Blog (filtered)

Being a leader takes practice. We’re excited to share our latest experiments and lessons learned.

Carolyn Cullen
Friday, November 10, 2017


I love a book with a catchy title, so Change Your Questions, Change Your Life by Marilee Adams got my attention right away. Recommended to me by my colleagues in Facilities Management (FM), the book is a quick read, but the insight it provided me is far-reaching. Based on the premise that if we reframe our problem-solving approach by asking better questions, we will learn how to make better decisions and therefore have better outcomes.

One technique from the book is called Q-storming, and it proposes taking a traditional brainstorming session and changing it into a session about developing the right questions instead. In other words, you’re not looking for answers or ways to solve a problem in the session; rather, you’re asking the right questions in the session and those questions will ultimately lead to better solutions. Here are some tips for Q-storming session questions from the book:

1.      Questions should be first person or plural using “I” and “we”

2.      Questions are open-ended, such as “How can we” vs. “Can you”

3.      Invite courageous and provocative questions, as well as “silly” and “dumb” ones

Our colleagues in FM have started using Q-storming as they embark on some strategic planning initiatives. They recently began socializing the concept of Q-storming with various FM teams, and then practiced using the technique by applying it to a real-life scenario. Feedback from the sessions was very positive, and participants could see how asking better questions leads to better solutions.

The other main theme of the book is to become aware of the judger and learner mindsets. Namely, everyone falls into the judger mindset at times – we judge others, situations, and even ourselves – but by asking “switching questions,” we can make our way to the learner path, which is better mindset for solving problems. Examples of switching questions include “What are the facts?,” “What assumptions am I making?” and “How else can I think about this?”

So where does the Change Your Life part come in? The author structures the book as a fable, following the journey of the main character as he applies what he’s learned about questions at work, and also in his personal life. So by default, his personal life improves as well as his work life and effectiveness.

How powerful are your questions? Do you think you could deploy a Q-storming session in your organization? By asking better questions, and switching your thought process from judger to learner, imagine what you could accomplish!  

Carolyn Cullen
Friday, August 11, 2017

Ever feel like something’s amiss with a process but you’re not quite sure what that is? Or maybe you do know, but it seems daunting to pursue changing it? I recently attended the Network for Change and Continuous Innovation (NCCI) Conference, and the breakout session titled Move It! for process improvement caught my attention.

In this case, Move stands for “Mini Opportunity, Valuable Effect,” and was presented by Angela Knobloch from Notre Dame. A Move It! session takes just 90-minutes, and then there are two check-ins by Angela – one at 20-days post event and one at 45-days post event – where she ensures the team is moving forward with the action plan they created in the 90-minute session.

The purpose of a Move It! session is to have a quicker, easier approach to address less complex process problems, and to plan specific actions to implement immediately after the session. Angela employs the SIPOC model for process mapping. SIPOC stands for Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs, and Customers. This model is a quick way to structure how a process is currently occurring as well as to map how it should be occurring. 

Once the issues have been identified, it’s time to establish priorities for action. Using a simple X and Y axis, you begin plotting priorities based on low to high impact and low to high effort. Something that yields a low impact but requires high effort, for example, should be avoided because it produces a low return and crowds out time that could be better spent elsewhere. Alternatively, something that requires low effort but yields high impact should be immediately focused on by creating an action plan with due dates and an assigned owner.

Finally, Angela recommends using the SCAMPER technique when generating solutions. SCAMPER stands for Simplify, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to Another Use, Eliminate, and Reverse/Rearrange. The questions to ask are, “What could we…,” “And what if we…,” and “Or what if we…” By asking these probing questions, you dig a little deeper each time, and come up with multiple solutions to iterate.

How often do we practice getting a little better every day at a specific task? That’s what continuous improvement comes down to, when you think about it. The next time you find a current process frustrating, consider using a Move It! session to create action!

Carolyn Cullen
Friday, June 9, 2017

I recently read William Bridges’ Managing Transitions and co-facilitated a workshop with Bryan Garey on change and transitions for a cohort program I manage. In the book, Bridges talks about how change is transactional but transitions are psychological. He introduces a model that may seem paradoxical on the surface; namely, that transitions always start with an ending and end with a beginning. This premise makes sense when you think about it: a change, especially a transformational one, always starts by stopping the current practice and ends by starting the new. Furthermore, the ending represents a loss, including how people knew they were successful and how they were rewarded, and therefore it must be acknowledged and processed.

In between the ending and the beginning is the neutral zone, which is the land of the most opportunity, according to Bridges, and therefore is a powerful step in the transition process. This zone occurs after most of the loss has been acknowledged and processed, and the impact of the beginning is just starting to take shape. It’s when people can either start to get excited about the change or it’s when they decide they must resist the change. This zone is also when those who decide they aren’t on board with the change often decide to leave the organization.  

