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Managing Learning And Change

012 Managing Learning & Change



I met Nicole during a women tech workshop, and later joined her Women in Stem Reimagined Course as a guest Speaker. I interviewed her as part of my courageous career show, and decided to share her advice on my podcast as well.

We talked about:

  • Important skills in organisations for the next 2 years.
  • Tips for organisational transformation
  • Vision for women in Technology for the future.

Dr Nicole Tschierske is a scientist and positive psychology coach who helps women in science and tech use their heads and heart to get seen and noticed in their company. She’s an experienced change manager and coach, and we are going to be talking about her experiences and learnings on the change journey.

Nicole lives in Hamburg, Germany, is a food chemist by training and holds a PhD in chemistry next to certifications in coaching, positive psychology, change management and advanced problem-solving.

When she’s not buried in research papers and books on Positive Psychology and Positive Leadership you can find this scientist-turned-coach taking long hikes in the German countryside or mesmerised by Mary Poppins on the screen.


Katherine Ann Byam  0:05  

Welcome, Nicole.

Nicole Tschierske  1:19  

Hi Katherine.

Katherine Ann Byam  1:21  

So you are a food chemist? How does a food chemist find her way into people and change?

Nicole Tschierske  1:27  

Yeah, it takes a crisis. So I was working in product innovation as my first job or the first years of my career in the industry. And then as it is, within those big companies, sometimes there’s a merger. Then it takes quite a while to reorganise and resetle things. So what affected me was experiencing change, or the impact of it firsthand, and ending up or being put on hold for quite a few months. And I had hardly anything to do because they were sorting out things and discussing and trying to agree on how to move forward. I like working, not working was really, really horrible.

So that led me to seek out a coach to help me get out of this energy slump. And then within a few sessions, he had me all going up again and pursuing new pathways and so on. And so how did he do this, I want to be able to do that too, for people. And that’s when I then started coaching, training, and getting into all this kind of space. And then as luck would have it, the opportunity arose within the company to lead the change management workstream for a big business transformation project. And it’s like I have this newfound passion and destined opportunity. I know the team is great. And so I jumped right in.

Katherine Ann Byam  3:03  

Well, that’s amazing. And how have you transitioned this change management work? In this time of remote working? How has that worked for you?

Nicole Tschierske  3:15  

So basically, I started in the role before COVID happened. So there was a lot of travelling involved, going places, meeting people doing training in person, having those types of conversation, and this engagement and working with the team in meeting rooms and all that. So the way you would think about project work. And then we couldn’t travel anymore.

And what has changed is really the level of intention needs to be a different one. So really, what are we doing? So being really more focused and prepared and being mindful also of what’s going on? And being mindful of what we don’t see that’s going on? So there’s a lot more checking in. So the mechanics of it are fairly simple. You just sit on the same chair every day and dial into different types of meetings, but the intentionality needs to be different. But I’m happy to report that the team found a way of working and probably having become so cohesive beforehand, through all this great collaboration.

But this really took it up a notch, so we really stood even closer together. And we’re just really very intentional and conscious about how we interact and how we run the project in different phases. So it worked out fine so far.

Katherine Ann Byam  4:56  

No, that’s brilliant. And what skills do you consider to be the most important for employees in large organisations, given what’s happened with COVID, given the kind of inflection point that we’re in right now? What skills do you think are the most important that people should be focusing on now?

Nicole Tschierske  5:14  

So three things for me. And there is no particular order, I find them all equally important. So one is learning – learning not just in the sense of taking part in a training or reading a manual or textbook but actually learning from life and from what’s happening. And not just every half a year when you do lessons learned or review or something, but on the go. Having these heartbeat retrospectives every week, asking yourself, what’s working? What are we going to change? And then really learning on the fly, so to speak. So that’s one. And by that, also always being able to get ready for what’s next because we noticed this.

And this kind of prepares you for change properly. Second one is emotional intelligence. And I know sometimes the big buzzword, but really knowing how to stick with data, not drama. And just knowing how to navigate uncertainty, taking a step forward, and taking decisions even though everything is volatile and ambiguous. If we want to use those words. It is just a reality and you need to learn how to cope with this; not only how to cope with it,  but how to still excel in those types of environments and make progress.

 And so that’s emotional intelligence. And the third one is relational intelligence. So building relationships, connecting with people and having those. Even now that we are missing being in one room, having almost feeling the social fabric, we have to put so much more effort into creating our relationships and maintaining them because that is what’s needed to really be affected and get anything done.

Katherine Ann Byam  7:21  

Yeah, I think you’ve raised three very interesting points. And on the point about learning, there’s an element of experiential learning, I guess, that we need to bring out. But how would you recommend people get into that experiential learning? Because, if I think back, maybe some of the ways that people did this in the past would be to take a gap year, for example. So before you even get into the job, you take a gap year, you tour the world, and you experience different cultures, and that already gives you something new, right? Something experiential, how would you recommend people go about bringing an experiential element into their learning journeys?

Nicole Tschierske  7:59  

One thing is learning from the things that you do every day. It’s something that I established with,  let’s say you implemented a change, and then you still need to ramp up phase and stabilise it, and really embed it in the ways of working. And so what I then do with those teams that just went through this is go live implementation phase, to really have a monthly learning loop session where we just pause and just reflect on. “Okay, what’s really going on? What have we achieved in the past months? What are the gaps that we’re having.” – so being intentional about learning from the experiences that I make every day in my job. 

