Dr Jen

Hello Everybody, fantastic to be back with you. It’s Dr. Jen Frahm and in this episode I have the rather fabulous Melissa Balioruski joining us. Melissa is a consummate change leader, incredible experience in this space. I love my conversations with her, particularly when it comes to operationalizing agile, and so I couldn’t wait to bring her as a guest on this podcast for you. Melissa, welcome. Tell us about yourself and what you do.


Thanks, Jen, and thank you for the lovely feedback. I, by title, am an enterprise change manager, but what that means for me as an individual though is something different. I think that we hold a position or a title in an organization, but for me what really floats my boat is supporting individuals and leaders to lean into change and to learn and grow and develop the skills and tools that are just as effective for life as they are in any organization.

Dr Jen

Amazing, amazing. Tell me, and I guess in a broad sense, what does change and agility mean to you? How is it important to you in the organizations you’ve worked in? Because you’ve got a great career now, so what are the nuances of it?


Yeah, it’s a great question, Jen. Look, for me, it’s a core competency. It’s a core competency that every individual should have, whether you’re a leader or just an individual. And as I mentioned before, I truly believe that that’s whether from a personal experience or an organizational context, we’ve only got to look at the last few years and we truly are living in a VUCA world. You look at Covid, you look at the economic environment we’re currently in, you look at the wars overseas, my surname’s Polish. So yes, we have family in Poland, so no one is untouched by the world and the rapid pace of change that we are living in.

So in an organizational context, every organization is influenced by political, socioeconomic events and developments and change is becoming ever constant. And for me, reading research, there was a recent Gartner paper that came out where it was talking about people’s reduced capacity to deal with change in organizations. And I can’t help but think that that’s because we’re living in a VUCA world and we’ve got so much going on in our personal lives that our capacity and resilience in an organizational context is somewhat reduced. So as human beings, it’s dependent on us to be active and take responsibility for supporting each other through change. And in an organizational context, I think we have a responsibility to do that respectfully and to genuinely support people through what is a very human process.

Dr Jen

Can you say a little bit more about that with respect to agility?

Because I mentioned again, in your career you’ve seen this shift from purely change management and I think what you were triggering for me right then was once upon a time we were having a conversation about change, resilience and change fatigue and change capacity in the context of purely organizational change.

Now we’re doing it in the context of all these external factors on top of it and the move to agility in organizations. And it’s almost like there’s this escalating or ascending volume or difficulty in what we do. I don’t know. Yeah, it’s funny, and I was only reflecting on my career path the other day, and you’re right, I mean I am 50 years old, happy to admit that got 30 years under my belt these days and when I came out as a young graduate, change management was kind of connected to my HR and economics degree. It was this add-on thing that you did and it was still very command and control in those days. Very autocratic, very hierarchical in its nature. I think the great thing about agility, and I think there’s an amazing sweet spot here when you bring agility to the fore is that it transitions us from ‘a telling people what to do in a change space right through to the other end of the spectrum, which is around co-creation.

And I love the notion of co-creation because for us as individuals who like a little bit of control and let’s face it, I’m a recovering perfectionist and I’m happy to admit that I think, not only is it about putting some control back into the hands of the individuals, but there’s a richness to pulling the information out where it resides from within the organization. So ultimately at the end of the day, you get a much better product or outcome for your business and the individuals. So it’s a win-win and why wouldn’t you do it? And the why wouldn’t you do it is because there’s still this notion and desire to control by elements within organizations because that’s what they’re comfortable with. Without that level of control, they feel possibly insecure, they have fear and it’s kind of like asking ’em to step to the dark side, but when you do, you’ll never go back.

Dr Jen (06:44):

This is what I find, and obviously this is why I love our conversations, is because there’s so much mirroring going on in terms of, you know, I always say that we get into change for our desire to control the change and the move to agile change is one of having to really learn to let go of that control. And when you get to that point where you can do it, it is so liberating and it’s so freeing and it’s so exciting. It almost transfers over to real life, to personal life outside of organizations. Yeah. Look, Jen, I think it really does, and the reason that it does is because it requires you to undergo a full mindset shift yourself. And you and Lena have put together the most amazing course, and I’m sorry, I am going to give a bit of a shout out for a here, but the mindsets piece for me just really sat me back on my haunts and I really had to assess how I engaged with my outside worlds and what were my personal triggers and biases that I was bringing to the table.

