The Next Big Question


Episode 14
Hosted by: Drew Lazzara and Liz Ramey

Rob Zelinka

CIO

Jack Henry & Associates

Rob is a senior technology and business executive with in-depth experience in leading complex organizations in the development and management of digital technology. Rob has held IT leadership roles at PROS, FMC Technology, and TTX Company.

How Can Leaders Crack the Change-Management Code?


APRIL 6, 2021

In this episode, we ask CIO Rob Zelinka of Jack Henry & Associates why change management is so hard for large organizations. We discuss change fatigue, the unrelenting pace of change, and how we are all working in technology-driven and data-driven organizations today. Rob shares how communication and transparency can help business leaders crack the change management code.

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Drew Lazzara (00:13):

Welcome to The Next Big Question, a weekly podcast with senior business leaders, sharing their vision for tomorrow, brought to you by Evanta, a Gartner company.

Liz Ramey (00:23):

Each episode features a conversation with C-suite executives about the future of their roles, organizations, and industries.

Drew Lazzara (00:32):

My name is Drew Lazzara.

Liz Ramey (00:33):

And I'm Liz Ramey. We're your co-hosts. So Drew, what's The Next Big Question?

Drew Lazzara (00:40):

This week, Liz, we’re asking, how can leaders crack the change management code? Helping us tackle this big question is Rob Zelinka, chief information officer at Jack Henry & Associates. Rob has more than 25 years of IT leadership experience with companies such as Kirkland & Ellis, TTX, and FMC Technologies. He’s got a lot of experience with change. He’s also been a professional baseball umpire, so he’s got some know-how when it comes to being clear and direct with his communication. It’s those two factors – constancy and communication – that are essential for clearing hurdles to change. In our conversation with Rob, he discusses why the concept of constant change is so appealing and essential, how to build resiliency for the unexpected, and where the CIO fits into the change agenda when so much of it is driven by technology.

Before we sit down with Rob, we’d like to take a moment to thank you for listening. To make sure you don’t miss out on the next, Next Big Question, please subscribe to the show on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. Rate and review us, so we can continue to grow and improve. You can visit Evanta.com for our full podcast archive, additional executive insights, and opportunities for connection. Thanks, and enjoy.

Drew Lazzara (02:02):

Rob Zelinka, welcome to The Next Big Question. Thanks so much for being on the show.

Rob Zelinka (02:06):

Well, thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here with you.

Liz Ramey (02:08):

Well, Rob, we're actually excited to have you and get to know you a little bit more and your view of change management and just being an IT leader. But we also want to get to know you on the personal side, as well. So, I've got a couple of questions here for you. I'm excited to ask. You know, I'm going to start out with what book, movie or musician do you recommend most often?

Rob Zelinka (02:31):

Yeah, that's a great question. I'm a big fan of the underdog. And so, I just recently watched a movie called Undefeated. So, the Apple TV store had a special on a whole bunch of movies that were football driven around the Super Bowl. And, I watched this movie with really no known actors that one would be excited to see. And there was a tremendous story about a group of kids from the inner city that came together and a coach that was committed to invest in them, and not just in their football lives, but in their personal lives. And it showed how people from different walks of life came together to pull off the impossible. So, it was a great story. I try to take that real-life story and make it human for things that I deal with in my day to day, but also what my team members might deal with in their day to day.

Liz Ramey (03:34):

That's great. So, were you, so who was the underdog this year in the Super Bowl? The Chiefs or the Buccaneers?

Rob Zelinka (03:40):

Yeah, that's an excellent question. I think it depends on who you ask. I mean, ultimately, I find there are either people that really love Tom Brady, and there's people that really can't stand Tom Brady, and very few are in-between. So, I think on paper, the Tampa Bay team was the underdog, but in reality, how can you say a team led by a six-time Super Bowl champion is ever the underdog? 

Liz Ramey (04:10):

Right.

