To innovate and be responsive, the federal government requires change agents -- people working within the system to drive improvements. Change agents rely on skill and communication to gain buy-in from peers and help evolve the bureaucratic culture inherent in many large organizations.

In this episode, we talk with two accomplished change agents working in the government. Dr. David A. Bray currently serves as the Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Corina DuBois offers communications and strategic planning advice to the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

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David Bray, FCC and Corina DuBois, Office of the Secretary of Defense: Change Agents in Government

Michael:

(00:02) When we talk about digital transformation a key component is change and we talk about change management exactly what that means in the context of digital transformation we can discuss, but the notion of change agents, the people who are driving change who are helping push and accelerate innovation is very important. And today on episode number 140 of CXOTalk, I’m speaking with David Bray, who is the CIO of the Federal Communication Commission and Corina DuBois who is a strategist and senior communications expert for the Secretary of Defense and the Department of Defense. And Corina, I know I just mangled your titles so I apologize about that, but in a second you can tell us your exact title. I’m Michael Krigsman and David, how are you?

David:

(01:09) I’m great how are you Michael.

Michael:

(01:11) Great and Corina thank you for joining us and this is your first time on CXOTalk.

Corina:

(01:15) Thanks for having me, I’m happy to be here.

Michael:

(01:18) So to begin and Corina since I mangled your title, tell us your exact title and tells us what you do at the Department of Defense.

Corina:

(01:26) Well the title doesn’t matter so much, it’s more about what we’re able to do. But I am a strategic planner and communication advisor for the office of the Secretary of Defense. So that means I get to think about the future in what the Secretary would like to accomplish while he’s there at the Department of Defense, and how that affects the public and that can be external or internal programs.

Michael:

(01:50) Okay so you are advising the Secretary of Defense from a communications strategy and public perception perspective is that correct.

Corina:

(01:53) Absolutely, I do a lot of writing and thinking about what it is that we want to accomplish as a team with him at the steer.

Michael:

(02:10) And do you want to give us a little bit more insight to explain the kinds of things you are thinking about to make it a little bit more concrete.

Corina:

(02:19) That’s a really good way to what I do day to day. So the Secretary of Defense as you know thinks about a lot of different areas where change is needed or policy is needed. And so it could be anything from what’s important to us in the biotech field or how we want to think about innovating from outside the five sided walls of the Pentagon, or what’s important to us on Veteran’s Day and thanking people for the service that they’ve done for our country. It runs that gamut of all the different issues that face the Department of Defense and our country.

Michael:

(02:57) Great, thank you. David, you’re the CIO of the FCC, so why don’t you give us a brief sense about your role and the things you do at the FCC.

David:

(03:07) Sure, so the FCC oversees the IT for the Federal Communication Commission. The FCC itself has been around since 1934. We have 18 different pairs of offices, and basically the scope of the FCC is interacting with the public and industry on anything that’s wired or wireless. When I arrived at the FCC I shortly showed up after my arrival back in late 2013 from the CXOTalk with you back on number 45, so here we are 95 episodes later. When I arrived we had 207 different systems and haven’t changed and we’re 10 years old for a commission of only 750 people, and that just wasn’t sustainable. We were spending more than 85% of our budget trying to maintain those systems.

(03:37) And the good news is after 1) doing some pioneering efforts that we could go to the cloud at doing the computing at one sixth the price and half the time it would take from doing it on premise. As of this Labor Day weekend, all of the systems that we installed that we had at the FCC, the 200 different systems and more important the different applications, we either went to the cloud or we really loaded it up into seven different trucks and we’ve now moved to a commercial provider, so there are no systems hosted on premise at FCC anymore.

Michael:

(04:17) All right, so you have given up on premise systems, how is that even possible.

David:

(04:23) It’s actually quite possible. 1) I feel more comfortable going to the cloud in a sense that we’re small, only 750 people. And even if I took all of the IT people that I had and have them focus on the care and maintaining of those systems, as I said, 85% of the budget was just on maintaining those systems, I wouldn’t be able to do any new IT and there are things that we have to update because our system are so old. So by making this move to going off premise and going to the cloud, it really allows us to actually focus to spending more and more of our budget that we have at the same amount to actually try to move forward with new developments.

(04:56) We are actually now actual spending 50% less of our costs in maintaining those systems. I also recognized that going to a public cloud model: 1) it’s faster and more expedient, but then 2) it’s also more resilient because they are going to have hundreds more people focusing on the security on the care and feeding of those systems that I possibly would have had as a small agency.

