NIU Program on Leading Large Scale Organizational Change

Strategic leaders from three companies and one university spoke today on the challenges and opportunities for “Leading Change and Innovation through Human Capital.”  The panel discussion, presented by the Northern Illinois University’s Center for Human Capital & Leadership was facilitated by Terrence Bishop, Associate Professor of Management at NIU.

The panelists were:

Douglas Baker, President, Northern Illinois University

Tom Simon, Senior VP of Talent Management, U. S. Foods

Audrey Southard, Senior VP of Business Process Reengineering, Follett Corporation

Janet Viane, VP of Operations, Sears Holding Corp.


When asked by Professor Bishop to prioritize the most critical steps in leading change, each participant agreed that aligning talent within your workforce to new strategies was crucial.

Ms. Viane said three critical steps are  1) being mindful of a well-thought plan by carefully assessing your situation and your people,  2) by having the kind of leadership that you would be willing to have with you in a lifeboat,  and 3) to be able to communicate appropriately, not only written and verbal communication, but non-verbal communication.

Ms. Southhard added that leadership must be visible, clearly showing enthusiasm, even anger, as long as the passion is genuine and part of the vision of the company.

Mr. Simon said while nothing drives change more than pain, you need to communicate a compelling case for change, with a leader inspiring everyone within the company with not only courage and consistency but also a means to measure what success looks like.

Dr. Baker’s priorities were 1) the right people, 2) direction, 3) culture and 4) allocation of resources.

Professor Bishop advised the group attending the conference not to retreat from change, but to charge ahead; to adopt and improve on the fly.

When he asked the participants for what advice they would give, Mr. Simon said to provide constant communication.

Ms. Viane said to keep your team alignment in sync and always provide clarity to all members of your team.

Ms. Southard advised on reaching out to people who can help you.

Dr. Baker added it is not what or how but why. You must figure out “why” you are making changes to your company and drive the “why” through the whole organization.

Mr. Simon strongly suggested not to over promise. If you have unexpected disappointments in the process, you can’t lose your credibility.

Northern Illinois University will be offering more professional development programs in the upcoming months.  On April 15, at the NIU Naperville Campus, Professor Mahesh Subramony will lead a workshop on Workforce Metrics entitled “Aligning Human Capital with Business Success”.  On May 15, Professor Bishop will lead a discussion on “Skills for the Effective Management of Change” at NIU