Drew Lazzara (04:10):

Rob, I am on the hate Tom Brady side unequivocally. So, I can't have a rational conversation about this, but I agree. I'm so mad at the Chiefs. 

Rob Zelinka (04:20):

I understand.

Drew Lazzara (04:22):

I had a quick, quick question. I know that you've got a little bit of a sports background. You shared with me that you'd been a baseball umpire in the past. And given that you, you know, were drawn to this sports story, how do you think of the corollary between a coach or a sports leader and a business leader? I know that a lot of people use those kinds of metaphors, but do you think that makes sense? Is there a corollary there that you see?

Rob Zelinka (04:41):

There is, Drew. So, I think most people, even casual sports fans, can relate to the concept of a team together, learning through failure, pushing through challenging times to deliver exceptional results. And so, my experience in sports closely parallels my personal life, but also my professional life. I've learned a great deal from the baseball diamond. I've taken that forward in my day to day. Some of it works in my professional life and my personal life, and some of it does not work. So, for example, while people look to me as a senior leader and executive level person with our company, I'm on the bottom of the org structure here in the Zelinka home. So, my wife has been kind enough to put an org work chart on the refrigerator. And so, there's my wife at the very top of the org chart. There's my children right below her. Our pets are certainly then the next in line, and I'm at the very bottom. And so, but that's okay. You know, look, I mean, I'm on the org chart, which is the most important aspect there.

Drew Lazzara (05:59):

It’s helpful to know the hierarchy there. That can be useful. 

Liz Ramey (06:03):

That's exactly right. And I would love to meet your wife because that sounds like something that I would do in my own home.

Rob Zelinka (06:12):

Yeah. You know, here's the most important aspect. That the people we truly work for are the people that are in our nuclear home. And so, I could not be the person I am today without the love and the support, the nurturing, the pushing from my wife. You know, they often times have to accept a part of me versus the whole me because they understand that I played different roles. On the flip side of that, my team also understands that they -- I think to some, titles are scary. So, you know, I like to meet every single person that's within my organization. And I have close to a thousand people in my organization. 

And oftentimes someone that's very far down the organizational chart, they're intimidated and anxious. They get nervous when they meet me. And I always ask -- you know, I don't want to make people nervous. And they've been kind enough to share their feedback. And the feedback is just Rob, you have a C-level title; that's intimidating. And, and I said, yeah, but if you only knew -- I'm in the same car line you are picking up a six year-old from school. I’m at the same little league field helping a six year-old learn to catch a baseball. It's all relative. And I think if you can present yourself as a human to another human, it's easier for people to be at ease.

Liz Ramey (07:35):

Right. That's great. So actually, that kind of leads to my final question that I think nicely actually transitions into what Drew is going to talk or start the conversation about. But, that is, how do you with that mentality, what are the things that you do to kind of disarm yourself, right? So, people are comfortable with you. They do see you as a human. What are some of those actions or principles that you have set in order to do that?

Rob Zelinka (08:06):

Well, I always try to stay grounded as much as I can. You know, I tell my dad all the time that ultimately, I try to always remember where I came from. Because as fast as you climb the ladder, you come down even faster. And, we all come down at some point, either it's due to retirement or it's due to a change, a shift in priorities. So, I try to connect to each person I meet on a personal level. And here's what I've found in over 30 years. I have something in common with every single person I meet. And in most cases, I have many things in common. And so, we tend to gravitate towards those things that are important to us. So, Drew and I, we just naturally started talking about football because we know we both share a passion for football. And, but, you know, those are the things that bind us and connect us and help us navigate when it gets really, really challenging. You know, so here's a great example. I'm a Chicago man by my heart. I was born and raised in Chicago. And so, the things that I will forever be connected to Chicago with are Chicago style pizza, Chicago style hot dogs, for better or worse, the Chicago sports scene. I mean, there's a lot of passion, a lot of commitment and a lot of courage. You know, if you don a Chicago Bears Jersey or a hat, you've got to have some courage. You've got to realize you get ridiculed.

