In the previous article (here), I discussed why we created the GlobalNOC Renewal Program (we just call it “GRP”). In short, the GlobalNOC has made a lot of strides over the last 20 years, but what worked then won’t get us where we want to be going forward.
In June, our CIO (Brad Wheeler) and AVP for Networks (Dave Jent), launched what would be called the GlobalNOC Renewal Program, and assigned someone to serve as lead (me!). The purpose is to ensure we are on the right path to aggressively and successfully pursue our vision. This means making the GlobalNOC an organization that can help to shape the cyberinfrastructure that in turn will accelerate scientific discovery, educational progress, and improvements for the public good.
The Bootstrap Team
So how did we get started? The charge here was clear, but reviewing an entire working organization and making appropriate changes was (and remains) a daunting challenge. Not only is the task large but also complex with technical, social, and structural elements. If we weren’t careful, this could easily become just another strategic planning effort, resulting in a long document that ends up in the virtual bookshelf gathering figurative dust, with little lasting impact. On the other hand, it could also become a disruption for our team. Change is inherently and justifiably unnerving. And if we’re successful, this program will lead to changes.
Lasting change requires engagement and ownership of everyone
Then there was the question of involvement. Some of the best insights and ideas for change come from everyone on the team, not just management. Lasting change requires engagement and ownership of everyone. Yet, we can’t ask 100+ people to participate in everything. And of course, we’re reviewing and rebuilding an airplane that’s still in flight. It wouldn’t be fair to our clients if we spent so much effort renewing the organization that we dropped the ball on all of the things we do for them everyday.
So, the first few steps we took were to gather a group of top leaders to bootstrap the program. This approach (so far) seems to have been the right way to start. This bootstrap team met twice, and made some critical early decisions:
We decided to use the 8 Step Change model from John Kotter to guide our general approach
This is a very well-known model for managing organizational change. For us, we found that this had a couple of advantages. Its popularity means that there is a wealth of information related to it, and we get to learn from others on this. Also, this model has a good track record with a large number of people who’ve used it. It’s also an accessible and straightforward model. Other models are complex and better suited to very large companies.
We defined what we believe is a clear long-term vision for the GlobalNOC
We narrowed in on four things that we believe truly matter for us. Using our extremely creative naming skills, we refer to these as “The 4 Things That Matter”
- All of our clients are succeeding, and we’re indispensable to that success
- We’re serving everyone in our community who would benefit from our help
- We’re one of our community’s thought leaders, and using that leadership to help the entire community thrive
- We’re advancing the technology of cyberinfrastructure and its management
These represent what we strive for, knowing very well that we’ll never fully achieve them. These also serve as the ultimate guide and litmus test for everything we decide to do. Whether it’s strategy, structure, culture, or anything else, we should only be pursing those things that move us closer to these things.
We named a leadership team
We didn’t want a program like this to be run by top leaders. If we tried, we would make many wrong decisions, and nobody wants to work in an organization where everything is dictated. A program pushed like this would be doomed from the start. So, we named a team of about 12 people to lead the effort. Most of the people on this team are managers of some sort, but not all. The goal was a group of individuals who could move quickly but engage the entire organization when necessary. We sought out people from all parts of the GlobalNOC who were curious, who tend to look at things from new perspectives, and who deeply understand how we work and what we’re trying to accomplish.
We decided to start with a candid assessment
The first step in Kotter’s change model is to establish urgency for change. We knew that we had some areas to improve and our spidey-sense was beginning to tell us that we needed to make clear and maybe bold shifts if we wanted to make strides toward our vision. We’d recently completed a survey of our clients that had a lot of positive feedback but also some signs of worry. But a survey is only the beginning of the story. We could see scores but not the reasons why.
Between July and October, I met with over 40 people from 11 different organizations to ask each of them what they experience working with us and to hear where they’re headed
We decided to interview every client who was open to sharing. This is a luxury of being a relatively small organization with deep relationships with each of our clients. Thanks to a committed and engaged group of clients, I was able to talk to nearly everyone. Between July and October, I met with over 40 people from 11 different organizations to ask each of them what they experience working with us and to hear where they’re headed.
The results were some very common and clear themes. There were many areas where we were working well together and some where we were missing the mark. We were slower than we should be in some cases, behind the times in others, and lacked transparency about some of our work.
We also wanted to assess how we were doing with our own team. Like the client interview, our engagement survey showed two things. First, that the GlobalNOC is the kind of place our employees believe in and would recommend for others. Second, that we need to do more to make it easier to get things done within the organization, and that we need to give more opportunity for our employees to develop and advance.
The result of this? We’re a solid organization. We have the backing and commitment of our clients and our team. But, simply put, the organization as it is won’t get us where we want to be. Changes are needed.
In the last part of this summary, I’ll describe how our leadership team developed the plan for how we move forward.