TIME FOR CHANGE
EXECUTIVE MASTERS PROGRAM IN CHANGE LEADERSHIP AT TEACHERS COLLEGE, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY
For more information about the XMA program, visit www.tc.edu/leadchange, call 212-678-8337 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A NEW MASTERS PROGRAM FOR EXECUTIVES OPENS ITS DOORS AT TEACHERS COLLEGE Christopher Sailer first heard about the Executive Masters Program in Change Leadership, launched this spring at Teachers College at Columbia University, while sitting on a beach in Hawaii, scrolling through The New York Times on his iPad. The senior manager in protective intelligence at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had been thinking about the fact that his five-year anniversary at the foundation was coming up and mulling where he thought he should be when that anniversary hit. Two ideas were on his mind: his own circumstances— whether he might seek a shift to the foundation’s East Coast office—and his team’s. Could he expand its capacity to include an ability to assess public sentiment about the foundation as well as risk and security assessments? He felt the new Columbia program—known as XMA for short— was a perfect opportunity both to prepare himself for the future and acquire tools to help foment organizational change from within. He was also interested in getting an advanced degree. “I was literally sitting there looking over the water and thinking about what might be coming down the road,” he said. “And I saw an ad for the XMA program along the side of an interesting article that included an interview with a student from Columbia. And it looked very, very intriguing.”
I was literally sitting there looking over the water and thinking about what might be coming down the road, and I saw an ad for the XMA program. — Christopher Sailer
Sailer was not the only one who found news of the program intriguing. Indeed, several of his 24 colleagues had been following the development of the year-long, 45-credit course, under the leadership of Debra Noumair, TC Associate Professor of Psychology and Education, as it morphed from an earlier version, waiting to pounce the minute it began accepting applications.
Kavita Sharma, dean of Columbia University’s Center for Career Education, and Theresa Perrotta, chief financial officer at Southern Specialties, a produce company based in Florida, were both drawn to the course because of the way its framework—four separate, intense weeklong modules—could be merged with their work and life responsibilities. “I am a working mother, with a sevenyearold and a ten-year-old,” said Sharma. “The structure of the program really lends itself to me being able to do it. And it’s very real and very focused around what I do on a daily basis. To be able to give the time to it, I had to feel that there was real work or real life applicability to what I would be spending additional time doing.” They came from as far away as Saudi Arabia and as nearby as Columbia University; but when they convened for the first module last May at the Tarrytown House Conference Center, 45 minutes north of New York City, there was a palpable sense of relief. “Some days being a change agent you just think you’re crazy,” said cohort member Lieutenant Colonel Randall Wickman, who is participating in the program as one of two U.S. Army Fellows to Columbia University. “You doubt yourself because everybody tells you you’re crazy. ‘That’ll never work. We’re not going to do it.’ So to find commonality with others who are also change agents in their own organizations is a huge relief: all right, thank goodness, I’m not alone and I don’t need to report to the land of misfit toys.” In addition to Sailer, Wickman, Sharma and Perrotta, the cohort included a bank vice president, an advertising executive, a pharmaceutical executive and even a minister, but all were drawn to the program by a shared desire to learn the latest on how to deal with planned or unplanned organizational change—change that has become an accepted constant in a variety of industries and settings. Amanda Dunn Kelly, for example, vice president of learning and leadership development at Bank of America, came to the program after supporting investment bankers in her company through the financial crisis and the merger with Merrill Lynch. “Supporting investment bankers during a financial crisis, was obviously really intellectually stimulating,” she said. “But then I went and worked in the London office, on the forefront of Bank of America’s efforts to figure out what it would mean to be a global player and what came next. And the question was, how do you take a company that’s called Bank of America and make it into a global entity?”
The structure of the program... is very real and very focused around what I do on a daily basis. — Kavita Sharma
To complete the course, the cohort must attend two modules at Tarrytown House and two at TC. In between, they will be expected to spend 10 hours a week on courserelated assignments. Wickman, who as part of his previous command was responsible for training 5,000 soldiers a year, has been focusing on examining the Army’s initial enlisted entry training methodology, which according to him, has remained fundamentally unchanged for decades. “Everything in America was different when the methodology was first developed,” he said. “When you drafted a kid, it was a kid who was not necessarily in college. He might have been working on a farm. We’re five generations down the road and basic training still accomplishes everything we need to, but the question is always can we be better?
