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Creative Change Management

Marci Morford on organizational change

My friend and colleague, Marci Morford, has been helping teams at some very large organizations, including The Gates Foundation and Salesforce, navigate some very large changes.

In today’s podcast, Marci talks about the key role that so-called “Grumpy Hours” can have, and why training professionals have already lost when they immediately agree to a senior leader’s request for training.


Brian Washburn:

Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, I’m your host. I’m also the Co-founder of an instructional design company called Endurance Learning. Today I am joined by Marci Morford, who is the Senior Manager, Enablement Culture and Innovation at Salesforce. Hello, Marci. How are you?

Marci Morford: Hello, I’m fabulous. How are you?

Brian Washburn: I’m doing well. I’m going to get into our conversation that I’m excited to jump into, but just before we do that, I do need to let everyone know that today’s podcast is brought to you by Soapbox, which is an online tool you can use for 5 or 10 minutes, and you can take care of about 50 or 60% of the work when it comes to developing live, instructor-led training. So basically you go in, you tell the computer how long your presentation is, how many people will attend, whether it’s in-person or virtual, what your learning objectives are, and Soapbox will instantly generate a training plan for you with clusters of training activities that are designed to help you accomplish all of your learning outcomes.

What’s the difference between this and ChatGPT? Well, ChatGPT will give you a lesson plan, but it doesn’t necessarily even ask you what your learning objectives are. With Soapbox, you can go in and go ahead and tell what your objectives are, and it will give you activities specifically designed to get you where you want to go. If you want more information or you want to try it out for free, go to

All right. That was a mouthful. I’m ready, Marci. You have my undivided attention. And before we get into this, you and I have known each other for years and years, but our listeners don’t necessarily know you. So how would you like to introduce yourself in exactly six words?

Six-word Biography 

Marci Morford: Yeah, well my job title is exactly six words, so I thought about using that, but I’m trying not to be just my job, you know? Alright. I am going to go with, “Feminist conquering planet slowly and chaotically.”

Brian Washburn: And honestly, I think that as I’ve followed your journey over the past few years, especially through COVID, you are doing– you are handling life the least chaotically of many people that I’ve seen. You have been– you’ve decided to take control over your own situation. You’ve traveled the country, you’ve traveled the world, you’ve been out with your dogs, you’ve been out with work. So I’m really impressed with everything that you’ve been able to do and I’m excited to get into this conversation because you work for a company that maybe one of the biggest constants is change, and you have to help people get through those changes. And I think that a lot of other people who are listening, at some point or another, are going to need to help people navigate and manage change.

And so we’re talking about the role that you play in change management, but before we dive too deeply, that term change management can mean lots of different things to lots of different people. How would you define the term change management? So that everyone listening kind of has the same concept in their mind. Whether or not they have that definition, they can be aligned with how we’re using that term today.

What is Change Management?

Marci Morford: Yeah, I think that’s great. I think this word is used a lot of different ways in a lot of different industries, even within Salesforce, the term change management — actually, we can’t use that term because it’s what they use when engineers implement a change in code. So we can’t call it that, but what I am talking about is like the zooming out away from training to include training, but the entire process of analyzing and helping. Why people aren’t wanting to change and then getting them to the point of sustained behavior change? So for me, it’s about finding out the reasons – every single reason – a person isn’t doing whatever the desired change is or might not – if you haven’t started. And then tackling those reasons in a way that’s, like, respectful to them as an adult and independent person rather than like a cog in the machine.

Why doesn't a person want to change? Why do they think the change is stupid and a bad idea? Why don't they agree with leadership? Why is the change hard? Like, what is the skillset that they don't have? And then in what ways are we incentivizing (or not) the new behavior?

 And for me, training is one of those five steps that we can talk about like the steps I usually use when I’m tackling it. But for me, it’s like why doesn’t a person want to change? Why do they think the change is stupid and a bad idea? Why don’t they agree with leadership? Why is the change hard? Like, what is the skillset that they don’t have? And then in what ways are we incentivizing (or not) the new behavior?

Brian Washburn: I like how you made that distinction between change management as implementing change in code and this idea of helping people through some sort of change in their own work style or work performance or work procedure. Do you have a couple of examples of changes that you’ve had to help people navigate? So that– just so that people kind of get a feel for what kind of scale change we’re talking about here.

Examples of Change Management in Action

Marci Morford: Yeah. So some of the big ones that I’ve worked on in my career was at the Gates Foundation, worked on the transition from Skype to Microsoft Teams across the global organization. So folks were used to using Skype, but they had been using it for, you know, 15 years, and we wanted them to turn off Skype, which we were going to do hard at a certain date, and start using Microsoft Teams, which is a new software product. And people were not happy about necessarily having their favorite piece of software turned off, and so that’s a big one that I’ve worked on.

