Posted 12.4.14

Cheryl Duvall, MPOD '06, authors fable as instructive metaphor on change management

Interview with Cheryl Duvall, MPOD ‘06

Cheryl Duvall is a consultant, designer, author, speaker, coach and entrepreneur. She founded Avancé in recognition of her passion for interior design and the important role it plays in shaping behaviors in the workplace. Cheryl graduated from Weatherhead in 2006 with a Master of Science in Positive Organization Development and Change. She is a noted writer of several publications, including Change is on the Wind: Managing Change for a New Landscape, published in August 2014.  

What influenced your decision to write this book from the perspective of a fable, and specifically one that takes place on a savanna?

The first part of this fable actually appeared as a conference proceedings paper.  As I began to compose a technical paper on change management for Facility Fusion (hosted by the International Facility Management Association in April 2014), I literally stopped after just one paragraph. Boring. That’s all I could think. Boring.

Feeling the need for inspiration, I stood in front of my library of business books and took out an old favorite:  Storytelling in Organizations, by Brown, Denning, Groh, and Prusak. I found myself rereading the book from cover to cover. By the end, I knew I wanted to tell a compelling story about change management rather than writing a technical conference proceedings paper. The paper for that conference comprised part one of the fable, the rest of which I finished when I was asked to reprise the topic of Change Management at IFMA’s World Workplace conference later that fall.

I chose the savanna for my setting through research and character development. I needed a suitable metaphor for a CEO, since my story is about the modern office and the current reality of shrinking real estate. Because lions are considered the top of the animal kingdom and lords of territory, it seemed appropriate that the CEO would be represented by King Lion and his territory, a savanna, made for an appropriate setting. 

Do you personally identify with any of the characters in your book? 

I certainly identify with Lady K, the ever-positive change leader with creative problem-solving skills. I’d like to think I remain as steady as she does in challenging times. Like Lady K, I have held leadership positions that required me to inspire and motivate others to embrace new challenges and rally around a corporate vision.  As I wrote about her leadership qualities and put words in her mouth, I found myself drawing from personal experiences and my MPOD education. 

Many of the illustrations in the book were derived directly from messages I deliver to my customers when explaining change management, like Kotter’s eight steps, and the bell curve of change, with a few resisters and early adopters at either end.  Most of the examples of change management activities, like pilot projects, time capsules, purge campaigns, and workplace etiquette guidelines, are examples of client activities that I’ve used to engage people in the process of change.

How have you merged your BS in interior design and your MPOD degree throughout your extensive career?

In order to support people and their intended behaviors in the workplace as a corporate interior designer, I have to be keenly observant of people and their relationships with others, with physical space, and with emergent systems. As Winston Churchill stated, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”  That underscores the importance place has in our daily lives, especially in office environments.  

As a designer of corporate space, I often deliver a space that is radically different from its former environment. . I’ve found that the vision for change is not always communicated effectively to the staff, who then feel as if it is being forced upon them by the CEO. Change management programs were not always implemented to prepare staff for the significant physical, emotional, and behavioral changes that accompany relocation to new office space. I recognized the need for change management services and began to provide change consultation in addition to my design services; however, my seat-of-the-pants approach often felt inadequate and that’s what led me to pursue my Master’s degree.  

There are so many similarities between the design process and organization development.  Design thinking is now offered in business schools, which underscores the importance and broad application of the critical components of the design process. I almost jumped out of my chair when David Cooperrider referred to the architectural phases of design as the model for the Appreciative Inquiry process, with Discovery, Dream, Design, and Destiny.  It  proved to me that merging my two degrees was the right path. 

The design process I had used throughout my career was reinforced during ORBH 418, a course on systems thinking, action research and sustainability. The course communicated the same process but used different vocabulary; that is, “action research” for co-development with customers, and “systems thinking” for the interrelated nature of work and the true impact of decision-making. I also learned that architecture was one of the early leaders of sustainability practices. Because of the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) credentials I earned in 2001 for interior design, I was already ahead of many of my classmates in the implementation of green decisions. So merging these two ways of thinking occurred quite naturally.

What is some of the most critical advice you have for leaders dealing with significant change management?

