- Allegra '5 Minutes With' Series -

You are here

5 mins w/ Louise Van Zelm

Interviewed on 10 December 2018

Share the wealth...

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am a senior transformation specialist with over 20 years' experience working in change, either as an organisation change manager or business program manager.

How did you come to perform in a change management related role? What attracted you?

My earlier career centred around roles that involved building client relationships and an understanding of how to deliver great service in B2B environments. While at KPMG in the late 90's I was offered a chance to manage a large team of business analysts on a 3-year SAP program. I had a rapid learning curve into the world of end-to-end process and system design and integration across virtually every ERP module available. But I was frustrated at how little focus was placed on preparing the business for significant change - as a project we weren't providing great service to our stakeholders. I knew there must be a better way, so I bought Daryl Connor's Managing at the Speed of Change, and the rest as they say is history!

Why is good change management so critical to the way businesses perform today?

Investing in change management is like taking out an insurance policy to protect against the risk of damage incurred as a result of a tsunami. The challenge for teams now is how to maintain pace and performance while juggling multiple changes coming from different directions. Change management today is about understanding how and when those waves are coming and making the transition between the waves of change as quickly and efficiently as possible, so that performance can be maintained (and employee stress minimised). By my definition then, 'managing change' is an all-encompassing term that has in its toolkit activities including change leadership, change capability, change agility, transition management, engagement and communication etc.

What makes a great change management practitioner?

I was once introduced to a neurologist, who was very interested in what an organisational change manager did. Then he played it back to me from his perspective – "so you go into a new organisation or team, understand what that business/team does and how, quickly build new relationships and networks, think, listen and talk strategically with senior executives and operationally with front-line employees, work alongside highly technical people so you can translate all of that in layman's terms, and calculate impacts to complex processes and people's jobs. Then you need to think about the culture, dynamics and emotions of that team, and work out how you'll motivate them to change? That's the equivalent of being an elite athlete in terms of using all areas of the brain!" From that conversation I learnt that great change managers need to be whole-brain thinkers i.e. we need to be able to use the brain's four quadrants and we need to be flexible thinkers and adaptive to different environments. I also think we need to be courageous to challenge and reinforce, be strong influencers, operate by stealth where necessary, approach it all with a spirit of adventure, and not take ourselves too seriously.

What is your idea of a great change management challenge?

I'm often referred to as the 'heavy lifter of change'! I think it's because I love working with clients who have a clear view of where they want to go, but unsure how to get there. I love helping them design the change, plan out what needs to happen to get from where they are now to where they want to be, who needs to be involved and how it will all happen. And then I love getting the wheels of change turning, getting everyone mobilised around a single purpose and see that change come to life.