Michael:

(05:13) Okay, so Corina you’re focused on communication strategy, David you’re focused on technology strategy and yet for both of you a key part of what you’re trying to do is to innovate within your respective spheres and to drive forward to push change inside each of your departments, right, and the title of this show is change agents. So is that a fair assessment that for both of you, you are trying to push change.

Corina:

(05:50) Absolutely, I’m actually quite new to my current role, but previously at the State Department and Consular Affairs, I was chief of media for the Bureau of Consular Affairs. So I got to think about the way that we communicated with the public via it being different online, web, mobile, social app development. And so that was sort of the crux of bringing technology on with communications to try to figure out the best way to reach people in the way that they expected to find the information. I would say a good part of my job was spent either strategizing or almost evangelizing in why we needed to use innovative new technology. Things that focus on public sector items and still maintaining safety and security, building once and using so many times, being able to reach more audiences with the same data but maybe just different points of that data.

Michael:

(06:42) Okay so when we talk about the need for change in the Federal Government, maybe this seems like an obvious question and we talk about change agents, why the focus on change agents. And again maybe it seems like an obvious question, but you guys are in the Federal Government so I think coming from you carries a lot more weight that just somebody on the street such as myself just making that comment or observation.

David:

(07:12) So change agents I think are particularly necessary now because the world we’re in is changing so quickly. 2013 there was 7000 network advisers on the face of the planet and (unclear 07:23)  on the face of the planet as well.

(07:26) This year alone, two years later after 2013 there are now 14 billion network on the face of the planet and come 2022, anywhere between 75 and 300 billion. The same thing is happening with data. Data on the face of the planet is doubling every two years. Back in 2013 there were 4 million terabytes of data on the face of the planet. That’s the equivalent of 400 million Libraries of Congress. The Library of Congress is about 10 terabytes. By the time we get to 2022 it will be 96 million terabytes, so that would be 9,600 million Libraries of Congress. It will be huge, and if you put that in perspective it will be more data than all  (unclear 08:03) planet.

(08:04) Now in the product sector, we see this happening with Silicon Valley and in other parts of the United States as well where basically people are iterating quickly and able to do a fail fast and fail often model. The chance that we have in public service is 1) We’re not going to have an IPO, we don’t have a (neutral thought offering?) at the end of the day. We are stewards of tax payer’s dollars and if you fail with tax payers' dollars, people are going to say why (unclear?) slush fund, you can’t spend it like a capital fund.

(08:28) So I think we have to have this conversation about where we’re going to - there is no text book for what we need to do, and at the same time we can’t take all the principles from Silicon Valley, because we can’t fail fast and fail often. We also have to recognise the narrative that is present in public service, which is, you go back to the Federalist Papers of 1788, James Maddison said he wanted ambition to counter ambition (the Federalist Papers #51). He wanted checks and balances in the system. So sometime people lament ‘government is slow to change;’ ‘it takes a while.’  But that’s actually part of the intentional checks and balances. And that’s actually why when I first met Corina, I recognized that 1) she was a fellow change agent but then 2) It’s important to meet other change agents, not just within your agency but across agencies because the only real way you get change done that’s lasting in public service is to build those networks and to build that consensus such that from the bottom up but you do have less change in going forward (?).

Corina:

(09:20) I think some of the opportunities that we have and one of the few reasons why…

Michael:

(09:25) I’m sorry to interrupt, please to speak loudly and project your voice towards the microphone.

Corina:

(09:34) I think one of the key things that we can use as an opportunity is that this sort of innovation change hasn’t been done before, so there’s not only regulations that stop us from being able to do things, and having other change agents and other people that give you that reality check and say, this is a smart way to go forward. We’re also doing some more things, let’s create this footprint. Let’s create the policies and the budgets and the structures that can get us to that next step. Let’s move beyond: "We can’t do it, because we’ve never been able to do it" and get to "Let’s be able to this smarter" and "Let’s do this together." And I think that approaching that from the whole of Government makes it so that we have a bigger footprint to make.

Michael:

(10:20) So there’s this notion that if you can identify other change agents then you can come together and help consolidate that influence and that push towards innovation in a stronger way.

David:

(10:35) I think so and it’s also the recognition that in any organization, don’t expect everyone to be thinking about disruption and innovation, that’s just not feasible. It was actually the Ford Motor Company back when when it looked at it that said it had about 20% of the people in their organization that are really doing 80% of the change agent work, and I think that would be the same that’s true in public service.

