09 Oct We Don’t Resist Change, We Resist BEING Changed Without Our Permission!
Mickey Conway, District Manager of the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District (serving the greater Denver area) knows the ins and outs of the final belief in our series The Seven Core Beliefs of a Transformational Change Leader – Understand that people don’t resist change; instead, people resist being changed without their permission.
“That’s well said,” he says, “and that’s what’s been happening to my whole sector, radically, over the last ten years. We’re being changed.”
Wastewater management is an essential part of the infrastructure of every community, and it’s critical to big water and environmental concerns that we need to address as we face a changing climate and growing population. “And yet, for the first 50 years of sewer treatment technology, we kept our heads down,” says Conway, “any news about us was bad news.” That’s had to change because of the urgent need to update infrastructure in Denver and across the country, and because that kind of infrastructure upgrade needs to be done in partnership. “We’ve had to go from a quiet, not-public organization to an open, transparent, outward facing organization. Not everyone likes it.”
As the industry is being changed by external pressures, the organization has had to respond with changes internally. Upon accepting the Manager position ten months ago, Conway undertook a thorough culture survey of the organization and talked to every one of more than 400 employees, from the finance side to the engineers, to understand what they need to do to excel under the newly public spotlight and in the face of ever-decreasing resources. “What we heard over and over again was about silos – we were a siloed organization with some silos already outward facing and some who’d never had to interact with other areas.” In order to address the new challenges, the organization as a whole needed to figure out how to work in a more integrated and collaborative way.
In order to address this need, the team came up with several strategies to increase communication across groups. “Some people felt empowered by it. Some were suspicious, feeling like their power to make the decisions they felt were important could be taken away. Leaders, especially those in high positions with great track records, didn’t want to feel like they were being managed.” So he used the information from the surveys, the feedback from within the organization to create solutions and to talk about why the change needed to happen. What he found is that with consistent and clear communication, nobody had to be forced into anything. He says, “Our team is passionate about this work, they want to do it well. So when they understand the ‘why’ behind a change, they’re open to giving it a try.”
And, the new systems have found enormous success. An Innovation and Strategy group that includes voices from policy, engineering and capital management teams helps to prioritize hard decisions. A new Nutrient Incentive Program has been embraced statewide and protects rivers in the Colorado watershed. The District treats the majority of the water flowing in the Platte river north of the city, so their ability to collaborate, to change and to lead is integral to the health and wellbeing of Denver and its neighbors.
At the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District, change has been a constant over the last decade, and not all of that has been under the control of the organization. And yet, with active input, open communication and flexibility, Mickey Conway has managed to successfully transform the resistance that can often accompany change into understanding, creativity and open willingness to try.
Until next time!
All our best,
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