Drew Lazzara (09:32):

And rightfully so.

Rob Zelinka (09:34):

Yeah. They're not a good football team. Thanks for pointing that out, Drew. All that aside, that's what makes me, me. And, so I'm sharing my life stories with someone, and here's what I ended up finding out. There are other closet Bears fans out there, and they're not just from Chicago, either. There are other lovers of Chicago style pizza out there. And some of them are even in New York, if you can imagine that. And when you can connect with someone on a personal level, a human level, I think the barriers come down. And then when you get into a really spirited discussion around topics that are hard, are complex, you know, like for example, some of the social injustice that we've been seeing in our world. It isn't until you can understand someone on a human level, that you can understand their position and show empathy for their position. You might not agree with their position, and that's okay. You don't have to, but as long as you can have an understanding for the position, I think it helps you to navigate those truly tricky times. Because at the end of the day, that's the number one asset any company has, is their people. And you need your people to drive the outcomes that you as a leader have established for your company, for your customer, for your stockholder.

Drew Lazzara (10:55):

Yeah, Rob, I totally agree. And I think that's a perfect foundation for our big question today, which is really focusing on how do you as business leaders crack this change management code? And I was drawn to this topic in our first conversation together because you seem very passionate about it, but I was doing some research and doing a lot of reading of articles in preparation for our conversation. And I just found that there were a lot of generalizations about the problem. And there was a lot of information out there, but a lot of it was kind of dancing around specifics. And so, I wanted to strip away some of that business marketing language and get down to the root of the problem. So, from your point of view, why really is change management such a huge challenge for large organizations? 

Rob Zelinka (11:36):

Sure. Well, simply, change is hard. It makes us uncomfortable. And, we hear that all the time. What I'm sharing with you is not an enlightening, new revelation. The gist of it, though, is change is necessary for one reason or another. Either because of the needs of the customer have changed, either because the financial position of a company have changed, maybe the risk comfort or tolerance has changed. And the most important aspect of driving and navigating change is to first acknowledge that change is a constant. And get as comfortable with change as you can. 

The second aspect is to communicate. And, so you have to communicate to people why change is necessary. And then seek their input. Make sure there's clarity around why we're taking on a path of change. And then invite them to participate in the change in a meaningful way, in a way that they feel like they're helping to drive the change versus being told that you're going to accept the change, and you just need to kind of have to toe the line and, you know, embrace it, get on board or get off. That's the extreme example. And that's where I think most of the time where companies struggle with change management is around the fact that their communication methods, style, approach is either lacking or non-existent altogether. 

Liz Ramey (13:06):

Do you think that one of the challenges within this kind of concept or the practice of change management is that we often times like look too heavily on the fact that change is hard? Because there, I think there is a pretty strong subset of people who actually enjoy change and like change.

Rob Zelinka (13:32):

Sure, absolutely. So, you have a mixture of different personalities in any company. So you'll have, to your point, Liz, there are absolutely people that will tell you they enjoy change. They relish change. They thrive in times of chaos because they can bring normalcy and calm. There are also people that no matter how many times you put them in a change type scenario, they get queasy, they get anxious. 

Think of it as like a roller coaster. So, for better or worse, every one of us in our life has more likely than not been on a roller coaster. And some of us just love the opportunity to get on to that roller coaster. And it's the thrill for the 90 seconds or so that you're on the ride. There are others that no matter how many times they get on the ride and they know what's going to happen, they're terrified. And the only reason they're there is because some younger person in the family needs a partner. And so again, that's where courage and commitment come into play. 

You know, as an older person, our jobs are to nurture people along, to mentor people along. Sometimes those people are our children in our family. Sometimes they're junior level coworkers, people that are lesser experienced. It's kind of like walking up a staircase in the dark, in an unfamiliar place. If you're the person navigating a small child up that dark staircase, chances are, you're a little anxious, too, because you don't know where the final step is. But the last thing you want to do is show your anxiety to that younger person that you're helping navigate. Because the moment they see that you're a little bit scared or worse yet even terrified is the moment now that that sense of protection, sense of comfort, sense of assurance can dissipate. 