And at Salesforce, some of the ones we’ve worked on are like big technological changes. So we’re going to ask a giant group of engineers to start coding their data differently, or we’re going to ask them to spend more of their sprint prioritizing, monitoring, and testing instead of feature building. So those are some of the big examples of the types of changes I work on.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. And anybody who’s been on the receiving end of the information, “Hey, you’ve been doing this for years, maybe for your entire career, and now you can’t do it that way anymore,” might be able to sympathize with the plight of somebody who’s like, “No. I don’t want to change.” And anybody who’s ever had to implement those kind of changes can probably empathize or sympathize with you in your role. And so a lot of times, you know– I introduce this as a podcast about all things learning and development, but learning and development isn’t always the only solution. You know, there’s lots of different pieces that go into change. What role do you think that learning or training plays in helping people make that switch and what else is important in making a change?

What Role Does Learning Play in Helping People Make Changes?

Marci Morford: Yeah, my favorite example when I’m trying to talk to– so it’s not even just learning people, I think. I think many people in learning know that it’s not just learning, but at least in my role, we’ll get senior leaders and they’ll come to us and say, “Oh, we’re going to do this new big technical thing. Train our people.” And for me, the conversation is– the analogy I like to use is around weight loss. Many of us on the planet have had at least one time in their life you’re like, “Wow, I could stand to lose a couple.” And if somebody came up to you and said, “You need– I need to teach you how to lose weight.” Like it’s, it’s cute to me. I’m like, “Well, that’s not why.” Like, I know how I’m not going to do it for 15 reasons, but it’s not because I need an online module on how to eat less calories than I burn. We all know how, we’re just not doing it.

There's like so many systems in our lives that make things hard that have nothing to do with our ability. And so that's what I try to talk about when I'm talking to leaders.

And there’s like so many systems in our lives that make things hard that have nothing to do with our ability. And so that’s what I try to talk about when I’m talking to leaders. I will build you a training. I will teach them how to do this big technological change, and they have to want to. They have to understand why we’re doing it. They have to be deeply motivated as to what this is going to do to help them in the future. They want to be heard. They want to be able to whine about it and tell you how annoying it is and how much they hate it because adults love it when you listen to them. And then, in addition, you have to incentivize them afterward to keep doing the thing. And in the middle, there’s a little bit of training.

Brian Washburn: And so what are some of the strategies you’ve found to be successful in incentivizing change? Or even– I know that when we were talking about this before, you used the word sneaking, right? So, how do you sneak change into people’s routines?

Strategies for Successfully Making Change Happen

We sneak change a couple of ways.

Marci Morford: (LAUGHS) Yeah, so we sneak change a couple of ways. Actually one of my favorite ways that we sneak change in at Salesforce is socially. Especially after the pandemic, I think this is really effective. Right now if you tried to do any kind of change management with even the whining bit or the motivational bit, people are on Zoom and they turn off their camera and then they don’t listen to you the entire time and they go back to doing whatever they’re doing.

So we’ve found it’s been really effective to get people to come to the office for like some sort of party. It can be any– it can be free lunch, it can be free breakfast, it can be a networking event, it can be a genuine happy hour. It doesn’t matter. You get them to come in under the pretext that you’re having a party, and then at some point during that party, there’s like a thing that happens and it is socially really, really weird in person to stop paying attention when something’s going on in a room. So it’s a really effective time if you’ve got a whole bunch of people in a big room that showed up and are in a good mood to be like, “By the way, we have this big problem with Salesforce and we need your help fixing.”

Brian Washburn: So you’re finding ways to bring people together and incentivize people together. But something else that you just mentioned is that, you know, being able to state the problem and not the fact that we’re going to shove a solution down your throat, but we need your help solving this problem. Has that been something that you’ve found particularly important?

Using the ADKAR Model of Change Management

Marci Morford: Yeah. So at Salesforce, we use– there’s lots of ways to do change management and we use, the Prosci, like, ADKAR Model, which you may or may not have heard of.

Brian Washburn: Mhm, yeah.

People won't change if they don't understand why they need to change.

Marci Morford: They’re all pretty similar, but the idea is that you have to go through a change management in a process that people are ready for. And in ADKAR, the first step is awareness. So that one just means people won’t change if they don’t understand why they need to change. And so that’s always step one where we go in is like: number one, do they have an awareness of why we’re making this change? Do they know why we’re doing this tech initiative and why it’s important and what will win? How big our stock price will be, and how big their bonus will be, and how much easier their life will be. Whatever the reason is, do they know what it is? And that’s always– that’s the party part. Like bring ’em in and make them aware of what the problem is and try to get some of that initial buy-in as to why the behavior change needs to happen.