Melissa (07:52):

And it’s something that I’m privileged enough to be able to engage in conversations around in my current organization where we’re starting those conversations with individuals. And I ran a session only this week and I got some beautiful feedback from the team saying, we’re still talking about that session because you know, you’ve really opened up some great questions for us to really consider. And I think if we can create those safe spaces and support individuals to sort of really challenge their mental models and let’s be honest, that’s tough because a lot of those mental models, certainly from my perspective, are rooted in trauma and it takes a lot of work to get to the bottom of that. And I wouldn’t have wanted to have worked for me even seven years ago to be really honest with you when I considered the shift in mental model that I’ve had just over the last decade myself on a personal level.

Dr Jen (08:56):

So you’ve just raised the trauma concept and that will be new for a lot of listeners and people perhaps watching this on YouTube. Can you say a little bit more around your thinking there around what’s happening for people? Yeah, look, I think, and my case isn’t unique. I think a lot of us experience a degree of trauma sometime in our lifetime, whether that’s at a conscious or a subconscious level. For me it was subconscious for a very long time, and it wasn’t until I really started to do this work that I really started to understand the fact that it was creating a bias in the way I saw the world and not only a bias, it would also generate triggers for me. So where I got into certain situations, I would retreat and I still do from time to time others fight. But effectively for me, I was in a constant state of fight or flight and the way I could manage that anxiety that was produced from that trauma was to control my environment. So from a mindset perspective, if we look at agile mindsets, it’s actually quite the antithesis of what you want to see in an organization. So for me to be able to really do the work to shift my mindset, I had to understand what was the basis of it, what were my triggers, and become really conscious and make better choices.

Dr Jen (10:41):

That was incredibly generous of you. I just want to acknowledge to use your own example there, and I thank you for that. I’m quite sure that’s going to inspire a few people to look at themselves. I think where my interest in this space is also similar to yours, but it’s also the more that I learn about this space, we’re talking about 24% of our organizational populations do have multiple traumas in their background. We now have this concept of cumulative trauma post covid, and it impacts, as you’ve just beautifully explained, it impacts your brain and how it receives change and how it views change. And so I think it’s really such an important space for leaders to be looking at. You also mentioned before that you talked about the workshop you ran last week. So I’m kind of curious around the approaches you’ve taken to building change capability and capability in agility or agile in the organizations you’ve worked in, what works, what doesn’t?

Dr Jen (11:47):

What’s your reflections on building capability? Look, it’s really interesting and we’ll go back to that continue of my past experience versus what I’m doing current state. I think it’s quite interesting. We talk about maturity models and when you’re looking at the foundations of change, one of the things that most organizations do is get change management into their projects and then we start to standardize the tools and templates and that’s great. For me, the missing connection piece has been why and understanding the human process of change because if you don’t understand why you’re doing it, then it’s really difficult to connect with the human beings in a really meaningful way. The other thing I think is that a lot of the tools and templates that we’ve used evolved are quite clinical and don’t look at it from a human perspective. So this transition to human-centered design within the change space has been incredible.

Melissa (12:50):

There’s a great tool that you guys advocate I know, which is an empathy map, which is one I actually sit and do with my leadership team to really put them in the seat of the individual and ask them the question, how do you want them to think, feel, and act as we transition through this change? And what do you want to see? What does good look like at the other end? Because I think we do, and I still think a lot of organizations fall into that habit of an email on Monday for training on Tuesday for a go live on Wednesday and then wonder why it falls over. At the end of the day, we are not really leaning into what is the motivation of the individual, and that’s got to be front and center. So what I’ve started to do is I’m doing things a little differently these days and we’re leaning into the human process of change.

Melissa (13:40):

What does that actually look like? How do you support people through each level and connecting the tool sets to that so that people understand the why they are engaging in these tools to support people through that journey. And as an individual with a rich history and all of my warts and all that I come with, I know that my background still to this day colors my motivations. So how do we transition and connect with the motivations of each and every individual in an organization and not just assume that we can lift a whole organization and shift it in a few days because it’s just not realistic. So what I really try to do is to lean in with our leaders, our line leaders, because for me, they’re the heart and soul of the organization. They’re connected to the individuals on the ground, they know who they are.

Melissa (14:42):

Maybe I might add formal leaders or informal leaders. We’ve got a lot of informal leaders in our organization, so connecting with them, and if you can give them an understanding of why, and then connect the mindset piece around and what are you bringing to the table and what’s your mindset as you are transitioning people through change, you really start to turn the dial in understanding, I think. Yeah, amazing. Amazing. What about, I guess there’s a question there for me also, change practitioners, right? They’re not immune to the need to change the way they work. What’s your thoughts on that? And again, looking over 30 years of practice, what’s your thoughts about that? Jen, I think you said earlier in the podcast that we get into change to control it. Look, I’ll be really honest with you. I think the change has to begin within. So if you are a change practitioner who’s looking at this and actually asking yourself the question, do I understand what these mind shifts really are?