(10:58) The thing that’s interesting though is that in the era we’re facing, to try and do top down change, it’s often out of date by the time when it gets implemented. So you need to think about how can we do bottom up change and the challenge with that is where you can do bottom up change in the private sector by creating your own startup and being entrepreneurial. In public service how do you do bottom up change and recognizing that at the end of the day, anything that we do has to be authorized by law, and law itself is top down. So it’s interesting conundrum of: can we create these creative spaces in which change agents can show what’s possible, they can build a coalition of the willing, they can demonstrate that we can take these steps forward such that the people that are more of the late adopters or even laggards  are more willing to move along after seeing what’s possible, and I think that’s the conversations that's hard to have, because people expect to take what’s going on in Silicon Valley and just transplant it to what’s going on in Government whether it be at the local level, state level, or federal level.

(11:53) And I think what we’re saying is that there are great lessons to be learned from silicon Valley, but we also need to understand that there are existing narratives, there are existing challenges. I mean our budget in the Executive Branch is not set in the Executive Branch it’s actually set in the Legislative Branch and that’s something that’s not present when you’re dealing with private sector company, now the private sector company has autonomy about where it sets its budgets and sets its priorities.

Corina:

(12:15) So budget and priorities is really both great points. I have found success in figuring out what it is that my leaders are trying to accomplish and figuring out how I can help them do that, and then try to demonstrate value and then ask them where can we budget for this, and a lot of the times people don’t know, because they just haven’t thought about repurposing their resources that way.

(12:38) So if I can demonstrate that there’s a reason and a value, not only to our leaders but to the public that we serve, then I’ll be able to get buy in and almost walk backwards and downwards and be able to reprioritize and allocate the energy, the resources, the budget, the time and maybe sometimes even the IT systems that we’re using to be able to accomplish those goals.

Michael:

(13:07) So developing quick wins or making it clear of the value of the change and making it clear. How do you overcome fearfulness, but there is still risk associated with change, how do you address that.

Corina:

(13:23) I think you have to be realistic about it, and get people to buy in, so taking measurable risks. So I’ll give you an example, when I was at the State Department, part of our role was to give timely and relevant and orderly information to people as they were travelling overseas. Like today, Mexico is about to have a huge hurricane hit them, right, so they want to get that out to them as quickly as possible as information.

(13:51) So what I did was I looked at ways in which we could do that, so that many different people get the same information that we’re putting out as an official source many times through API’s, and most people in the bureaucracy had no idea what an API was, and once I explained that’s how we all check our weather from a different devise be that style, size or platform and got the same weather information that I explained in the API format for people that who weren’t familiar. So I said, what happens if we can tell the whole world what places we think are safe or not and be able to do that and let other people tell that story for us.

(14:29) It took a long time but we got the buy-in, we got the technology, we invested in the cloud and we were able to start developing that as ways as API’s.

(14:38) I had somebody who I really enjoyed working with and always will, and at the time he was my direct supervisor and he came to me and said, “You know what, they’re just not using the data right and not doing what we want them to do with it.” So we actually had to sit down and think as an organization, are we comfortable with people using our information the way they want to use it, instead of being very government driven, where we’re telling people this is the way thou shall use the information.

(15:08) And so it was a huge cultural shift to be able to say we’re going to take this risk and we know that people aren’t going to do exactly what we want them to do, but in the end we are servicing our public and we are meeting our goals and needs with these new resources.

David:

(15:25) And I think to actually emphasize what Corina said. there is no text book for the new world we’re facing, and so we have to be willing to experiment. And oftentimes when I talk about this with people and they are concerned or they have concerns about (what is it they fear?) It’s worth pointing out that expert report meeting out of danger is the root for both expertise as well as experiments. And the only way you get expertise is doing dangerous things, which are experiments.

(15:51) And so it’s having that conversation with the public saying “Look we want to do what we can do in terms of the best we can with the resources we have”. and "We also want to hear from you so that’s why both Corina and I are on Twitter." That’s why I listen to the public. I want to learn as much as possible, because 1) I know I don’t have all the answers and in fact there’s a wonderful Harvard Business article that says “in praise of incomplete leaders;” the best leaders actually admit they have blind spots.

(16:15) So with that said, recognizing that we are going to take risks because that’s the only way we’re going to keep up with the exponential era and we’re actually going to do dangerous things, we’re going to do experiments, and see what works out. At the end of the day if we have that drive, if we have that receptiveness to learn from people, then most importantly is that we have that determination to get this stuff done. In fact, we have a phrase at FCC which is which is GSD, which is short for ‘get stuff done” and maybe something else in a different context.

(16:42) We’ll power through whatever happens and we’ll learn from it and the goal is to keep up with the pace of change that’s happening globally in society and technologically.

Michael:

(16:53) What about this notion of the umbrella of buy-in.

Corina:

(17:00) The notion of the umbrella of buy-in, give me a little bit more.