I have been through many organizational changes in my career, and have seen the neutral zone first hand (though I didn’t know it had a name at the time).  Based on my experience, the neutral zone is indeed the land of opportunity. Organizations who seize on the opportunity to show people what’s in it for them with regard to the change stand to reap the most benefit, both for the organization and the employee. Change is hard, to be sure. But, positively managing the transitions of change is what can make or break the change effort.

What changes are you currently experiencing? How are you managing the transitions? How do you think you’ll harness the power of the neutral zone?       

Carolyn Cullen
Tuesday, February 28, 2017

You’ve likely heard about 360° assessments, but have you ever participated in one? This kind of assessment gathers feedback from your peers, managers, direct reports, and others who have seen you in action, typically at work (although you may also gather feedback from folks outside of UVA). At the same time your raters are taking the survey, you also complete the same assessment as the ratee. The resulting report gives you a 360° view of your strengths and development opportunities. Perhaps the most important thing to know about 360° surveys is that they are anonymous and confidential, which is vital. As the ratee, you won’t know who has completed the survey, with the exception of your direct manager (assuming you have only one). It’s important for the raters to know they can be truthful while also being helpful.

Once you receive your survey results, you can see if there is alignment between your view of your strengths and opportunities and those of your raters. If not, you can usually drill deeper in your final report to see if the misalignment is coming from one particular audience (i.e. your peers), so you know with whom to direct your efforts.

After you’ve had time to reflect on the results, it’s time to come up with a plan to focus on the areas of opportunity selected for you. But how do you convey that you’re doing that? It’s not like you’ll walk around with a sign saying, “I’m now more approachable” or “I’m now more open to others’ input.” Putting your 360° feedback into an action plan typically involves small tweaks rather than holistic changes. Think about it as turning a dial up or down one click instead of turning it from one to 100.  

Taking a 360° can be an important step on your leadership journey, though it does require you to be a bit vulnerable. But don’t you want to know if you’re being as effective and impactful as you intend? And if you find that you’re not, developing your action plan to improve likely means making some little changes that will have a big impact.  

Samantha Campbell
Friday, November 4, 2016

Q: What song would you sing at karaoke night?
A: I can’t carry a tune, but I can sing the 50 states in alphabetical order!

Q: What does leadership mean to you? 
A: Vision combined with action and strategy combined with tactics.

Q: Your favorite place to eat in Charlottesville?
A: Tough question! Duner’s is certainly at the top of the list.

Q: What is your proudest/greatest achievement outside of the professional realm?
A: Raising my stepdaughter when she was a teenager.

Q: What are three things you love about UVA?
A: 1) When the ice cream truck comes to the UHR parking lot! 2) My smart teammates 3) Knowing that our work is making a difference for our fellow colleagues at UVA.

Q: Do you collect anything?
A: Demitasse. I have most of my great grandmother’s collection and a few of my own.

Q: Why did you choose your profession?  
A: I’d never been so energized and fulfilled as I was the first time I facilitated training. I wanted that all the time!

Q: What are you usually doing on the weekend or during time off?
A: So many great things to do here! Errands often take a back seat to Bold Rock or one of the 151 breweries.

Q: What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?
A: Trust your instincts, always.

Q: What about you would surprise us?
A: I would like to become a wedding officiant some day.




Carolyn Cullen
Friday, September 16, 2016

On Wednesday night, we hosted a reception at The Fralin for the newest executives who have joined UVA, plus Deans and Vice Presidents. We were lucky enough to see the Andy Warhol exhibit that night (it closes September 18th - so hurry before it’s too late!) and three things became clear by the end of the evening: we have very smart and talented employees at UVA; these employees are doing tremendous work that’s making a difference for our students; and creativity and innovation are all around us here at UVA.

I know we all know these three things, but how often do we actually take time to reflect and appreciate them? Time is a precious commodity, and sometimes it’s hard to find the time to explore what’s in our own backyard. But just as Andy Warhol impacted pop art, these newest executives are already impacting UVA.

I met folks from all areas of the University who bring dynamism, a different perspective, and big ideas to their roles every day. A few minutes were just enough to pique my curiosity about my own contributions. When was the last time I pushed the boundaries of my own thinking, let alone the impact of my role? That’s what Warhol did. He pushed the boundaries of pop art by taking iconic images and reimagining them. At the time, it was very cutting-edge, and it continues to be so today.

We know we already have the best of the best working at UVA, and these newest hires are reinforcing that standard. We impact our students – even if we don’t work with them directly – by the work of those who have taken great care of this institution over the last nearly 200 years. We are charged with preserving a tremendous legacy while at the same time advancing that legacy for the next 200 years.

What will your legacy at UVA be? Do we even think of our jobs in these terms? If not, should we?