So, at the end of the day, the mark of any leader is to take those diverse opinions, those diverse feelings, and bring them together towards one common goal. And in the mortal words of Vince Lombardi, and this is profound. He had told his football team way back in the day that each and every Sunday we are in pursuit of perfection. We come to understand that we will never achieve perfection, but along the way we will achieve excellence.

And when we achieve excellence, that's good enough for us. And if you take that profound statement forward to this challenge, our goal is to try to get as many people on board with our mission as possible. The reality is, there will be people that just simply will not get on board either because it's uncomfortable, either because they are in vehement disagreement with the path. And it's okay for that. Tell them it's okay if you don't agree. It's okay if this makes you uncomfortable. It's even okay if you don't want to join us. But once we made that decision, that we've crossed that line of demarcation, that we have, that ship is leaving the port without you. You have to find another ship. That's hard. That's hard, right? I mean, because look, as hard of a message as it is to deliver, I think that message needs to be delivered, and people will respect you for that message. They might not like it, but they will respect that you had the courage and the commitment to deliver the message.

Drew Lazzara (16:51):

Well, Rob, you said a lot of interesting things there. I have about three different threads of questions that I want to follow up on. Let me, I want to start here, though. Backing up just a tiny little bit to just poke at your initial premise for just a moment and think about that as for a second. You talked about the necessity of change, and it being a constant in business. And, you know, the idea is the business has changed because the competitive landscape changes, and these changes are necessary to remain competitive. But, you know, I feel like, talking to executives and business leaders for about 10 years now, that idea of transformation has been so ubiquitous in the conversation for so long that I'm wondering, you know a), what is the appeal of change to everybody? And how do you parse out the change for change sake from the change that is essential for a competitive balance?

Rob Zelinka (17:40):

Yeah. Drew, it's an excellent point. I think ultimately what you're striving towards is a concept called change fatigue. So, if you think now, for better or worse, many of us have been in a full-time remote posture associated with protecting ourselves against the spread of COVID-19. And so a lot of us are fatigued. While it's great to be able to stay home and not have to travel for work, and we have, as a group of people have proven in a strong ability to deliver things through remote means -- things that we never thought were possible. The reality is -- is that you get to a point where you get fatigued. 

And so, in my organization, as an example, I've been with Jack Henry now for a little over three and a half years. And during my tenure, there have been three or four different restructurings of the IT organization. And so, it's not lost on me that people are fatigued with the number of changes that are continuing to come. Just when they're getting used to their new team structure, their new roles and responsibilities, maybe even their new leadership, we change it up again. And so, the question is almost always why or why do we keep changing? Why can't we just leave it alone for a little while? And here's the short answer. There are so many factors that are beyond our control out there, and we have to adapt to them. 

You know, again, another profound statement that one of our corporate leadership team members shared the other day with us as a group was that the pace of change has never been faster than it is today. That's true. Here's the other truth to that: today is the slowest it will ever be going forward. So tomorrow it's going to be a little more faster and the day after even more faster, and what we have to do is we have to continue to stay on target, on pace. 

You know, as a person that umpired professional baseball, here was the thing that I knew it was going to happen one day. There was going to come a day where the game was just too fast for me. My raw ability to operate at that level I needed to operate to be deemed successful would hit me squarely. And it would be a hard day. All that aside, you know, there are factors that drive us into the posture we're in. And I think the most important thing that any company has to stay focused on is you have to understand what are the core objectives of the company? Are you there to save money? Are you there to make money? Are you there to do both? Is your cost model too expensive? Is your value proposition to your customers stale? Does it need to be refreshed either through a digital transformation effort or a technology modernization effort?