Michael:

(17:04) David you’ve spoken about that in terms of culture, in terms of changing the culture and the need to gain buy-ins from your peers, how do you balance if you’re trying to drive change in a large organization. How do you balance the need for buying in versus just pushing forward, you know down the torpedo’s full speed ahead.

David:

(17:28) Right, so on that one at least I’ll say from my own experience you can’t always be disruptive. If you’re always being disruptive then you’re not meeting anybody’s expectations. And if you don’t meet anyone’s expectations then you don’t have any allies that’ll back you up when you take something risky and it doesn’t work out.

(17:45) So that’s where I do tell people that 1) the Greek work leith, means to send  unto death and actually the word leadership, so leadership is sent unto death. And that’s because back in Ancient Greece, the leiths were the ones carrying the flag in front of the army, and that’s all well and good until one man in the army meets another man in the army. Who's the first to die? The leith.

(18:04) So you do have to get buy-in and you also have to understand the narrative. When I arrived at the FCC the average person had been here for 15½ years, and the average contractor had been here for 19 years. And so when I said we were going to move to public cloud and we’re going to go to everything off premise, that actually did create some fear in the sense that I’m going to lose my friends that I have been dealing with for 15 years because now were going off site, and it wasn’t anything related to technology at all.

(18:28) So you need to understand the narrative, you need to figure out how you can adapt it. I also think it’s useful to actually ask people what brings them joy because 1) It puts them in a reflective state or mood, but then 2) You find out what they’re really interested in and passionate about. And so even if you have to change or disrupt things, you can still be consistent in what bring some joy, so that yes you are moving someone’s cheese, but may be you are still getting them to a place where they can provide benefit and actually find enjoyment in the work they’re doing.

Corina:

(18:55) I found the most value in actually playing by all of the rules at the beginning. 1) It’s so that I can learn them and know them...

David:

Subversive…

Corina:

(19:04) But 2) That organizationally potentially people trust that the things that I’m talking to them about are things that are for benefit the organization, not my benefit as a leader. Sometimes I’ve pushed forward ideas that I particularly don’t really care for, but I think they are best for the organization or the people that we serve.

(19:23)  And I think if you want to take a risk knowing that you have that background and that balance and that trust, it does make it a lot easier to say: ‘This is going to seem a little whack-a-doddle, but just hear me out.’ And I’ve also found great value in being able to be told 'No,' and sometimes that means lets walk away from them. And other times it means I never gave you enough information to get to a 'yes.' So I get to go back and think how we get there. Sometimes that means calling up people that are change agents and saying how did you get here, help me out with this.

Michael:

(19:59) So trust is the foundation in a sense of being able to drive change through a large organization.

David:

(20:07) Absolutely, in fact, trust — and I would define trust as the willingness to be vulnerable to somebody else that you can’t control. And with that, one of the things that I often state — and when I arrived at the FCC, I said we really have three core values, which is you need to have benevolence; you need to have competency; and we need to have integrity. And it’s interesting because those three things: benevolence, competency, and integrity — right, are the things that if you think those are true about a person, and science has shown that psychologically you are more willing to be vulnerable to them and therefore you actually trust them.

(20:41) And I think the benevolence is key because we are in public service and the other thing that is also the case is I’m a non-partisan senior executive, which means I don’t side with either party, and that means that I have to be trusted by both parties as someone who is being apolitical. I’m not bringing my politics into my role. I would deliver what we have to do and at the end of the day, I need to be focused on what is the biggest impact to the public and the best contributions that we’ve done.

Michael:

(21:09) So change then is a function of trust is that an accurate statement?

David:

(21:15) Yes you can only get lasting change with trust.

Corina:

(21:20) And I think that that’s also one of the things that's so hard to be a Fed. A lot of people don’t trust that we’re actually trying to do the best that we can. I’m not going to say that every Federal employee is, but we’re glad that you’re there and listening to us talking. We like to listen back.

(21:41) But from a public perspective, if people don’t trust us as an institution, it’s difficult when we do try to change things even if it’s for the better to try to make it so that people are trusting that we have their best interests. And that’s apparent in government. And I think it’s something that every Fed in whether they show up at 100% or not, understand that when they come into the door at work every day that people might not buy-in to everything that you’re selling and they don’t trust you, and it’s your role to continue to fill that.

David:

(22:11) I also think Michael you’re hitting on a key point about trust because I do have concerns that the way that the rate of social, global technological change that’s happening so fast that people are feeling a strain on the system. Not just a strain on the system in terms of government, but the strain on the system in terms of what’s my identity, what’s my life and where I fit in the world.