And then the second part is desire in ADKAR. Desire is that the audience has to choose to do something different and they will not if they do not have the desire to change. So it’s like, what’s in it for me? And those are the party parts, those are the social parts where you can get them in a room and be like, let’s talk about the problem. Let’s figure out how we can motivate your soul. Like truly, not just like tell them they should care, but like really get them to care.

You get a whole bunch of leaders in the front of the room and people get to like shout at them about everything that sucks. People love it. It's like super cathartic, and at the end, people have identified-- like the people in your change audience have identified what sucks and what would fix it. And then the leader doesn't have to say it - nobody's telling them what to do.

And so the biggest success that we’ve had with these big parts around awareness and desire are asking them to solve the problem. If you get a whole bunch of adults in the room and they’re paying attention, say like, “Do you agree this is a huge problem?” And then they say, “Yeah, it sucks.” And then you say, “Well, how can we fix it?” And then they tell you what you’ve already decided. Usually like, “Oh, well we would need to do these five things differently if we wanted things to go better.” And you’re like, “Could we do that?” And then all of a sudden you have the buy-in because they’re the ones that came up with the solution. And we often call that– my colleague Ian had come up with something called Grumpy Hour instead of Happy Hour. You get a whole bunch of leaders in the front of the room and people get to like shout at them about everything that sucks. People love it. It’s like super cathartic, and at the end, people have identified– like the people in your change audience have identified what sucks and what would fix it. And then the leader doesn’t have to say it – nobody’s telling them what to do.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. And then you’re like, “Okay, you’re right. It sucks. So let’s change some things. You said it”

Marci Morford: Yeah. You said it.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. So what has been the most important lesson or two that you’ve learned about change management over the past year or two?

Lessons Learned Working in Change Management

I feel like the biggest lesson I've learned is like the second you say yes when a leader says build me training, you've already lost. You can't win if that's what you're trying to achieve.

Marci Morford: Okay, so the biggest lessons that I’ve learned are expectation setting with leadership. A lot of people, at least my experience with leaders, is that they’ll come to you and be like, “Build a training.” And that’s like a passing of a baton in their head and heart from them to you. Go build a training and this problem will go away. And so for me, a big win has been turning that right back around and being like, “That’s not how this is going to go. This is going to take way longer than you think, and it’s going to have way more to do with you than it is to do with me.” Because the engineers that I work with, they don’t know who I am from Joe Blow. I can help that leader do these grumpy hours. I can help that leader send out amazing messaging on awareness and helping people identify the problem. I can build training, but a lot of the work that has to be done around reinforcement and incentivization, they have to do. And so I feel like the biggest lesson I’ve learned is like the second you say ‘yes’ when a leader says ‘build me training,’ you’ve already lost. You can’t win if that’s what you’re trying to achieve.

And the other one I would say is go slow and go in order, which I hate because I’m a chaos machine. And for me, going through ADKAR and being like, “Do they have the desire before I start building the training?” Like in my heart, my training’s been dull for a year. But it doesn’t work like that. You have to wait for people to be ready to be trained. Otherwise, you immediately.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, it’s interesting. There are different models out there – ADKAR is certainly one of the more popular ones. The one that I’m most familiar with is John Kotter’s eight steps to change. And with that, and it sounds like with the process that you go through as well, you can’t skip a step. What Cotter has said is that anytime that he’s seen change initiative fail, it’s because somebody decided to skip a step. And you can’t, right? Change isn’t something that you just kind of hit an easy button to. It can be difficult and it is difficult, but you can compound how difficult you make it by trying to take shortcuts.

Marci Morford: Yep. Which sucks because I love shortcuts. There’s nothing more satisfying than shortcuts.

Brian Washburn: Who doesn’t love shortcuts? Well, we’ll give everybody who’s listening a shortcut out of this recording now. So Marci, thank you so much for sharing some insights, sharing some lessons learned, from where you sit and where you stand in helping to implement some successful change initiatives.

Thank you everyone else for listening to another episode of Train Like You Listen. If you know someone who might find today’s topic about the role of training in change management to be important, go ahead and pass the link to this podcast along. You can always subscribe to all of these podcasts on Apple, Spotify, wherever you listen to your podcasts. And of course, if you’re interested in learning more about a broad range of learning and development strategies, including change management, you can pick up a copy of my book, What’s Your Formula? Combine Learning Elements for Impactful Training at Until next time, everyone, we’ll talk to you later, but happy training.

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