I mean, you think about banking. This is core to what we do at Jack Henry. We provide solutions to financial institutions. I saw a graphic from almost a hundred years ago of the first generation, I guess I'd call it, drive-up window. And so, a person went to a box that was on the sidewalk and put an envelope into the box. And the person was underneath the sidewalk, could see with a mirror, what was being put into the box. And they basically communicated through a pretty crude microphone system. And that was the banking experience a hundred years ago. 

Now, fast forward, the banking experience 50 years later was a human being walked into a branch, spoke to a human being, handed an envelope across the counter to that human being, and that human being then took what was in the envelope and either deposited into an account or gave money back. Well, we thought our whole life changed when the ATM was introduced, not too much longer after that. 

Now think about how often do you even go to an ATM any longer? All of your banking is done on your mobile phone. Well, there's some challenges with that approach. But nonetheless, no one can argue how convenient it is to be able to make a deposit or transfer funds literally without leaving your home. And we as people have to adapt to all of these changes, and then kind of prioritize what changes are going to be the most impactful for positive reasons and impactful in the shortest amount of time, because that window is very fleeting. And so, we, while we think we're really good at what we do, and our customers tell us we're really good at what we do, based on some of our metrics, here's the reality. There are no shortage of competitors wanting to encroach in our business, on our space, with our customers. And that's just, that's the evolution of how businesses is done in the world. 

Liz Ramey (22:33):

Absolutely. You know, something that I actually admire in my husband, and we've kind of weaved sports throughout this, right? He a football and a track coach. And, one thing that he says to his athletes is ‘control the controllables,’ right? And, when you can control those controllables, the change that you're wanting to happen will happen. And, but so taking that kind of lens, and also thinking about it as you were talking about change fatigue, right? I tend to think of 2020 as, why did we have change fatigue? Well, we were thrown into something without being able to control the controllables. And, we didn't have any sort of structured change management plan in place to help us through that change, right? So, do you find that we can start, we can eliminate some of that change fatigue by putting structure with change management practices and such, you know, around the workplace in order to eliminate that fatigue.

Rob Zelinka (23:45):

Yeah, that's a really good point, Liz. In fact, my wife was very instrumental and a key point in my career of teaching me the concept of focusing on what you can control and not what you cannot control. And I use that every day in navigating change with my team members. Oftentimes get consumed with all of these feelings and emotions that are in us, like a bubbling cauldron. There's fear, there's uncertainty, there's doubt, there's frustration, there's anger, there's confusion. And those are just the ones that come off the top of my head. And the ability to be able to talk about them openly, transparently, without fear of reprisal or fear of someone ridiculing you, I think is critically important. 

That's that openness culture that we create here at Jack Henry, which is incredibly important. And then, the acknowledgement that, yeah, you're going to have to change course from time to time. We've all been in an automobile en route to a place, and we've had seen a nasty automobile accident that's blocked the road. And, now fortunately we have technology, like Waze and Google Maps and Apple Maps, that can navigate us around the congestion. You know, 20, 30 years ago, we had to figure it out on our own. And if we were in an area that we were comfortable with, we knew the back roads and how to go around it. But if we were traveling in a part of the country where we had no idea, you hoped you had someone in your car that had the access to the Atlas or the map and you can navigate, but you there's a lot of unknowns. 

So, you know, ultimately, I think it's critically important to invest people in the discussion around the changes, what's driving the changes, focusing on the things that we do absolutely have control over, and not focusing on the things that we don't have control over because ultimately we're not as apt to influence those things as we can the things that are within our purview.

Drew Lazzara (25:47):

Rob, I want to talk a little bit more about some of those structure things that, you know, you and Liz have touched on. It seems like this accelerating pace of change is related a lot to technology. And a lot of the changes that we're instituting in our businesses are technology related. So, I think maybe the default setting is ‘okay, that's the CIO or the IT leader's responsibility.’ So, it tends to fall in your laps more often than it's distributed across the business. And I'm wondering, you know, since it's so technology driven is that the right approach? And, and what might be a better, more equitable way to divide the challenges of change across the business?

