MURAL-ing to construct a user journey

Estimated reading time: Two minutes

Note: I’m Working Out Loud to document my learning journey around developing a digital learning course for the Master’s in Learning & Organizational Change program at Northwestern University. Here are additional details on the digital portfolio project.  

Three possible student groups, each with its own learning needs. Up to five possible learning modules for each group. Five, maybe more, sections within each module. That was a proposed initial structure for the course.

Key questions included: What were the paths and topics for each self-directed learning cohort?What activities should students complete? Did they need to meet requirements in order to progress through the course? Would they want to measure their progress?

Time for a user-experience map – first just a sheet of paper and a quick pencil sketch to determine the main modules.

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The design began to look like a game or a choose-your-own-adventure book.

The drawing sparked additional questions: What were key milestones? Were modules balanced? Were there too many assignments? How might users feel at each stage of the process? What if a student was completely new to digital content publishing? What might their concerns be versus a student who was a more experienced blogger?

From paper, we moved to whiteboard and then to MURAL. I had experimented with this tool in earlier classes, but really came to understand its value during this process. It’s a good way to digitally co-create a user-experience map development and easily move components, add comments, use virtual sticky notes and download versions. To me, there’s something about designing in MURAL that encourages the most pared down, but functional, design. It reminds me of a former co-worker who would look at a plan and ask: What’s the least this could be? In other words, how simple and friction-less could we make this for the user?

The course architecture started to congeal.

It went from this whiteboard sketch…

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To this whiteboard map…

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Then this design using MURAL…

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And, finally, this MURAL design…

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The course design continues to be adjusted as we build and receive prototype feedback.

Now I just need a giant monitor with with a fancy stylus to really take advantage of designing in MURAL.

Two-minute read: What I learned from taking six personality assessments in six months

Talk about getting to know yourself.

During the past six months, I’ve taken six different personality assessments as part of coursework or project work. It has been one of the most valuable parts of returning to school and moving in a new career direction.

My experience with these tools was extremely limited before MSLOC. (Buzzfeed quizzes don’t count). But I’ve now taken Hogan assessments, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Reflected Best Self, the Cultural Orientations Indicator, the Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument and the CliftonStrengths assessment.

Reviewing the results has been empowering, eye-opening, humbling and invaluable – in very different ways. One assessment measured cultural awareness, another measured handling of conflict and at least two focused primarily on strengths. Each one has sparked reflection about my professional path, preferences, how to be a better teammate and how to best help organizations.

For those considering taking similar assessments – or providing them to your organization – and don’t have much experience with the process, I recommend the following:

Find an expert guide. A coach who is certified in a particular assessment can walk you through the results and answer questions. This is a nuanced process. She or he can offer valuable insight into how to interpret findings. One of my assessments, for example, focused on personality tendencies that appeared mostly during times of stress – not all the time. Thinking of becoming certified in administering a particular assessment? Each tool’s site has information on how to sign up, class schedules, cost and more. Be sure to check if there is a discount or deal through your organization or school.

Don’t freak out. Results aren’t all “good” or all “bad.” Don’t read results and immediately think you’ve got a list of character flaws that need correcting. Some preferences that might not seem optimal might actually be a benefit in a specific setting.

Find the patterns. Do you have the results from multiple assessments? When taken together, does a trend (or multiple trends) emerge? How might that play out during interactions within professional settings, especially as a member of a face-to-face or virtual team? How might that factor into your relationships with your boss or people that that you manage?

Consider results in context. Assessments like the MBTI measure preferences, not “trait, ability or character.” Every person is different. Every situation is based in a context. People can change. Adam Grant, Wharton professor and organizational psychologist, recently covered these issues in depth in his podcast. One of his guests, Dr. Brian Little, an expert in personality and motivational psychology, said:

I think that people have to be careful that once they diagnose themselves or something like that, that they don’t see it as something from which they can’t escape. We have far more degrees of freedom to shape our lives than those strong “trait is your destiny” positions would encourage us to believe. I think there are fates beyond traits.”

Personality assessment isn’t just for professional relationships.  I’m an extrovert, but have many friends and family members who are introverts. Before digesting the MBTI, I didn’t fully understand the differences between those psychological types, as defined by that tool. Recharging after a long day, for example, means very different things to different people. I’m paying closer attention to their cues and my reaction to various situations, with far greater understanding.

