas for improvement and spearheading initiatives to address them. 

So, we’re not just reacting to change; we’re proactively shaping our future, ensuring that Barts Charity remains at the forefront of impactful philanthropy in the health sector. 

How do you envision the Charity’s evolution to adapt to the changing landscape?  

Adapting to the evolving healthcare sector is indeed a pressing concern for Barts Charity, and we’re actively exploring strategies to ensure our organisation remains responsive and effective in meeting emerging needs. 

Firstly, it’s crucial to recognise that tackling these challenges requires a proactive approach. While larger organisations may have the resources to anticipate and address changes well in advance, smaller organisations like ours can often find themselves reacting to developments as they unfold. However, this doesn’t diminish the importance of strategic foresight. We’re openly discussing and assessing potential pathways for growth and evolution, recognising the need to be nimble in our responses. 

One key aspect of our strategy is to actively engage with our community and tap into external expertise. By plugging into networks and collaborating with organisations with more resources and experience, we can glean valuable insights and lessons learned. This collaborative approach enables us to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in areas such as the integration of AI into our operations. 

For example, I’m particularly interested in exploring how AI can streamline processes related to impact analysis, ensuring that the funds we distribute generate meaningful outcomes. However, we are approaching AI adoption with caution, as we consider both internal and external implications. We need to navigate concerns such as data privacy and confidentiality sensitively, especially when dealing with grant data or research findings. 

Educating stakeholders about these considerations is paramount, fostering awareness and understanding of the potential risks and benefits associated with AI utilisation. We are raising awareness at all levels of the organisation to ensure individuals are equipped with the knowledge they need to consider future impact and deal with these changes effectively.   

What types of measures do you put in place for tracking the changes implemented  

Measuring the success of changes implemented in processes or grant allocation is a critical aspect of our operations. While it’s true that many organisations struggle with effective measurement, our focus on accountability and demonstrating the impact of our efforts necessitates robust tracking mechanisms. 

We establish clear baselines before implementing changes. We can then quantify improvements by comparing performance metrics before and after the implementation of new processes or procedures. For example, if we aim to enhance efficiency in a particular process, we track metrics such as time taken to complete tasks or resource utilisation levels. 

We also prioritise qualitative feedback from stakeholders to complement quantitative measures. Understanding how individuals perceive and experience changes provides valuable insights into their effectiveness and impact. This qualitative data often reveals nuances that quantitative metrics alone may overlook, offering a more comprehensive understanding of the change process. 

For instance, if stakeholders demonstrate a preference for using familiar tools like Excel spreadsheets, we leverage these platforms to facilitate change rather than introducing new, unfamiliar systems to them. 

A valuable lesson I learned from your change management practitioner course was the importance of understanding and acknowledging the impact of change on individuals. For example, recognising what people stand to lose or how their daily routines are impacted, and to develop a deeper understanding of their concerns and fears surrounding change. By proactively looking to understand them and address apprehensions from the outset, we can better manage resistance and facilitate smoother transitions.  

The course also emphasised the need for effective resource allocation, especially within resource-constrained environments like ours. Juggling multiple change initiatives amid limited resources requires careful planning and prioritisation to ensure successful implementation without overwhelming the team.  

In a smaller organisation like ours, agility is a key advantage. We can pivot quickly in response to feedback and iterate on our approaches based on real-time insights. This agility enables us to implement changes more rapidly, bypassing the bureaucratic hurdles that larger organisations often encounter.  

How do you manage to juggle multiple change initiatives with limited resources? 

We have found ensuring that everyone involved in delivering projects has a grasp of project management, change management, business analysis, and other essential productivity principles is key for maximising efficiency and effectiveness within an organisation.  

Individuals are encouraged to identify pain points, challenge existing processes, and seek more efficient methods of operation. We encourage a culture of continuous improvement where individuals are empowered to question the status quo and innovate in their roles.  

While formal methodologies are useful, the real value comes from practical application and the willingness to reflect on your own work to ensure it is adding value. In smaller organisations, where resources are limited, this bottom-up approach to continuous improvement is particularly crucial, as it allows for greater agility and responsiveness to change.  

How do you believe your experience in change management has influenced your approach to your current role? 

Overall, I would say that the knowledge and experience in change management have been fundamental in shaping my career and approach to various projects. Change management is inherent in almost everything we do, whether it’s implementing new systems or adapting the way we work.   

Recognising the importance of people in any change initiative is crucial. Constant communication, listening to stakeholders, and involving them throughout the process are key principles that I’ve learned and applied consistently. Additionally, never assuming anything and regularly reflecting on the approach taken to ensure it aligns with the organisation’s needs and goals have been essential lessons. Even the most well-developed products or solutions can fail if not implemented correctly or if the human aspect is overlooked. Therefore, integrating change management principles into every aspect of project planning and execution is vital for success. 

And, finally do you have any advice you’d like to offer to people working in change   

My top advice for anyone navigating change, especially in the charitable sector or within organisations, would be to leverage the collective wisdom and experiences of peers and communities within the sector.  

Often, organisations face similar challenges, albeit on different scales, and there is immense value in learning from one another’s successes and failures. Don’t hesitate to reach out to others for advice, guidance, or even just a sounding board. The willingness of people within the sector to offer assistance and share insights is amazing, and tapping into this resource can significantly enhance your approach to change management.  

Additionally, it’s crucial to learn from past experiences. Incorporate mechanisms for capturing lessons learned from previous projects and ensure that these insights inform future initiatives. Emphasise continuous improvement and promote an environment where constructive feedback and reflection are valued. By learning from the past and collaborating with peers, you can help your organisation to better navigate the complexities of change and drive meaningful progress towards their goals. 

That’s a wrap!  

Thank you, Brian, for your invaluable insights and contributions to this ‘chat about change’ with me. Your reflections on navigating change within Barts Charity are appreciated. As you said, we can all gain so much value from learning from one another’s successes and failures. Your openness in sharing your experiences underscores the importance of collective learning in driving positive transformation within our organisations. 

 

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