Rob Zelinka (26:22):

You know, it's interesting that the CIO role has evolved and changed over the last 10 to 15 years. So, it used to be the CIO was the most technically savvy person or the strongest operator, if you will. And that person was put in a position to oversee a group of technology-focused people. At that time, in most cases, those folks in those positions of leadership were not strong financially minded people -- that wasn't their strong suit. So, managing and operating their department as if it was a business was challenging for them because they never had to do it. 

Now, how that position has evolved over the years is the CIO or CTO is now really a leader of business and not a leader of technology in the purest form. And that's by design because there's so many other roles that have been created in the last 10 years. Roles like the chief marketing officer, chief digital officer, chief data officer, and all of these roles require a blend of knowledge and experience on an industry level, on a technology level, on a risk level. Again, thinking about all the factors that you can influence to drive the outcomes for your company in the quickest possible way. 

And so, because there's so much overlap in skill set and knowledge base, I think a group of senior leaders, C-level leaders, need to come together and have those really challenging conversations around what are our goals and objectives that we've acknowledged and prioritized. And more importantly, we are funding. We are committing to. There's a book called Rise that talks about a concept called ‘ruthless priorities.’ And what a ruthless priority is -- it is something that you commit to doing no matter what. So, you're going to, people are going to get sick. People are going to go on vacation. Companies are going to get acquired. There's going to be natural disasters. There's going to be people leaving the company, people coming into the company. But you, as the leader of that area have established a list of prioritize that you are committing to getting done no matter what. 

And as a senior leadership team for a company -- the company had must have that list assembled and you have to show courage and commitment because sometimes those commitments are scary. They're big and audacious. But the reality is if you're committed to doing it together, the likelihood of success is stronger than it is if there's uncertainty or a lack of commitment. And so, I think to bring closure to this, Drew, at the end of the day, the CIO is not the only technologist in the company any longer, just as if the CISO, the chief information security officer is not the only person that knows security any longer, and it's not the CIO's responsibility to drive this strategy alone. He or she must do it in a transparent, collaborative way with other leaders across the company. That's the only path to success, I think, in today's modern world.

Liz Ramey (29:30):

These are all great points. And I have maybe a bit of a provocative question for you as, as you are a CIO. You know, I think of these large technology projects -- ERP, right? A CRM, you know, you're establishing these, you're providing these big technology platforms that end up having to have a big change management initiative associated with them. But ultimately, the goal for a lot of these new, large technology implementations is data, right? Is getting good data. And so, one of these ruthless priorities that I see for many organizations right now is to become data driven. So, my question to you is it more challenging to have that change management or the change mindset around data or technology?

Rob Zelinka (30:32):

Yeah, Liz, that's a $64,000 question. And I realize I just dated myself with the old pyramid game that we used to….

Liz Ramey (30:41):

It's like Dr. Evil, right? Like $1 million.

Rob Zelinka (30:46):

Exactly. So, I think we can all agree the number one asset any company has, is always it's human capital, it's people. The second most important asset any company has is its data. Most companies, and look, I have no shame here in acknowledging this, most companies like Jack Henry, and we're no different, are very tactically driven with data. So, you can manage data, you can secure data, you can protect data, but how strategic are you at data, and meaning -- are you using it for competitive advantage to differentiate yourselves in the marketplace? And I think all companies regardless of their industry must come to the conclusion that they're technology companies. 

And I think there are many companies that have realized they're technology-based company. I think there are many though, too, that have not realized they're a technology company. So, for example, there are, I live in Houston, and Houston's landscape is filled with oil and gas companies, big companies. And I would submit there's a number of big oil and gas companies that believe they're an oil and gas company and not necessarily a technology company. Well, if you think, if you look at all of the shifts in the oil and gas industry, and some of them are regulated by government influence and there's other external factors. Make no mistake, the days of us consuming oil and gas like we did 20 years ago, 30 years ago, are going to change and shift as we start to embrace newer types of energy -- wind-based energy, solar-based energy, for example. 