Guiding principles

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What is your change professional point of view? What experience and research informs your opinion? What is the insight from peers? How do you know what you’re coming to know?

These are key questions posed throughout the MSLOC program, especially when asked to write our 10 guiding principles around change management.

Here are mine (originally part of a paper, hence the inclusion of references):

  1. Remember the “human” part of human capital: Pulling organizational levers during change initiatives impacts real people in profound ways. I was part of the wrenching change in the media industry during the past decade and it impacted plenty of careers. While there might be no avoiding negative impacts of change, the consultant and client should work to minimize negative impact – at every stage.
  2. Deliver change communications authentically and strategically: Communicating effectively about the impact of a change strategy at every level of an organization can make the difference in an effort succeeding or failing. That seems like common sense, but how many times have change communications efforts fallen short in your company? I have experienced situations where employees informally learned about a coming reorganization and started rumors, filling the vacuum left by a lack of communication. That quickly torpedoed morale before the change even began. Messaging should also be tailored to the audience receiving it (Barrett, 2002). That includes making sure that leaders’ actions and words match strategy, that the communications team is looped into decision making, that communications strategy is added to business goals and that it is constantly evaluated (Barrett, 2002).
  3. Communication is not just a push: Incorporating regular, multi-level stakeholder feedback at every phase of a change project is critical – both within formal and informal networks (Kitchen & Daly, 2002). Including employee views on such topics as participation, involvement, morale, leadership and rewards (Kitchen & Daly, 2002) can help them “see themselves as involved and participating in the initiative” and “they are more likely to be supportive” of the effort (Cawsey, Deszca & Ingols, 2016, pg. 221-222).
  4. Consultants must collaborate: The change practitioner as an external consultant doesn’t – and shouldn’t – have all the answers, especially when starting to work with a client. Trying to force a template into a solution can make the client feel ignored. More so, the change manager should approach the job knowing that his or her actions can have an inadvertent negative impact. There can be good reasons why employees resist change and the change practitioner must factor that feedback into the process (Ford, Ford & D’Amelio, 2008). The consultant can actually contribute to breakdowns by having poor communication, not following through on promises or blaming resistors for problems (Ford, Ford & D’Amelio, 2008). We shouldn’t necessarily assume that “change agents are doing the right and proper things while change recipients throw up unreasonable obstacles or barriers intent on ‘doing in’ or ‘screwing up’ the change” (Ford, Ford & D’Amelio, 2008, pg. 362).
  5. Breathe and be present: I have been taking a mindfulness and meditation course meant to focus breathing and, in turn, concentration. This will help me stay in the moment and truly engage with a client – both in listening to what is being said and not being said. That action will help me be an organizational detective and uncover real reasons behind a change request and provide clues to resistance and influence, for example.
  6. Be of service: The MSLOC program has stressed the value of considering my impact on the world as a change practitioner. For me, three words sum it up: Be of service. As I consider consulting roles and career progress, I will continually ask myself: How am I truly helping others?
  7. Playing politics is good: In the past, I thought employees should avoid corporate politics at all costs, but it’s a necessary part of using power to build a better organization (Cawsey, Deszca & Ingols, 2016). Understanding power dynamics can also help the change practitioner determine who he or she needs to influence in terms of organizational resources, processes or meaning power (Cawsey, Deszca & Ingols, 2016).
  8. Use data – when it makes sense: Data was critical to building my last team, from developing workflow process to focusing on specific topics for digital content to marketing to audiences using social media. Data provided benchmarks on team member performance, helped secure additional department resources and set strategic direction. With current clients, I work to define how a marketing campaign will be measured and what goalposts will be set. That said, we’re entering a time of overwhelming data. The change practitioner and client must determine what metrics are worth measuring when implementing change.
  9. Change that isn’t sustainable isn’t really change: There’s a reason why an estimated 70 percent of change efforts fail (Nohria & Beer, 2000). Will the change “stick” once the consultant has left the project? How is that goal being weaved into the discovery and implementation phases?
  10. Admit when I can’t help a client: It’s critical to determine how a client really defines success and what steps they’ll specifically take to reach goals. Based on that feedback and my area of expertise, I may not be the right person to help. Admitting that quickly and avoiding empty promises can save time and money.

References

Barrett, D. J. (2002). Change communication: using strategic employee communication to facilitate major change. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 7(4), 219–231. https://doi.org/10.1108/13563280210449804

Beer, Michael, and Nitin Nohria. “Cracking the Code of Change.” Harvard Business Review 78, no. 3 (May–June 2000): 133–141.