(22:34) And that itself, the rapid pace of change is causing mistrust in institutions is bigger than government, and so we have this risk that while in the United States we do have checks and balances in the system, we don’t want things to move quickly because we don’t want any one person to have too much power. It’s worth pointing out that the founders actually fought a war against a King, and the last thing they want is a king-like individual. And we know that power corrupts absolute power corrupts; absolutely.

(23:01) But the rate of technological change itself maybe causing distrust in the Federal government and that becomes an issue because then what takes its place. I think there’s also the case where in the past we’ve had people who are ‘government professionals’ and that was seen as different than people that were in the public. And actually if I can make a suggestion now with communication and technology, members of the public can if they want to, they don’t have to if they don’t want to, they can be participants.

(23:27) When I arrived at the FCC, we did launch the FCC speed test app, which if you choose to, you could actually monitor your own connections to be on broadband or on wireless and anonymously share that with your IP address. We would know where you were in a five mile radius. You can share that with the FCC and through port policy (?).

(23:43) We actually made the code open source so that people could see that we didn’t have your IP address. They saw that we did privacy by design and it turned up for a while to be the fourth most downloaded app on Google Chrome on the iOS Store.

(23:54) And so I think we can actually in this new age think about the role of public service isn’t something that government professionals have to be the only ones doing. It can actually be something that the public can do, as Corina was talking about what my predecessor response and things like that. It can also be something that maybe public private partnerships can do. But we need to figure out this new organizational form because the world is moving so quickly and it doesn’t have to be something that each of us as government professionals are the only ones doing. But if the public wants to and is hungry to do they can also have the opportunity as well.

Corina:

(24:26) I think the public actually has a great opportunity right now especially with social media, because never before have their voices been heard without that gatekeeper, and to continually use these new platforms, the public forces the government to change, they have to keep up. Nobody wants to testify in front of Congress why didn’t we listen to them and what we were hearing on Twitter, right. So keep it coming everybody.

Michael:

(24:57) So we have a great question from Bob Rothman who asks, how do you deal with change when your intent is good but the public is cynical and I would actually amend that question to say, how do you deal with change when your intent is good, but inside your own organization you’re surrounded by anti-innovation antibodies, the people who do don’t want change.

Corina:

(25:31) Well that’s why I drink wine!

David:

(25:36) And we do have happy hour with a bunch of change agents, because when you’re banging your head against the wall it’s nice to know that you’re not the only ones doing it. I do think to some agree I think we’re both masochists in that I actually thrive when there is anti-innovation in anybody’s presence because you know what, I’ll be honest, if I took a job that had been done before or if someone said it was easy, I would get bored and in fact I do seem to move onto different jobs only because I want the job that people say, it’s near impossible, it’s never going to work. You know, they’ve had nine CEO’s in eight years why are you coming to this fold.

(26:08) And so I think for both of us we actually thrive a little bit about it actually being an impossible mission. It’s almost like Sherlock Holmes when he gets a case; it’s like the game is afoot.

(26:17) I think the other thing is we’re both on social media, be transparent in what you’re trying to do. Be transparent about the fact that you have limited resources and don’t get to set your own budget.

(26:26) In some cases, as Corina mentioned, third parties saying things may be listened to more because they’re not in the system. You know if I said we need to change, people are going to say yeah, yeah he’s in the system or maybe he is just trying to get a bigger budget because he wants to have a bigger empire, which is definitely not what I’m trying to do.

(26:41) But, having that sort of willingness for your networks involves people on the outside, involves sort of strategy to keep you sane and really to sort of figure out that narrative, that conversation about why. What is that sense of urgency and why we must change because we have a sense of urgency, there is often an easier way to clear that path. But you do have to be willing to take flack and I think if you’re doing similar does and oftentimes people never know the flack that we are encountering as we try to be change agents.

Corina:

(27:14) True. I mentioned earlier if somebody tells me no or they don’t find value in what’s happening I actually respect that. I don’t enjoy hearing it, but I take it in and I think ‘Well, why is that happening?’ and ‘Why should I change that?’ Right, is it because I want to change it or because there is actually a need.

(27:34) So I have found looking at data is a great way to be able to say, ‘Here’s the information,’ ‘Here’s why we have to do this,’ ‘Here’s whose asking for it’ and ‘Here is the value that it will bring.’ Right, and sometimes that ‘no’ that I encounter is good, and sends me back and lets me know that maybe I’m going down the wrong path, right.

(27:53) So part of my job is to be fluid and to listen to those people that say this is never going to work. I will agree with David, probably the best thing besides drinking wine is when somebody comes and says: ‘You know what? I didn’t believe and now I do. And I might not like it; I might not do it. I might not get on with Twitter but I understand the value in what we’re doing now as an organisation.’