But what you mentioned about creating other experiences for ourselves, I’m pretty sure there are a lot more projects going on in everybody’s company once they touch your own role. And so maybe there’s an opportunity for that, for you there to volunteer. Maybe there’s an environmental working group, or diversity and inclusion versus working group or whatever. People create stuff all of the time. So you can find those types of projects that are outside of your role where you can engage.

Katherine Ann Byam  9:21  

What are your best three tips for approaching a transformation? So getting into big scale transformations, what are your best three tips?

Nicole Tschierske  9:30  

Actually thinking about it – it’s not so much. The strategy is really how you set yourself up. So one thing is, from a company perspective – allowing the resources to take care of the change management and having a dedicated change manager is very good.  It’s a perfect point to start – so you have someone who can operate and orchestrate the whole people’s side of change. But having just one person managing change for 500,000 people that are impacted is just not sufficient. So all of your project team members, all of your subject matter experts, all of your line leaders, they all need to play a role within change.

And for those that are heavily involved in driving the project for what I think at least 20%, allowing for them to spend on really just engaging and taking the rest of the organisation with them. That would be a good place to start. So that is one thing –  allowing the resources. The second thing is really integrating change management and project management. You may have two different people doing this but the activities and the tasks need to be in one plan. You cannot have a plan here and the other plan here.

They should be combined in one so nothing falls through the cracks. And the third point is increasing your organization’s capacity for change to upskill people, both leaders and frontline employees, to know how to go through change successfully and how to implement it because when you ask something from someone, I’m always a fan of giving them the tools to be able to meet those requirements.

Katherine Ann Byam  11:19  

Absolutely. Really good points and thank you for that. Can you talk about your bigger vision for women in tech? So I know this is an area of passion for you. You know, and you’ve you’ve transcended tech, and you’ve taken your skills to another level in terms of that organisation playing field that you have now. Tell me about your vision for women?

Nicole Tschierske  11:38  

Yeah, so I’m going to cheat a little bit. I’m going to say it’s my vision for everyone who is an employee, or who works for a living. I work mainly with women in the STEM fields, because I can relate most to them, because it’s my own background. And our brains are sort of wired in the same way.

But really, my vision for workplaces in general is that just people can thrive and have an opportunity to be their best at work and really enjoy going there every day because I don’t know how you feel but if we have to work over four decades, we better have some fun doing it. And so that’s really important for me and in creating those environments, and showing people how to really step up and be there and seize opportunities, but also providing those opportunities equally for everyone. I just would love to see things going that way.

Katherine Ann Byam  12:39  

I agree with you. This is one of the reasons the show is called the way it’s called, right? This idea of transcending work is something that I’ve fallen in love with simply because it no longer means work? So if you want to bring yourself to doing something that aligns to your purpose, that you feel a more intrinsic joy from rather than the extrinsic rewards that you get. This for me means so much.

And we have a comment from Joe. “Change Management is often seen as the nice to have on projects. What’s your approach to companies that take this view? How do you get them onboard and see the benefits of proper change management as part of transformation?” Excellent question.

Nicole Tschierske  13:21  

So Katherine, I know you have an opinion on this as well as you’d like me to go first. So when you speak to companies about this, they always think about finance, finance, and finance. So I always bring it back to – change management can really help you given that the technical solution you provide is the same proper quality. But change management can really help you increase that return on investment or even get this return on investment. Because no perfect system or great process will do you any good if there’s no people out there who are willing to use it and use it in the way it was intended.

And so that is one thing, maximising return on investment, and the other bit is really minimising the disruption to the business during the transition phase. So because change creates upheaval wherever you go. Things won’t go as smoothly as before, and that’s natural, and it’s normal. But how can you then accompany and enable the organisation to go through this so it doesn’t have customer impact?

Katherine Ann Byam 14:40  

Yes, I agree. I would probably add that the pace of change now is no longer human scale? So it’s accelerated beyond our ability to cope naturally with it. And therefore, this is why you need that extra support? You need to bring people along in the journey. And you know, they say that most people are actually aversive to change? They don’t want to step into change. And now we are accelerating so many things.

The shift to remote work was supposed to happen three years from now. We’ve all got pushed into it while being pushed out of walking on the streets and having things that are normal. So you really need to hold people’s hands through this journey. So this is part of the process. And without it, you don’t have an engaged workforce and what you really want, is the point we spoke about before, is people brought into a greater journey, a greater and bigger picture. What do you hope for a new beginning in 2021? Difficult question. 

Nicole Tschierske  15:52  

2021. Well, I think we all had a really great reality check this year. This year it feels like so much has happened. It could fill a decade. You have the bushfires in Australia in the beginning. Then somehow, COVID hit. Then there were all of the racial injustice topics in the US and all over the world. And we have all of the crazy elections. And I’m not even talking about the U.S., but also Belarus.

And also there are many, many things happening all over the world. And it’s just looking around and say, “Man, this is a real reality check,” and I hope for many of us a wake up call to pay attention to how we treat each other, how we treat our planet, and to make not a small New Year’s resolutions, but actually starting to change the way we live and how we conduct ourselves on this planet, to create a world that can sustain peaceful living for everyone.

Katherine Ann Byam  17:09  

I couldn’t agree more. Thank you so much for your thoughts and for your generous sharing, and thanks for joining the show.

Nicole Tschierske  17:16  

Thanks for inviting me, Katherine. I always love talking to you. 

Katherine Ann Byam  17:20  

Alright, see you all next week. Take care.