Spring in Chicago: A visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden

It’s been a rough couple of weather months. I was so, so naive to think Chicago would start warming up in March. Today though, Spring finally seemed to arrive. A friend of mine summed it up best when she tweeted: “Damn, Chicago. It’s like your heart started beating again today.”

While today’s high temp barely hit 50 degrees, the flowers were blooming and trees were budding at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

We didn’t get a chance to see the corpse flower (a titan arum plant native to Indonesia) named “Spike” that recently opened. We did see this Bonsai tree that’s thought to be 400-600 years old.

We also saw this, which almost made up for the extra long winter:

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Stakeholder interviews, part one: Obtaining robust one-on-one feedback

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. 

The first iteration of the digital portfolio course is built in the Canvas learning management system. This design is based on research, project KPIs, answers to key initial questions and a first round of stakeholder interviews.

We met with a group of MSLOC instructors, one-on-one, to collect initial feedback. Instances of overlapping feedback was integrated into the course design. This week, we are meeting with seven MSLOC students, also one-on-one, to document their reactions, thoughts and feelings around navigating the course.

It is important that the designer document as much real-time feedback as possible. Most participants are not accustomed to providing a stream of consciousness around what they are feeling and thinking when navigating a process, especially if it’s the first time they’ve seen the UX.

Here is guidance that we use to draw out as much robust response as possible.

To the focus group participant before the review is started:

  • As we go through this site, please think out loud
  • There is no observation that is too small to mention
  • Tell me what you’re trying to do
  • Tell me how you think you can do it.
  • If you get confused or don’t think you can understand me, please tell me
  • If you see something you like, please tell me

As the participant navigates the course, avoid asking “yes” or “no” questions and ask open-ended questions:

  • How would you decide to navigate X?
  • What is this [FEATURE] for?
  • What do you expect [FEATURE] to do? Why?
  • What goes through your mind as you look at [FEATURE]? Why
  • What are you looking for? Why
  • What would you do next? Why
  • Does the general navigation and flow make sense? Why or why not?
  • Describe, overall, what’s happening in the modules? (The interviewer is looking to determine if the modules are the correct size, if any parts seem overwhelming, etc.)
  • Does the quiz hit the mark as more of a checklist?

It’s important to take notes verbatim. There can be nuggets of insight used in particular phrasing that will be valuable when reviewing the notes.

This process is all about removing the friction from the process for the participant. Where are the points that feel overwhelming to someone who is not used to working with content management systems, not used to consistently blogging or not used to getting feedback about their writing?

We want to remove unnecessary obstacles that would keep the student from learning how to develop a WordPress site.

DisruptHR Chicago: Nine “aha’s” from the Spring 2018 speaker event

Well, that was a blast!

The Spring 2018 DisruptHR Chicago was energetic, thought-provoking and high-impact. Ten speakers with something really disruptive to share, five minutes – with 20 slides that automatically advance every 15 seconds.

Here are just a few Twitter “aha” moments from the incredible #disrupthrchi community:

Spring 2018 speakers were:

  • Michele Steele, Reporter & Host at ESPN: “Locker Room Talk: Succeeding as a woman in male-dominated spaces”
  • Gary Hallgren, President & Steph Ryter, Creative Culture Leader at Arity: “How to collaborate with the CEO to build your company culture”
  • David Aronson, Founder & CEO at Peanut Butter, Inc.: “Debt got your employees down? Using student loan assistance as a retention tool”
  • Allison Robinson, Founder & CEO at The Mom Project: “Power of the mom! Why we are failing mothers in the workplace”
  • Aideen Shea, VP Learning & Development at Byline Bank: “Putting YOUR career first: What every HR professional needs to know”
  • John Higginson, Chief Technology Officer at Enova: “Why does the white guy support diversity?”
  • Jennifer Fondrevay, Chief Humanity Officer:”Don’t be a robot!”
  • Ariadne Ducas, Founder & Chief Meditation Officer at Kairos: “Mindful disruption – attention is everything”
  • Heather Corallo, Rock Star Serial Entrepreneur: “You can’t solve bad leadership with an app!”
  • Theresa Stewart, HBIC (colored) at 18 Coffees: “HRtifacts: Using co-creation and human centered design in your organization.”

Finally, a HUGE thanks to our volunteers. #soimpressed

2018-04-18 16.37.02

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…


And, finally, this MURAL design…


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


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.


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.