And so, to your question about what's more important technology, investment or data investment, I don't think you can do one without the other. I think you need the data to make informed technology decisions, to make informed business decisions. And the only way that you can get the data is to invest in the right people, the right process, and the right technology. So, they really go hand in hand. And it's kind of like the chicken and the egg, which is first? If I was to ask a chief data officer or data scientist, what do you think they're going to say? They're going to say the data, right. But if I talk to a chief technology officer, they're likely going to say the technology is foundational for the delivery of data.

Liz Ramey (33:07):

Right, so, there needs to be almost change management processes around the first piece with the people, process, and technology. And then, so we can make sure that we're using that correctly, and making, providing better business outcomes with the output of that data. There needs to be some change management practices wrapped around that data piece, as well.

Rob Zelinka (33:31):

Absolutely. And I think the other point is being what I call comfortable in your own skin. So, you know, there was a point where the CIO was the be-all, end-all to technology. So anything that even remotely looked like it was a technology issue, went to the CIO. That that was traditional things like monitors, keyboards, mice, printers, but it also moved into odd things, like microwaves, dishwashers, elevators. And, so this is why it's not unusual for the facilities function to somehow tie into the CIO because there is so much technology, and it's now finding itself into the workspace that you have to find a way to manage it and do it in a cost effective and consistent manner. 

And oh, by the way, there's all these external forces that are trying to drive you towards a better posture. So for example, there's what we call ESG, which is environmental, social, and governance, and there's a strong push to get to closer to zero carbon footprint. And so that puts pressure on businesses to start to take that into account. And then showcase what you're doing in that regard, versus what you're not doing in that regard. And then determining what level of investment you want to make in those types of technologies. If you're a publicly traded company in specific industries, you may have to make a deeper investment than you would if you were a privately held company not beholden to stockholders, for example. 

Drew Lazzara (34:59):

Well, Rob, you've been very generous laying out some specific things that you do with your teams to help them along with change. And, you know, at the beginning of the conversation, you laid out a great framework and offered some advice on what's been successful. I'm wondering if you'd be willing to share an instance when a change management initiative didn't go as planned and maybe a little bit of what you learned from that shortcoming.

Rob Zelinka (35:22):

Sure. So again, I subscribe to a concept of being transparent and open with people, even if I'm communicating unpleasant information. I think people respect the fact that you're giving them some notice versus just hitting them cold with something. So I worked in oil and gas five or six years ago, and I had the gargantuan task of having to reduce costs. And it wasn't by a little bit. And it was by a lot. I mean, I was having to shave millions of dollars from my plan. And so, one of the things that I, my team and I came to the conclusion of is that we were going to have to look at embracing the possibility of outsourcing some functions to a trusted third party. 

And, the reason we were looking at that is it would deliver the cost structure that we were looking for, understanding that we would sacrifice service level, meaning we knew we were delivering exceptional service levels, but we also knew that the cost structure was just too high at that moment for our company. And so, I wanted to communicate in advance to people that we were going to be exploring a third-party path for part of our business. And, I wanted to explain why we're doing what we were doing it. And then, I further wanted to explain how it would affect people in certain roles. 

And, because of the fact that I was managing resources across the globe, I worked really hard with various people that support me on the proper way to communicate this. And so, we set up these town hall sessions in different parts of the world. And I just happened to have traveled to Europe. And I was there bright and early in the morning at eight in the morning. And, I communicated what our plan was, why we were doing it, how it would potentially affect people. 