For Sharma, monitoring the constantly changing employment climate has become an ever more demanding part of her job. “What I’m really doing is managing a lot of constant change,” she said. “With what’s been happening in the economy over the last few years, we’ve had to be very agile and adept at changing what we do and mixing it up to meet the needs of the students and employers. We have to be very externally focused because ultimately one of our key client groups are people who know they want to hire Columbia students.” Natasha Velikoselskiy, a district sales manager for Shionogi Pharma, Inc., said her industry is beset with change. “Change leadership is very attractive—organizational leadership as a whole is fascinating, but nowadays industries are changing and in pharmaceuticals, change has been our goal.” And, for Mohamed Tantawi, an Egyptian expat working in Saudi Arabia as the human resources principal in the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector, political change has been cataclysmic. “When I applied to another similar program, they asked me what would be your dream job? And I said my dream job was to be president of Egypt. At the time, it was our previous regime, and it was a dream because it was more of a kingdom than a democracy. But after the revolution, it might happen very easily. A normal working professional could easily be the president of Egypt.”
The XMA program was tailor made for just this group of people—for the most part, mid-level executives who are positioned to play key roles in the change their companies could go through over the next few years and who want some grounding in both the latest literature on organizational change and experiential learning versions of it, such as the mini-consultancy the cohort was assigned to perform during the first module. “We want executives in our program to really become adept at driving, promoting and understanding strategic change,” Noumair said. “So we are concerned both with what our students learn and how they learn it. In our program they not only acquire important tools but they also get a deep, experience-based understanding of the theory and research those tools are based on. As a result, when our executives return to their organizations, they’re able to lead change not only among individuals but also whole systems.” Besides Noumair, the faculty of the program features Warner Burke, TC’s Edward Lee Thorndike Professor of Psychology and Education, and chair of its Department of Organization and Leadership, and new faculty member William Pasmore, Visiting Professor of Practice in SocialOrganizational Psychology: all three are experts in the field. The XMA program is a successor to an earlier program called Advanced Organization Development and Human Resource Management but was updated based on a reading of the evolving marketplace. To complete the course, the cohort must attend two modules at the Tarrytown House Conference Center and two at TC. In between, they will be expected to spend 10 hours a week on course related assignments and attend monthly, half-day virtual sessions for project supervision, teamwork, information sharing and any additional lectures. (The XMA program awards a degree, while the previous program awarded a certificate.) The week began with introductions and a lifeline exercise in which the participants plotted their most important work and life experiences on a graph. After a range of initial exercises and discussions, they got down to work, preparing to provide an actual consultancy for PepsiCo Inc. in Purchase, New York, just a short car ride away from the Tarrytown Center.
To find commonality with others who are also change agents in their own organizations is a huge relief. — Randall Wickman
The cohort included a bank vice president, an advertising executive, a pharmaceutical executive and even a minister, but all were drawn to the program by a shared desire to learn the latest on how to deal with planned or unplanned organizational change.
All 24 members of the cohort will spend at least a quarter of their time in the program on action research projects, actual issues at their companies or organizations that they will cooperatively discuss and study and try to help solve.
For Tantawi, the client itself was a highlight. “Okay so first of all, I’ve been drinking Pepsi for the last 29 years of my life. So it was very nice to go where all of this started. I was kind of nervous because this is a big name. I was worried we wouldn’t find any problems. And I thought that maybe we’d need to make something up, to say that they have a problem so that we can have a solution.” In fact, the 24 participants managed, in the day and a half they were given, to do considerably more—producing a report suggesting ideas for improvements in the communication process across members of PepsiCo’s global organization and management development function. For Wickman the experience was familiar. He said the Army often conducts similar exercises in order to simulatedifficulties inherent when stress levels go up. “They call it chaos management and it’s intended to simulate the complex, tense, life-and-death situations you find yourself in as a soldier,” he said. “You have a timeline, you have a deliverable, and the quality of the deliverable and the time available is always shorter than you want. So it definitely increases the amount of torque, the amount of apprehension, the amount of nervousness.”
The XMA program was tailor made for just this group of people—executives positioned to play key roles in the change their companies could go through over the next few years.
