In the ever-evolving landscape of academia, change is a constant. Academic institutions, with their unique identities and cultures, often find themselves facing the challenge of transformation. Holly Sorce, a seasoned Change Leader with a wealth of experience in the field, provides us with a glimpse into her journey, her current programme and the challenges and solutions she encounters in managing change.
Holly, could you share your journey in the field of change and transformation?
Certainly. I’ve been actively involved in delivering large-scale transformation programmes for about a decade now. It all began when I was seconded into a PMO to work with a consultancy firm as a subject matter expert from the institution undergoing change. Over time, I progressed to become a transformation program director. My passion has always been in change management, and even in my current role, it remains a critical aspect.
You’ve mainly worked in academic institutions. Can you tell us more about your current project in this sector?
Of course. I’m currently engaged in facilitating the merger of two higher education institutions. Such mergers are quite rare in this sector. As an interim programme director, I’m assisting in the discovery and design phases of the merger, and I’m also setting up the Project Management Office (PMO) to support this initiative.
Given the current scenario, what specific challenges do you anticipate in this merger?
The primary challenge, as is often the case in transformation programs, revolves around people. We’re merging two institutions with distinct identities, reputations, and cultures. One institution operates in a hospital clinical setting, which adds complexity. Defining the culture of the newly merged institution and planning the necessary shifts is crucial. Despite the intricacies of processes and organisational design, the most significant challenge lies in managing the people side of things.
Can you elaborate on the specific differences between the two institutions that are merging?
Certainly. In mergers or acquisitions, whether within organisations or between external ones, people often feel their status and identity are threatened. They wonder how to retain their unique characteristics while adapting to the new setup. We must also consider the impact on individuals’ roles and jobs. Regardless of the nature of the change, it usually boils down to how it affects individuals. We’re not yet at the stage where we can provide all the answers, which adds to the ambiguity. So, supporting people through this uncertainty is a significant part of our role.
Navigating ambiguity seems crucial. What additional steps are you taking to support people during this phase?
As a programme director, I’m working closely with sponsors and senior staff. This involves guiding them on what to communicate, understanding their concerns, and helping them organise their thoughts to support their teams effectively. We’re also emphasising that this isn’t a hostile takeover, even though some might perceive it that way. I’m making sure that our PMO has a presence in both organisations to maintain visibility and an open-door policy. We’re also planning a comprehensive change management workstream to establish the right structures and forums throughout the organisations to ensure everyone knows their role and can advocate effectively.
Shifting gears, how long ago did you complete your change management qualification?
It was around 2013.
How has your understanding of change management theory and best practices supported you in your various roles?
To excel in transformation, you must have an understanding of the organisations you’re transforming. Regardless of how sophisticated your project management and governance might be, if you fail to carry people along, your efforts are in vain. Training has provided me with a comprehensive understanding of organisational dynamics, various leadership approaches, and how these affect change, depending on the type of change being undertaken. This knowledge allows me to anticipate where individuals within the organisation are likely to stand on specific changes. It’s been really valuable. I still refer to the change management course textbook, even today to ensure my thinking is aligned. It serves as a reliable resource to validate my thoughts, ensuring that I’ve covered all the necessary aspects before moving forward. It remains an invaluable tool for me, even after all these years.
For those considering a change management qualification, what tips would you give them regarding preparation and why they should pursue it?
Preparation is key. Spend time understanding your organisation’s structure, leadership styles, strategy, culture, and values. This context will make the course more meaningful. Additionally, familiarise yourself with the course content and chapters. Don’t feel overwhelmed; there’s no need to spend months preparing. However, ensure you’re comfortable with the material. You can research unfamiliar topics from the course if necessary. The qualification provides a broad, adaptable framework for understanding organisational change and how people can be impacted by change.
Lastly, what trends or developments do you see in the field of change management that professionals should be aware of?
Interestingly, despite working in this field for nearly a decade, the same core issues keep resurfacing. Networking with colleagues reveals that these challenges persist. As for trends, organisations are gradually recognising the importance of change management as a crucial component of successful projects. Nevertheless, integrating change management seamlessly with projects remains a challenge, as it involves active engagement at all levels of the organisation. This aspect can be perceived as additional work, complicating its adoption. Prioritisation and effective portfolio management are key to addressing this issue and ensuring that change management becomes an integral part of project success.
Holly’s journey as a Change Leader has been marked by her dedication to understanding the human aspect of change. In the world of higher education, where tradition often collides with the need for innovation, her expertise in managing transformation programmes is invaluable. Her insights into change management qualifications, adaptability, and emerging trends offer valuable lessons for professionals across various industries.
Thank you, Holly, for sharing your valuable insights and experiences in the field of change management. We appreciate your time and expertise.