Embracing Conflict in Change with Olivia Chalmers


How often do you experience confrontation in your work? My guess is not often enough.

As our latest guest, Olivia Chalmers highlights that confrontation is a great driver of opportunities that can drive real change. In her work as a process improvement consultant she leverages confrontation to uncover and address deep rooted issues that often are the crux of why change appears to take a long time or fails to be sustained. As we discuss in this episode, it is common in organisations that we place a single person at the helm of change. But this is often one of the primary reason change stumbles. Peers feel unable or unwilling to challenge the approach or the intent because it may cause awkwardness they would rather not deal with. Instead, Olivia would argue that although a single accountable person is useful in some circumstances, when exploring what, why and how to change, it is better that it is done as a collective. Leadership as a group with the power to challenge and confront one another's views to help arrive at the most rounded, most likely to work and most stress tested solution intended for the problem at hand. I'm also reminded by Olivia's shear energy and youth that to make change happen, you have to be willing to ask the obvious questions. You have to be able to take the uncomfortable glares and gestures that comes with asking more experienced people the basic questions that break down the facade of the "this is the way things have always been done". As I was starting out in my own career I was always amazed as how superficially people agreed with one another or how poorly we would handle points of disagreement. Neither situation was good and instead I would spend time with those individuals to understand more deeply their silence or their concerns and the try to understand how to facilitate better, more productive conversations. It actually why I moved away from Project Management into Change Management. Because the crux of what was missing was the space to allow people to explore their concerns, worries and opportunities without the judgement they feared would come (and often did) with it. It makes me wonder that perhaps we have it back to front as to who we allow to facilitate our most important change and transformation conversation - veteran consultants of the industry or optimistic bystanders with a solid grasp of people and some superficial knowledge of the subject matter. I'm sure there is a place for both but Olivia makes a strong case for using youth, optimism and "inexperience" to work with Organisational dissent and confrontation to support change designed which has a higher chance of being sustained. I'm sold, I always have been but I never saw how scarce this way of thinking is. Time for a change.


The Change Chair: Ket Patel & Olivia Chalmers. Speakers @ People Power 2022