Sailer said the exercise provided exactly the experience he was hoping for. “I managed to somehow make my way into a two-man team to go and talk with the vice president for organization and management development (OMD) at PepsiCo worldwide,” he said, still marveling weeks later. “They’d done a phone call with all the line managers. And it was both thrilling and slightly scary at the same time. And I think that’s a great deal of fun. It doesn’t always feel fun, but it certainly is fun in retrospect.” That the exercise was not just about providing a consultancy to PepsiCo was a subtlety not lost on the participants. “When you go through an experience like that, it teaches you something about yourself,” Kelly said. “And it’s something that you wouldn’t necessarily encounter in a work environment because everything is happening and everyone’s so busy being nice to each other. Or there’s hierarchies that make decision-making happen that didn’t exist there.”
Perrotta, of Southern Specialties, said that the way roles were apportioned and tasks carried out became particularly interesting, especially given the time pressure. “It was very challenging to some not to have the time to make it as perfect as you’d want it to be,” she said. “It was interesting to put ourselves into groups and figure out how we were going to approach it. And that was for me also a little bit of a challenge, because I’m used to coming in and saying, ‘Well, you do this, you do that and let’s get it done here.’” Diplomacy, Perrotta felt, was key. “You know, there’s a lot of leaders in the group. So people aren’t necessarily going to let you come in and take over. You had to kind of figure everybody out before you could figure out where to be more aggressive and where to not be. I came away with a good appreciation of the chaos that happens when there isn’t a strong, clear definition of that leadership element and acceptance of that from the group.” After conducting copious interviews at PepsiCo, the group returned to the conference center and reassembled their data on sticky notes: impressions, bits and pieces gathered from the interviewers. These were then culled and reassembled into a report that was delivered to the PepsiCo vice president of OMD on the evening of the next day. As they were doing their work, the members of the cohort were conscious of being observed by their professors, in the best tradition of organization development teaching. “Performing and feeling judged in front of the faculty and the rest of the cohort was really difficult because it did mean that you laid yourself bare a little,” Sharma said. “But that’s where I think the high point was. If you weren’t going to be open to criticism, if you weren’t going to check your ego, you weren’t going to achieve as much.” In fact, Sharma said she was proud of the careful analysis of what happened during the consultancy process that occurred the day after the report was delivered. “I was really impressed with the honesty of the group, the openness of the group and the extent to which we recognized as a group that we hadn’t performed to the best of our ability,” she said. “We were able to unpack why that was. Acknowledge some difficult and challenging situations. We kind of fell together. But from falling together, we learned through it.“
I came away with a good appreciation of the chaos that happens when there isn’t a strong, clear definition of that leadership element and acceptance of that from the group. — Theresa Perrotta
Indeed for several people, the composition of the group itself was a highlight. “I got to have a conversation about feminism with someone who was a devout Egyptian Muslim, a lesbian from Belfast and a Methodist minister,” Kelly said. “And then we’ve got a Lieutenant Colonel in the room.” For others, it was the way in which the lectures illuminated previous experience and provided a road map for the future. “You operate on what you think of as common sense and intuition in your day-to-day work environment,” Perrotta said. “What I loved about the first module was they guided us through a lot of subjects and topics that led to light-bulb moments—learning the science behind what I intuitively felt about approaching a situation.”
What for me was and still is very interesting are the different models that we reviewed around organizational development, the change process and the challenges in management and job satisfaction. — Michael Van Impe
Not only were there retroactive light-bulb moments, many of the participants saw immediately how what they were learning could be applied when they got back home. Perrotta said she was particularly interested in the learning agility assessment scale the program offered, a measure of leadership ability, which was developed by Burke and the Psychology of Management and Leadership Competencies Workgroup, composed of top Ph.D. students in TC’s Social Organizational Psychology Program. “We’re going to have the department heads do that survey so we can really start the evaluation. I have my ideas about where I think changes are needed, but this gives me a tool to analyze it.” Perrotta was also enamored of the Burke-Litwin Model of Organizational Performance and Change. “I’ve actually already shared that one with the CEO here,” she said. “It really was powerful, because it gave me a visual to identify where we had made changes already and where we needed to go from there. It’s an incredibly helpful tool to even just get you started on thinking about change and how to approach it.” Michael Van Impe, director of client solutions and markets at the Center for Creative Leadership, EMEA, also appreciated the tools the program offered. “What for me was and still is very interesting are the different models that we reviewed around organizational development, the change process and the challenges in management and job satisfaction.