David:

(28:20) Yes, and I think those are the moments that you have to hold onto because there will always be resistance but we can overcome it. I think Corina is being really modest, so Michael if I could allow Corina to tell us a little about how sometimes in just by a change in by where you are and your role. Can you tell us a little about your role in the navy?

Corina:

(28:38) Absolutely, I thought you’d never ask! I was one of the first females on combat ships. And I served when I first reported onboard there were six females and the ship’s crew and when the marines came on there was about 3,000 more males. And we set off with our first Navy WESTPAC with I think about 60 females with the same ratio of males. And at the time I didn’t really realize that there was anything new going on. I was in boot camp right before — you know a couple of years before that where they first integrated females in camp and I didn’t really think about anything about that. Now looking back I realized the relationships that I made with other women who were in now that same situation with men that supported us through those situations, and the way that we reacted as professionals and personally really shaped that new change.

(29:34) I would say that anybody listening today or later is if you are in one of those new situations and you don’t realize that you are painting the path and you actually are, and it’s nice to take a deep breath and think how do I do this in a way that I want somebody to do it in 20 years from now.

David:

(29:52) Right I think it’s key to be a non-anxious present and I think that’s the human body that you do in service and I think sometimes change you don’t recognize until 10 or 15 years later.

Michael:

(30:02) So Corina, I have to ask what was that like. That must have been some experience.

Corina:

(30:11) It was surreal. First of all I’m directionally challenged, so I could only figure out how to get through the ship, like find where the mess decks were, so I was going through my own personal crisis when I got onboard and couldn’t find anything, except where the food was and I guess that was important. But it was surreal. I definitely at that time walk into a room and wasn’t female first and professional second. And I have a very good friend who was onboard that ship with me, her names Andi Burminggood, and she has now since commanded her own ship and she’s stationed overseas right now. And her and I walked into a room together one one day. It was the middle of the night and you’re doing some engineering exercises underway, and we had been told that we needed to stick around because we were going to be part of what was going on.

(31:04) When we entered this room we were asked to provide beverages for the engineering crew that was onboard, and Andi looked at me and said I didn’t join the navy to serve coffee did you, and I said no actually that’s not why I joined the navy or why I came onboard this ship. So we turned around and walked out of the room, and I didn’t realize that at the time that I could have lost my job and gone to jail. But it was having somebody that was like that a change agent and we didn’t realize that that was going to happen and that was our mindset and that was the way we were able to play it.

Michael:

(31:44) But that’s an interesting example for a bunch of reasons, but one of which is in order to drive a change in attitudes on that ship among officers, you took a very significant personal risk. As you said, you could have lost your job, you could have gone to jail, and in a way isn’t that the fundamental difference between people who are willing and comfortable with change and those who are not, is the willingness to take that risk.

Corina:

(32:26) I think that’s a great way. I mean my friend and I knew each other in a professional capacity and enjoyed reading books together. Not once did we ever say, okay if anybody gives us a hard time we’re going to tell them no. It is just something that happened and it happened very naturally and it didn’t feel like the way that we were reacting was wrong. So that helped shape my career, literally as a professional but also as a female and sometimes working in the IT sector women are not as well represented as they should be.

(32:59) And so that shapes the way that I look at organizations now, not just in the government but those that we do work with and think about how are we representing all of the people, all of them as professionals, and how are we diving into the best roles that they can have.

David:

(33:18) And I think while it is true, there is only going to be a certain amount of people that are going to be willing to put that risk on the line, and to be willing to actually say, maybe I can get fired, or lose my job, or even worse. Those people can then inspire other people that maybe on the fence, and so I have no doubt that your actions probably later had other people say I’ve been on the fence and that actually tipped and cued my mind.

(33:39) And I think that’s important is that any organization you’re in, while you maybe the early adopter of whatever change is needed, think about how you address those then later adopters and even the laggards so you can win the hearts and minds because it really is about winning hearts and minds.

Michael:

(33:55) So risk taking then is a form of leadership, and if you combine risk taking with trust and credibility in a way that’s your definition of a change agent is it not.

Corina:

(34:08) Absolutely, and you can be at any level in any organization to be a leader, to be a risk taker and to just be a change agent. You don’t have to be at the very bottom with something to prove, and you don’t have to be at the very top until something is done. You can be anywhere in that organization and truly effect that sort of thing.

David:

(34:25) And sometimes being a change agent means at that time and moment you may be fired, or you may be sent someplace else. Back in 2000, I signed up for a little program called the Biocares Preparedness and Response Program and we were 30 people. I was the one IT person who also knew some biology, charged with whatever would we do if a biological event ever happened in the United States.