And, our Asia office was next after that presentation. Well, our Asian office, our presence in Asia was in Singapore, and they had awareness that we were doing it because people were essentially recording my presentation, notating it, the slide deck, and forwarding it onto people in Asia. Well, this was all happening behind the scenes. I was so busy with getting the narrative out there to first, the UK and Europe and our European points of presence, and then to our Asia point of presence. And then of course, the last end of it was to come back to the United States and deliver the same message. 

Well, by eight o'clock in the morning, the next morning in Houston, every single person knew exactly what had happened. And, it seems so simple, Drew, I should have known that I should have just had one meeting, but here's the challenge. I'm trying to be respectful of time zones. A meeting at eight in the morning in Houston is 10 in the evening in Singapore. And so, it's not easy to find the balance of when's the right time. 

And, so the other thing that happened is as you might imagine I had a technology snafu. And so, my video, I really believe in the concept of video. In the absence of being face-to-face with you, I wanted you to at least look in my eyes. I want you to see my body language. I want you to understand that this is hard on me, too. While I'm tasked with performing a task to deliver an outcome, it's not lost on me that there's a human being on the other side that is not… that is going to be impacted negatively by a decision that I make. 

And so, I want it to be known that I care. Well, when I lost my video feed, I was a little anxious, and I started looking under the desk to try to fix what was broken. And so, at that moment in time, people interpreted that I intentionally cut my video off, so that I wouldn't have to look people in the eyes to communicate a bad message, which was farthest from the truth. But sometimes those optics are big and bold, and you have to manage the optics because the optics are more telling sometimes than the reality of what you're trying to convey.

Drew Lazzara (39:30):

Well, it's a really relatable story. I can't even imagine. You know, now we've got Teams and Slack and everybody's using all these channels. I can't imagine how instantaneous that kind of bad news can travel, too. So, it amplifies quickly.

Rob Zelinka (39:45):

Well, Drew, I tell my daughter all the time, there's a digital footprint of everything you do and say online, so you might be able to delete your posts, but someone else has it in their possession.

Drew Lazzara (39:54):

Always good to be mindful of that. And I like the idea of just cautioning leaders always be aware of, I guess, the optics, you know. Be aware of all the ways you're conveying a message and that always helps the truth go down a little more smoothly. Well, Rob, we always like to end these episodes with a question that you might have for other executives. So, if you had one big question that you could ask any other business leader, what would that be?

Rob Zelinka (40:17):

Yeah, that's a fantastic question. I always ask the same question to people when I first meet them, if I don't know them: what is your passion? And they don't know how to answer sometimes. Well, you mean at work or do you mean in my personal life? Wherever you want to take it. What are you passionate about? Because once I know what someone's passionate about, I can hone in on it, and that's when you really can get people out of their shell. 

So, if they're type B personalities, more reserved, more introverted, if you figure out what makes them excited and gets them all energized, you'll get them to come out. I mean, it's amazing. They blossom like a flower sometimes. On the flip side, you know, for people like me who are widely considered extroverts and open and love to chat about their life's work and their experience, you can then focus in on those areas that really, that makes them tick. It gets them energized. And then just that -- it's infectious, that type of a feeling of someone that has lots of energy and passion around something. 

People just want to gravitate towards positive things, especially in times that we're in now where it seems like every time you turn on the news, there's another setback, either another variant of the virus or some something in the community that has causing stress and strain. You know, now more than ever, we need something that pulls us together and unites us.

Liz Ramey (41:47):

That's wonderful. Well, thank you so much for that. I think I just really enjoyed this conversation, really enjoyed getting to know you and a lot of your philosophies on life and business. And so thank you so much for joining us.

Rob Zelinka (42:01):

Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed chatting with you both.

Drew Lazzara (42:05):

Thanks so much, Rob.

Liz Ramey (49:09):

Thank you, again, for listening to The Next Big Question. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to the show on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen. Rate and review the show, so that we can continue to grow and improve. You can also visit Evanta.com to explore more content and learn about how your peers are tackling questions and challenges every day. Connect, learn, and grow with Evanta, a Gartner Company.


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