Here are my top five:

  • Don’t underestimate the significance of the change.  View the changes from the eyes of staff, not from the ivory tower.
  • Be a strong advocate for the change and lead by example. All eyes are watching what you do, not just listening to what you say.
  • Involve affected people in the change. It’s important that the change is done with people, not to them. By engaging and empowering staff, we all work with a shared vision, making even the most daunting change possible.
  • Invest in a change management program and regard it as a critical component of success, because it is! That means that the program must receive adequate resources—people, money, and time: people to lead and to become engaged; money to fund the program, whether from internal or external resources; and time to do a good job, which means beginning early and piloting a few of the major ideas.
  • Communicate until you feel you’ve over-communicated. And then communicate more! Use different media to assure that all stakeholders have been reached. Use media appropriate to the stakeholder. And always tell the truth, even if you anticipate a negative reaction. It’s far better to get the information out and skillfully manage expectations than to allow rumors to fly and suffer losses in productivity and good will.

Why is change management an increasingly relevant topic in today's workforce?

It used to be that the biggest change in the workplace was whether someone would lose his or her private office and have to work in a Dilbert cubicle. Today, many people would rejoice if that was their biggest adjustment. 

Technology has freed us from the traditional work space and that has brought both opportunities and challenges. Much of the workforce is now quite mobile and that mobility has prompted new questions. Why should I give Sally an assigned office or workstation if she is only here one or two days a week? Since our files are in the cloud, why do I need to come to the office if I can work from home and avoid traffic?  Our company is now global, and I’m on the phone with colleagues at odd hours, so where’s my work-life balance?

These are just a few of the issues that face organizations today. The speed of change in the workforce has never been greater. Both staff and leaders of companies need help adjusting to extreme change.

I had the opportunity to visit Singapore and Australia last year with a customer as we conducted research on the most progressive workplaces in the world. We found countless examples of cutting-edge approaches to workplace design.  Every one of them employed robust change management programs to engage their staff and guide them gracefully through significant cultural changes.  

Can you give me an example of what you mean by significant cultural change?

Most of the companies we toured, including banks, technology and real estate, do not allocate assigned workspaces for individuals. Instead, they provide Activity Based Work settings, (ABW), with appropriate technology so that their workforce can choose the best place to work according to the task at hand. I toured a bank in Sydney where 6,000 people report to a building that only holds 4,500 by building code. Since constructing this new building the bank has never required full occupancy, which emphasizes how vacant many of our offices are each day due to external meetings, business travel, vacations or personal time off, and telework policies.  

At that bank, only six staff members in the entire workforce, all of whom are administrative assistants, have an assigned workstation. Everyone else, even the CEO and CFO, are free to choose where they want to work each day or each hour of the day. If they need to do focused work, they may choose an audio privacy room. If they need to collaborate, they pull their team together and select the appropriate room or desk configuration to support their activities. And it’s working! Not only do these companies save money with reduced real estate costs, they also report that their people are engaged, motivated and productive.  

These companies also recognize that this bold way of working requires use of change management practices to fully realize their return on investment.  I believe that Australia is 10-15 years ahead of the United States in its approach to work. They were also early adopters of change management programs. We have much to learn from their examples and from similar approaches in Europe.

How has your Weatherhead education influenced where you are today?

Without a doubt, my MPOD degree gave me the tools and the foundation upon which to build my consultation services as a designer and a workplace strategist. I entered the program with that goal and I emerged with both confidence and knowledge. The field project and group projects with real-life clients gave us practical application experience and a safe place to test new approaches and methodologies. I use Appreciative Inquiry principles throughout my change programs and occasionally, I have had the opportunity to lead full-scale AI processes.  

It is especially gratifying to hear my customers introduce me to others in their organizations. They always point out that I have a Master’s in Organization Development, and they often give examples as to why that is important for the work I do as a designer.  The first few times that this happened I remember thinking how glad I was that I didn’t pursue an advanced degree in interior design or architecture. While such degrees would have been nice, they wouldn’t have expanded my knowledge in the deep and meaningful way that my MPOD degree has. I really don’t think my business customers would have regarded another design degree as a differentiator. My MPOD degree is unique in the field of design, and that has certainly elevated my status and my credibility.

Do you have any advice for prospective students or those just starting out in the MPOD program?

Know that this degree will open many doors. Take advantage of your time with fellow students, professors, the reading list and assignments. Read all the optional texts, too.  Make it personal. Begin applying your learning to your work as soon as you can. And most of all, enjoy the experience. Treasure it! You will not pass this way again.

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