Bryan, L. (2008). Enduring Ideas: The 7-S Framework. McKinsey Quarterly. Retrieved from https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/enduring-ideas-the-7-s-framework

Cawsey, T. F., Deszca, G., & Ingols, C. (2016). Organizational change: an action-oriented toolkit (Third edition). Los Angeles: SAGE.

Ford, J. D., Ford, L.W., & Amelio, A. (2008). Resistance to change: The rest of the story. Academy of Management Review, 33(2), 362-377.

HBR’s 10 must reads on change management. (2011). Boston, Mass: Harvard Business Review Press.

Kitchen, P. J., & Daly, F. (2002). Internal communication during change management. Corporate Communication, 7(1) 46-53.

Two-minute read: Why I love the ‘Reflected Best Self’ exercise

One of my favorite MSLOC assignments that will continue to be a great coaching tool? The Reflected Best Self.

Participants collect specific examples from people they’ve known personally and professionally, at different points in their lives, about when they were at their best. This isn’t meant to be an ego boost. It’s meant to identify patterns and provide greater insight or help improve in some area.

Here are excerpts from my results, which helped clarify career direction, identify specific skills and reveal areas of improvement:

I purposely requested insight from people who hadn’t provided me with past peer feedback to gain new perspective. What I received was somewhat surprising, in that everyone had similar insights into my qualities – no matter how they were connected to me or when the incidents occurred.

When I am at my best, I am thorough, very organized and a planner: From family visits to Chicago to vacations overseas to working with clients to organizing a digital team, I prefer to map out and develop a well-thought-out plan and process to save time, money and make an experience operate as smoothly as possible. Additionally, I tend to organize planning, both in my professional and personal life, into spreadsheets. It’s a quirk, to be sure, but it helps boost efficiency. People around me joke about my extreme planning, but they quickly realize that it also benefits them.

When I am at my best, I am a natural coach and love to guide people to solutions: It makes me happiest when, after training someone, I see the “lightbulb” go off and they see the benefit. This is even more rewarding if the person had been resistant to change. From one former co-worker: “As we redid our push alert strategy and coached our employees around the new guidelines, when someone sent a push that wasn’t in line with our expectations, you would have the employee walk through their decision-making process and coach them around how to think about the process. It was much more effective than just telling them they did it wrong.” From another co-worker: “You hired one of my dearest friends and colleagues and helped her grow into a strong and inspiring leader. Your belief in her and continuous support allowed her to succeed her boss (you!) when you left your job to learn how to be an even stronger leader.”

When I am at my best, I bring calm or perspective to a variety of situations: It may sound trite, but this exercise made me realize how strong I am — mentally and emotionally — and how I use that to give others cover and bridge differences. Examples from responses included times when I diffused tense training sessions with a conference room of skeptical employees, when I helped friends walk through traumatic life events like divorce and death, that I helped new managers feel protected or this from my sister: “I can think of countless of times when I have had a problem or a frustrating situation, and you have provided clarity or helped me see my circumstances from a healthy perspective. You provide solutions and guidance, while allowing me to come to my own conclusions, confident in my choices.”

The Reflected Best Self could be used by any company, especially to help managers “tap into strengths they may or may not be aware of and so contribute more to their organizations,” write the tool’s authors. It’s certainly worth taking a look at as one possible source of feedback for employees in your organization.

Two-minute read: Why mindfulness is important in change management

Last quarter, I finished a six-week mindfulness and meditation class. It was an incredible experience and is something I’ll continue to practice. The ability to be present, calm and observant is critical when helping guide companies and individuals through the process of change.

At the end, the instructor gave us a handout called “Symptoms of Inner Peace” by Saskia Davis. It’s worth sharing:

A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than from fears based on past experiences

An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment

A loss of interest in judging self

A loss of interest in conflict

A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others

A loss of ability to worry

Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation

Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature

Frequent attacks of smiling through the heart

Increasing susceptibility to love extended by others, combined with an uncontrollable urge to extend it

An increasing tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen

To me, this concept is so powerful that I’m considering writing my Master’s Capstone on the subject. Specifically, research seems to show that mindfulness has a connection to change readiness. Could mindfulness be as important to the process as a stakeholder analysis or training?