(34:47) And we were only 30 people out of an agency of 15/16,000 people and I was trying to push at the time, it was the early days of agile and scrum, and we were told no you have to do waterfall, you have to follow the five year plan. And I’d say: “I’m sorry, I don’t have any deal with the bio-terrorists that they are not going to strike until we actually get this system setup in five years. I need something that’s a minimum viable product” and I was getting into trouble. And in fact, the enterprise IT was going to come after me saying I was a trouble maker.

(35:15) And I almost left, except 911 happens, followed by the anthrax event where literally on the fly and we took what capabilities we had done in an agile manner in less than 24 hours and put it in a way to actually monitor the anthrax events that were occurring in October and November.

(35:32) But have no doubt, I mean there are going to be change agents who are doing the right thing and at the time are not rewarded or recognized. And it’s only five, 10, or 15 years later that actually in hindsight they were doing the right thing. They actually did open the organization to where it needed to go.

Corina:

(35:49) And probably every decision that we try to put forward might not be the right thing, or maybe you don’t know that until 10 or 15 years. The intent to get there and to iterate, not just from an IT perspective, but actually in the way you operate and take information and testing is key.

Michael:

(36:08) So we only have about 10 minutes left, and this conversation as really flown by very very quickly. But let’s try to develop a kind of framework for driving successful change in a large organization. Maybe David, let’s start with you. If you were to lay out a framework for driving successful change in a large organization, what would the key points be?

David:

(36:36) So from my own experience, be humble, recognize that you don’t have all the answers, make sure you listen and learn to the existing narratives. Don’t come in guns a blazing right away or else people are going to say, you never take the time to listen to me, why do I need to listen to you.

(36:54) Build a coalition. Oftentimes what I’ll do is I’ll pay out of my own pocket. I’ll pay for coffee and donuts, and say “Between the hours of 10 and 12, if anyone wants to come and tell me what they’re hearing in the organization, I provide breakfast snacks, you tell me what you’re hearing” and so that’s gathering the narratives.

(37:10) And then once you have taken that time to begin to build that framework of: you are listening to people; you admit that you have blind spots; you want to learn. Then you can begin to actually put out your narrative that maybe is taking existing narratives and slightly beginning to tweak them, or picking the ones you want to amplify.

(37:26) And also, most importantly, creating a sense of urgency that is shared amongst that coalition, because you can’t do the change alone. You need to have other people embody the sense that this is perfect.

Corina:

(37:39) I like those ideas. I work it a little bit differently. I do start out understanding the organization and the needs and the way in which they’ve worked to meet those needs. But then I jump all the way forward and I think about where I want to be. In three years what will I want to see. If I’m the lead in the organization, what will that legacy be and then I work backwards from there. Well then who needs to know about this; who needs to give buy-in; you know, who needs to be consulted where I’m getting more information. What are the actual tactics that we have to start taking to get there.

(38:12) And that ladder rung, I sort of move up and down over and over as whatever that scope is or however it changes. I agree be humble, and know you don’t know all of the answers, but sometimes you’ve gotten here by running your mouth a little bit, so there’s a little bit of that there too. And always being able to articulate why you’re doing this, why you think it’s a good idea, the value that you’re going to add to your organization and your public. And be able to talk to people about that in 30 seconds or less from a communication stand point is key.

David:

(38:48) Yes, and I think the point that Corina said about ‘why’ is so key. Oftentimes I see people trying to drive change either about the ‘what’ or the ‘how’ that gets lost. If you’ve not led with the ‘why’, you’re not going to be able to get to where you want to go.

(39:02) And also what she said about where to be in three years or two years. I often kind of put it at some point, point of no return, because then you can’t roll back the change that you rolled out. So at the FCC, when we move to either 100% public cloud or commercial service provider, which we did achieve, we can’t bring the servers back. In fact, we literally cut the cables that were here, so there’s no return.

Michael:

(39:25) So the communication and the ability to communicate well is a critical component of this.

Corina:

(39:35) Communication that’s appropriate for your sector, right. The IT folks want to talk about waterfall and agile and scrum, right, that’s their whole language that fortunately I know some about, but that’s probably about it. So being able to communicate effectively within the circles that you are trying to influence or get information from and sometimes that changes. I would say another thing the change agents that I’ve encountered, something that I really value in them is that they can speak in more than one language. And I don’t mean that from a perspective of I speak Spanish or French, but it’s I’m not illiterate in what it is that David is trying to do. I understand it enough, and I might not be able to write fluently in it, but I can actually speak it. And that helps with the change agent to understand the same common vocabulary that people are using, to understand why they need to do something.