Melissa (15:47):

And have I had a very honest conversation with myself? It’s got to start there. Does it have to be a deep introspective moment or are there little things that you can do to just start to dip your toe in what it means to do change differently? Look, I think it is, I mean, all of these things are an iterative process. And I mean, if you asked me if I had a magic wand and what would I do differently, I’d actually say to you I wouldn’t because the learning is in the journey. So any step you take is a step towards a better future and a more engaged and enlightened self, if that makes sense. I think for me, it’s just being present and conscious in the moment. And I think we can get into the habit with any role in any organization where you start to go through the motions.

Melissa (16:41):

So effectively you tool set, you are used to engaging in the conversations and you almost go into autopilot. And what I’d encourage people to do is just become present to start with. Really ask yourself the question, am I bringing my best self to the table? Am in interacting with this human being? Am I on autopilot almost or am I really present and am I bringing the most constructive advice position to the table and really listening to the concerns of the individual. I think as change practitioners, we have a tendency to want to do a lot of talking. As change practitioners, we’ve got to do a lot more listening.

Dr Jen (17:32):

And therein is the challenge, right? It’s hard, like It’s hard. One of the things that I often hear from change managers is a frustration of nobody’s listening to me. And I get that because I have 100% been in the same position where get incredibly frustrated that what I am saying we need to be doing is being disregarded. And I can see the train wreck happening in front of me. But to your point, I wonder how much we need to switch the lens from not that people are not listening to me, to I need to be listening more to other people to gain that influence and to gain the insight, to get to the influence. And I think that’s the difference for me, Jen. I think that’s what I’m learning every day is that the more I sit back and listen, the more insight I gain. And it’s through that insight that you can pivot.

Melissa (18:42):

And I love agility because you bring so many different voices to the table. So deep it, if you allow the richness of that conversation, and it’s not about consulting everyone, it’s bringing the right voices to the table for the right activities. So I don’t want people to think that you’ve got to overage the world because you clearly don’t. But what it can do is it can debunk a lot of the mythologies. In addition to that, you don’t have to have all the answers and nor should you. And I think sometimes at change practitioners, I’ll be really honest with you, I find a lot of change practitioners come from a background of trauma. People pleasers genuinely want to help and that’s fantastic, but there’s a deep seated desire to or need to have all the answers all the time and you don’t, sometimes it’s just asking the open-ended questions to help people get to the most appropriate answer themselves, and sometimes that’s much more powerful than you telling them what to do if we lift it up to an organizational level. What do you see are the barriers to the adoption of better change and agility? What’s happening organizationally? Look, I think in Australia in particular, we’ve still got a lot of very conservative organizations with different mindsets. So if you asked me, the greatest challenge that I see is a couple of things.

Melissa (20:22):

I still see organizations misunderstanding the interconnectedness of things. So through their desire to control, they lock down in their silos because they can control and they can manage that, and it creates disconnection across the organization and prevents the synergy of managing a complex system really effectively. So that’s one thing that I see. The thing that prevents that, and we keep coming back to this, is the mindset. It’s a scarcity, it’s a fear factor. It’s almost a protection instinct to want to lock down, and that’s whether it’s an organizational division or a business unit or even into someone’s individual role. And I think when you step to the dark side and you look at agility and you open yourself up to, if we grow this business, there’s room for everybody and there’s opportunity for everyone, then it just creates a different kind of energy. But it takes time to build that, and there’s a lot of resistance and a lot of transition and supporting and coaching that you’ve got to do to get to the other side.

Melissa (21:40):

And I think that’s why startups and smaller organizations have such success because culturally, they engender that right from the outset in a bigger, more conservative organization, it takes time for those wheels to turn and it takes time to build that muscle. That’s the challenge for me as a practitioner in that environment. I’ve had to learn not to get too frustrated. And you mentioned before about you can get really frustrated. I try to let that go because if I do allow the frustration to creep in, I’m not bringing my best self to the table and then I’m not being the change that I want to see within the organization. I know that sounds like a bit of a trite saying, but you’ve got to be the change and you’ve, you’ve got to model that, and you need to be able to challenge that in a very authentic way in your organization. And if you’re not modeling that, then you’re not going to carry that weight in your organization. 