If you go to the Burke/Litwin model and you start mapping your organization against that model, it gives you some language to describe things that you’ve known for a long time but you found hard to bring back to your organization without being accused of being subjective. By doing it in this structured way, you can say, here’s some data points that we need to look at.”
This program has nailed experiential learning down to a science. — Amanda Dunn Kelly
Sailer in fact did just that, putting his team through an exercise inspired by the way the group had assembled the data during the PepsiCo consultancy in order to pinpoint points of conflict. “I was very, very surprised at how readily applicable all the lectures and lessons and reading materials in the exercises proved to be,” he said. “I’m not sure my team members are as pleased with it as I am, but I’m having a good time.” Kelly was already brimming with enthusiasm at the extent to which the program had allowed her to understand more of what went on during the merger. “It’s been a phenomenal insight into why some things have happened historically in our organization. I’m starting to see things that I think other people might be missing, because I’m looking at them from a systemic point of view.” All 24 members of the cohort will spend at least a quarter of their time in the program on action research projects, actual issues at their companies or organizations that they will cooperatively discuss and study and try to help solve. Kelly’s project is related to global inclusion at Bank of America, or as she put it, “What’s the human side of globalization for a company?” “The good news is my action research project is directly pertinent to the focus of a council I’m now involved with at work. And actually, the reason I got put on that council was, right before the XMA program began, I started a new role. And when I told my new boss what I intended to do for my XMA program project, she said, ‘I’m going to get you involved with the Diversity and Inclusion Council.’ That was not something I would have even had access to, had I not been in this program.” As a professional who is herself often involved in organizing adult learning, Kelly said she was particularly impressed with the first module’s organization. “This program has nailed experiential learning down to a science,” she said.
We want executives in our program to really become adept at driving, promoting and understanding strategic change.” — Debra Noumair
Indeed for several people, the composition of the group itself was a highlight. For others, it was the way in which the lectures illuminated previous experience and provided a road map for the future.
The program’s emphasis on reflection was also leading Kelly and others to imagine the changes they’d like to see in themselves as leaders when the program is complete. “We worked with a client right from the get go, we leveraged the experiences in the room to talk through our different organizations and to actually use the model to analyze all of our organizations, we’re all working and doing this as something to augment our professional careers. All of that, I think, accelerates the learning. And it makes you see things so much more clearly in your own organization, because you’re hearing this here and then immediately applying it three different ways.” When Velikoselskiy returned to her office, she began focusing on ways to strengthen communication between her team members (she took over a new position as she started the XMA program) and between sales people and the company’s new home office in New Jersey.
The communication efforts with the home office recently led to a key promotion improvement in a state that is very restrictive of such efforts; and the efforts with her staff have led to significant ice breaking. “In the beginning, conference calls were stiff and there was a lot of silence, a lot of me talking,” she said. “Now I am starting to have a better understanding of how my reps are working, how they’re thinking, and how they relate to one another, so the quality of the conference calls has already changed, because they’re starting to come forward with a lot more input than they used to.” For Tantawi it was the lifeline exercise and the benefits of reflection. “When a person makes a lifeline, he can realize a lot about himself that he never would have if he had not done this exercise,” he said. “So I told a couple of my friends and they have done it and they really benefited a lot. We don’t do a lot of those kinds of activities in our countries, but it’s a small world. What’s happening in the U.S. will definitely happen in Egypt.” The program’s emphasis on reflection was also leading Kelly and others to imagine the changes they’d like to see in themselves as leaders when the program is complete. “I think about a more confident version of myself,” she said. “Confidence from the feeling that I’ve experienced something unique. And that will give me a unique perspective that I can take into the room. I can start to feel that trust that, Yes, I’m supposed to be here, I’ve earned my place.”
ABOUT THE PROGRAM The program is delivered in four 1-week modules extending over one year and includes pre-work, post-work and guided independent study/action research as part of the formal program requirements.
MODULE 1 Change Leadership Theory and Foundations | Systems thinking, organization change, organization structure & design, business strategy
MODULE 2 Group and Team Dynamics | Group dynamics, group relations conference, diversity & intercultural communication, team leadership & facilitation
MODULE 3 Individual and Interpersonal Dynamics | Leadership self-development, leadership development of others, coaching, conflict resolution/negotiation
MODULE 4 Change Leadership Frontiers | Change management, politics & influence, global leadership sustainability, contemporary issues in organizational life
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