Michael:

(40:29) So the ability to speak in the language of your constituency or stakeholders.

Corina:

(40:35) Absolutely.

David:

(40:36) Very much, and you have to be multilingual. And the other thing I would say is communication with the goal of 1) learning and listening, but 2) also building trust. There is a reason why Corina and I dress this way is that we don’t always wear a T-shirt and blue jeans to work even if we might want to, because while that be a way of changing the culture but is that really the image that you want to go to or would you prefer to have this be camouflage, and I do this camouflage because I don’t wear this at home. But I wear this camouflage is because of what I want people to focus on is more of the other things that I’m trying to drive change on, versus what attire you wear or not. Now that said, I expect my developers they are more than welcome to wear blue jeans, but when I go to the hills I’m probably not wearing blue jeans. 

Michael:

(41:21) Any other final points of advice, so Corina what advice do you have for somebody who is working in the government or in any large organization, it doesn’t just have to be the government. Working in a large organization wanting to drive positive change with the best of intentions and it’s just been beaten back. What should that person do?

Corina:

(41:52) I like to tell people never walk into a room and apologize for who you are or who you want. Focus on you know what you can do well, and how you can provide value to the people that you’re doing it for. You will always come out of it.

Michael:

(42:11) So always be sure that you are providing value, which of course now in order to do that you have to be undertaking the steps you both were describing earlier, including listening to their stories, communicating so that you have credibility. So it requires all of that doesn’t it?

Corina:

(42:30) Absolutely, I know I’m short on time, but I want to tell this one vignette. I’m not sure if I’ve told you. When I was about 16, I was working in a nursing home. It was one of my first jobs and I was working in the kitchen and I really could not stand being a server or being out on the floor. So I would volunteer to come in at four in the morning and do all of the prep as long as I didn’t have to go out.

(42:51) One day we were very short staffed and I had to go out and serve and I wasn’t familiar with the people that were in the community. And one gentleman that was asking for bacon and he really really wanted bacon. So I went back to the kitchen and I looked, and all there were like these bits and pieces of you know bacon that’s at the bottom of the bin. So I went back out and said, you know there’s really not any good bacon to bring you. There’s just like these crumbly bits and they’re not good and you know, we’re just out of bacon. And he told me, he demanded that I go back there and I bring him whatever it is that was there.

(43:28) So I did. I was 16 and influential, and I was trying to do the best job that I could and I scraped up these oily, gross bits because I thought this is what the guy wanted. And I go back out and I give it to him, and he stands up and he yells at me that I didn’t respect him enough to bring him actual bacon.

(43:47) And I later learned that maybe he hadn’t remembered our earlier conversation, but it stuck with me and the thing that I learned was, never present something to somebody that you don’t have the whole confidence in that’s going to be the right product. I don’t think I should eat bacon, for all I know (I should go on diet?) and I never would out there, and there is a lot of other questions I should have been asking. But the bottom line is always that I stuck with me, even if I don’t think I’m getting it right and I’m giving you the best that I can and listening.

Michael:

(44:20) Okay, so if you’re not listening it ain’t going to work, and David, we’re just about out of time here, so your advice to that person who is struggling to try and drive change.

David:

(44:34) The first would be look up the poem by Rudyard Kipling, 1895, called If, and recognizing that we probably need to adapt it to the 21st century to be augmented. The first two lines are, If you can keep your head about you and all are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself and all men and women doubt you but make allowances in having to.  I think that really embodies that you need, one, believe in yourself, but also have that humbleness to step outside and say maybe I’m missing something. And then the other thing is whatever environment that you are in, recognize is we spoke about you brining your talent to that environment, but it’s also about that environment appreciating the talent you bring. Then if you have tried to be a change agent for six month or nine month, then that environment is not appreciating the talents that you brought. Guess what, there are plenty of other environments and maybe you should go to them.

Michael:

(45:27) Okay, well amazingly great advise and this conversation you know it feels like we’ve been talking for five minutes, but we’ve been talking for 45 minutes. So I want to thank you both, and this has been episode number 140 of CXOTalk. I’m Michael Krigsman, and today we have been speaking with Corina DuBois, who is with the Department of Defense, and David Bray, who is with the Federal Communication Commission about change agents, being a change agent in a large organization. Corina and David thank you so much for taking the time today.

David:

(46:10) Thanks for having us Michael.

Corina:

(46:11) Thank you.

Michael:

(46:12) And everybody, thanks for watching. Next week we’ll be talking with the Chief Marketing Officer of Arrow electronics, a huge huge company. Join us then, and please like us on Facebook. Thanks everybody, bye bye.

 

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