Dr Jen (22:54):

When you say be the change that you want to see, that really speaks to me about how do we align purpose with the work we do. What’s your thoughts on organizational purpose, the work we do more broadly, how does that play out for you?

Melissa (23:18):

Look, I think it’s incredibly pertinent and incredibly powerful, I think, well, I think if people can connect to a higher purpose for themselves personally, it’s different motivator. And I think you are less attached, you’re less attached to your ego and personal identity because what you’re doing is you’re connecting to that higher purpose. So intrinsically people to park their egos at the door, I think a little more effectively and a little more easily when you can rally around something. It’s like a team at the end of the day, isn’t it a football team or whatever you want to relate it to.

Melissa (24:00):

But I think it’s incredibly pertinent and powerful. And I know for me, through my life, when I was connected to the job and trying to protect the job, it was my ego at play. Absolutely. And what I keep saying to people is think about the enterprise. What’s in the best interest of the enterprise? Don’t think about what’s in your best interests and the best interests of your role. If you always put enterprise first or the bigger purpose first, and I work in a purposeful, purpose driven organization, if you always connect with that higher order purpose, you’ll make the right decision.

Dr Jen (24:46):

This is one of the things that I love about change, because even if you are not working in a purpose-driven organization, so think about a nonprofit or an organization that has biomedical, so the purpose is really meaningful. Absolutely. There’s many change practitioners and agility practitioners who work for organizations that have no such lofty hire purpose that you can attach to, however, that we can support people through change to good wellbeing and health is incredibly purpose-driven work. Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. And I think sometimes we can lose sight of that for the fact that we might be working in a financial institution, and the purpose is to make more profits for the shareholders rather than anything outside that Actually, no, there’s a beautiful purpose in the work we do. Look, Jen, absolutely, because at the end of the day, if we are building capability and skill in this realm, it’s going to impact them on a personal level in their personal lives.

Melissa (26:00):

And I talk about that every day. You just better equipped dental life at the end of the day. And look, I’ve worked in a multitude of industries in my career. I’ve been really been incredibly fortunate to be able to do that across many different countries. And even in some organizations which are very profit orientated, there are incredible opportunities for purpose to be found. And it might just be establishing a mine in another country, which is going to vastly contribute to their GPD, sorry, GDP, what am I talking about? Yeah. But at the end of the day, we have a very real opportunity to impact people’s lives in a very positive way, in a very constructive way. I love it. Tell me, final question for you, what has surprised you most about this journey? Oh, I think I’d have to sit and reflect on that one.

Melissa (27:13):

Look, if I sat back and looked at myself 30 years ago and wrote a letter to myself, which is probably the best way of thinking about that question for me, there’s a few pieces of advice I’d give myself, and that is to trust your instincts. I think a lot of us have high intuitions in these roles, and I don’t think you got ever leads you astray. Lean into your intuition because it will give you good insight into how people are feeling that you are connecting with and engaging. Be less fearful, be more prepared to park the door and to lean into vulnerability and to be excited about the possible.

Melissa (28:08):

I think for me, I’ve led a life for many years of fear. I was always so concerned about what was on the other side, and the more I trust, the more I realize it’s just opportunity. On the other side, it’s not a great big black hole. And the more I lean into that, the more I find that to be true. And there’s an incredible opportunity to learn a huge amount about yourself in this journey, if you dare. Powerful final words. Melissa. Melissa Bialoruski this has been such a wonderful conversation. I so appreciate your authenticity and your preparedness to say the things that perhaps people are uncomfortable with. If people want to connect with you on LinkedIn, is that the best place? Perhaps make mention that they heard this podcast so that you’re prepared. Yeah, that’d be great that they’re not randoms hitting you up. But Melissa, thank you so much for your time and the work you do.

Thanks Jen, and thanks for the opportunity. And as you well know, this takes me right out of my comfort zone. So I hope you’ve enjoyed team. You’ve been brilliant.

Speaker 1 (29:26):

Thanks for joining us on this conversation of agile change. If you are keen for more insights and inspiration from Dr. Jen, from and Lena Ross, you can connect on LinkedIn to stay updated with their latest thoughts and discoveries. Follow the Agile Change Leadership Institute on LinkedIn or Facebook for a wealth of valuable resources. Subscribe to our biweekly sprint notes where you’ll find thought provoking content delivered straight to your inbox, or check out at Agile Change on Instagram. We look forward to having you back for more insightful conversations on Agile change. Until next time, be brave, be curious, and have fun with change.

Melissa Bialoruski completed the Certificate of Agile Change Leadership and the Agile Mindset. See what she had to say