30 June 2017

IT skills for librarians: Q&A with Julie Toohey (Griffith University) about change management

This post is Number 6 of 8 in a series arising from a presentation that I will be giving at the New Librarians Symposium 8 on 25 June 2017 in Canberra. You may want to start reading with the first post in the series

For this post I asked my colleague Julie Toohey about how she got started building her skills in change management, and how this fits within her current role as a Health Discipline Librarian in Griffith University's Library and Learning Services.

Thank you, Julie!

Can you briefly describe your your current role and your career pathway to where you are now? 

I initially started at Griffith twenty-two years ago as a casual library clerk and at the time was studying for a library technician diploma however a Librarian talked me into a degree instead and I've never looked back.

I've worked in many different types of positions over the years and currently I am the Health Discipline Librarian for the Gold Coast campus. I've also taken on many secondment opportunities which at times seemed scary but I did so to develop a wider, more relevant skill set. Sometimes you just need to jump in with both eyes wide shut!

Secondment opportunities have included Team Leader for Acquisition Team, Higher Education Research Data Collection (HERDC) Coordinator, Senior Change Manager for the Griffith Experts project; and Library and Learning Services Manager, Sciences.

Stepping outside the organisation I also had the opportunity to co-facilitate the national Australian National Data Service Health and Medical Data 23 Things Research Data Webinar series with Kate LeMay. The series was held over a 10 month period.

What were the circumstances that led you to identify change management as something that you wanted or needed to develop further?

Basically I was approached by my Director to take on the Senior Change Manager role for she believed I had the necessary skill set to achieve objective outcomes.  She also felt that I:

a) was good at engaging/communicating with the academic community
b) understood the structure of the university
c) understood the politics of institution
d) wasn’t afraid to keep moving on, and
e) genuinely liked dealing with people.

I firmly believed in the product [Griffith Experts] and I was up for the challenge.  And I really admire my Director and I didn't want to let her down.

What formal or informal development options were available to you to develop your change management skills and knowledge? How did you initially get going, and do you have plans to continue to develop in this area?

I completed a Project Management workshop in 2014 and I also minored in Business so even though I’ve never worked as a Change Manager before, I’ve always been aware of the importance of the role. Managing change is not just about communication plans, milestones and tasks, it’s also about managing people, their expectations and their emotions. And pressure. It’s also about managing pressure and being accountable.

In addition to the new role, I was also required to join a new team in the Project and Planning Office reporting directly to the Project Manager. It was a very steep learning curve for not only was I learning a new role within a new team, I also had to learn project language! Luckily the other Project Change Manager was an extremely gentle and patient young woman who never once showed signs of frustration or hair pulling when endlessly asked to explain project language and processes.

Once the project was completed, I returned to my Health Librarian role and whilst I don’t have change management in my formal professional development plan, I’d certainly jump at it again if approached.

Can you briefly describe what change management involves? What kinds of tasks or activities have you undertaken as a practitioner of this skill? Are there specific methodologies or tools that are commonly used?

When I first started the Change Manager role, I was handed the large task of completing the project Communication Plan so I had to absorb all project objectives/deliverables fairly quickly.

When developing the Communication Plan, we were required to identify project stakeholders, project user group members, discipline area champions (those who would support our product once we were in go-live stage); decide upon a communication methodology; identify project key messages and challenges and develop a communication rollout/schedule. The work done around the Communication Plan was work completed prior to project roll-out. Once completed, we then had to start implementing it.

Post project go-live date, it was a case of ongoing marketing across all Griffith academic community, delivering workshops and drop in sessions which created an extreme amount of stakeholder and end user management.

In terms of tools we were required to raise issues/bugs via the Project Team service desk tool requesting developers to resolve/acknowledge/close issues. "Not within scope of project" was a term I heard often and burnt into my memory.  Nowadays I I even manage to use it at home, i.e. Question: "What’s for dinner tonight?" Response: "Dinner is not within tonight’s project scope".

How do you feel change management ‘fits’ with the other skills and knowledge that you bring to your professional practice as a librarian?

Change management skills worked nicely with my Health Discipline Librarian role.  The project I worked on was an institutional profile system and the objectives of the project aligned closely to my own in terms of my role i.e. I’m passionate about raising Griffith’s profile as an institution and also raising our individual researchers’ profiles.

I’m generally task orientated and spend considerable time managing the relationships with researchers and their expectations which lends itself nicely with a change management role. The opportunity to encourage academics to embrace their profile was pretty special.

How do you and your organisation benefit from your having change management skills in your toolkit?

Personally I learnt a lot about myself and my capabilities whilst working as a change manager and it opened my eyes to the pressures of project work. After spending many years in the same role, people can become complacent and don’t tend to stretch themselves.

Since returning from the project, I push myself constantly to deliver over and beyond the boundaries of my role. I’m a lot more adaptable and embracing of change. The change management role has allowed me to grow and my toolkit is a lot better off because of the experience for I now feel more adaptable, more relevant and remain competitive.

What advice would you give to a new professional starting out who had an interest in change management? Can you suggest any no- or low-cost professional development options that are available?

If you have a project team in your organisation try to jump on-board. Also if you have access/ability to attend change management or project management workshops then put up your hand.  You could share your interest with your Team Leader/Manager and have it written into your professional development plan as a long term goal.

There is also quite a large amount of literature on change management to consult.