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Unification Commission introduces its culture consultant

Kelly Beeland has worked with organizations small and large, including the Transportation Security Administration and NASA.

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Arlington, Virginia — On Saturday, the Unification Commission introduced Kelly Beeland, a consultant with nearly three decades of experience helping companies and organizations with, among other tasks, change management and understanding culture. Beeland took commissioners through a half-hour presentation on the work she’s already begun. Her contract ends Dec. 31.

Kelly Beeland
Kelly Beeland

“I’ve worked with the [Transportation Security Administration] and NASA. I love working with diverse organizations,” she said. “There are predictable patterns to organizational behavior and culture. What I bring is experience with predictable patterns. You are the experts with your organizations in the church.”

Beeland identified three project objectives:

  • Understanding the existing cultures, which she plans to report on by Aug. 16.
  • Establishing expectations for a new culture for the merged agencies, the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Office of the General Assembly, reporting by the same date.
  • Making recommendations to address the cultural issues that may hinder unification by Dec. 14.

She defined change management as “the practice of ensuring that changes in an organization are smoothly and successfully implemented and that lasting benefits are achieved by managing the human aspects of change.”

Developing proposed unified budgets for 2025 and 2026 reflects “solid change management practices,” Beeland said.

The change curve organizations often experience follows the work of psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who identified four stages of grief that many people experience: shock/denial, anger/fear, acceptance, and commitment.

Again, the unified budget process “used elements of change management to successfully minimize negative impacts on the organization,” Beeland said. Those included discussing how agencies would work together in a new future state, communicating consistently, and using a cross-organization leadership team.

Benefits of change management include ensuring that the “people side” of change is managed, and strong results are delivered as the workforce accepts and commits to changes more quickly, she said. Without change management, employees “do not incorporate change into their work and revert to their previous way of doing work. Nothing changes,” she said.

Culture is how organizations do things. It’s comprised of values, attitudes, systems, and rules. It’s “the unspoken rules of how things are done,” she said. She listed nearly two dozen elements of organizational culture, including leadership, technology, management structure, communication, customers, values, economics, vision, innovation, employees, employee voice and history.

She said that commissioners’ considerations could include:

  • What change management capability do OGA and PMA have today?
  • What levels of change fatigue exist within the workforce?
  • The risk of not establishing a program-level change management capability is that employees “will not receive the information and support they need to understand, accept and commit to updates to the target culture.”

Commissioner the Rev. Scott Lumsden said there are “significant how questions” about, for example, how culture change will come about. “We are essentially a board of directors. We’re not management,” Lumsden said. “It’ll be helpful to get your insight about what we can expect our role to be and what pieces need to be taken on by leaders and staff within the organization.”

“Changing culture is really hard work,” Beeland said. Culture is “tightly aligned with organizational strategy,” and that’s where “it gets sticky between the work of the Unification Commission and leadership. … How do you measure success? Where does accountability lie three, six and nine months out? We need to make sure there’s a plan to make that stick.”

Another commissioner, the Rev. Frances Lin, wondered: “Is it creating a new culture where everybody buys in, or do we change the culture?”

“The question we don’t have an answer to is, how significant a culture change do you want?” Beeland said. “It seems to me there are great parts of both organizations that need to remain, and there is common ground to bring them together.”

“Culture changes all the time in organizations,” she noted. “How much capability and capacity do you have to give to this? If it’s not very much, maybe you back off the culture change piece. At some point, you think about the tactical side of it. It’s classic project management in some ways.”

“As I gather information, this will help me create a picture where your organization falls today, and we might have a conversation about where you want the organization to be from a culture perspective,” Beeland said. “What are the leadership attributes you need? What can you borrow from another culture to get you through?”

One thing Beeland doesn’t want to do is “to leave you with a beautiful report that’s not doable,” she said. “Thank you for this opportunity. I am excited to be here working with you.”

by Mike Ferguson, Presbyterian News Service