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I see you’re currently a Manager of Organizational Change Management at USC, helping lead the organizational change management for the CISO at USC. Before that, you had done organizational change management at Cognizant for two years and prior to that, at West Consulting Services. I also saw that prior to your MBA that you were consulting in change management for various companies.
Did you always want to pursue a career in organizational change management or is this something you discovered during your time at Merage?
When I was with a previous consulting firm, there was a role for a one-year-old company, United Space Alliance (SpaceX competitor), who was going through some growing pains as a business. They needed someone to lead a communication effort for them and I had more of the soft-skills side of it which then morphed into an Organizational Change Management (OCM) role, learning my craft on the fly.
If there was any type of elective of course, I always tried to take it. When we had our OCM classes at Merage, I just became hyperfocused on that. I’ve been an OCM practitioner since 2008.
My history prior to that was a lot of talent development, and OCM builds on that. One of the major variables of OCM is training and development, when you talk about transitioning folks from present state to future state, evaluating what type of work do we need to do to get you on that path.
I’m wired as a soft skills person. I’m not a quant guy, BUT when it comes to being more intuitive, and more understanding of people and how we work, that’s more of my comfort zone.
How did you feel your EMBA experience at Merage prepared you to pursue a career in organizational change management?
It isn’t that it prepared me, it propelled me. The work I was doing prior to my EMBA was at a lower level from where I’m at now. The training I received with my EMBA, the skills that I gained made me better equipped. When I was going through the interview process, I was told that I could become more fluent in the language of business, not just literally with how people talk, but how to understand HR, marketing, profit and loss statements, etc. I can ask the questions, I may not be able to figure it out right away, but I know what questions to ask to get us to that answer.
Today you’re at USC managing Organizational Change Management, working closely with USC’s CISO to address data security protocols. Could you expand on that and walk me through what your responsibilities are in your current role?
In the simplest terms, the function that I’m in, we’re tasked with creating security IT protocols to keep USC ahead of evil doers and potential threats. We build capabilities and services that the University uses to mitigate risk. My goal is to understand the best way to get these services and capabilities either engrained, accepted, desired and trained into the University. From an OCM perspective, it’s a nuanced approach.
My role is working with a bunch of engineers and architects while they’re all thinking digitally and I’m here in an analog fashion to keep the people component top of mind because in order for change to happen, we have to understand the best way to engage people.
As someone who led this big change for a top ranked university, what lessons learned did you have from that experience? What should organizations prioritize with their data security?
To help get work done, what I’ve learned, don’t overblow who you are from the standpoint of what you need to get done. If you develop protocols that create this bureaucracy, no matter how large the organization, you can start to be nimble. I’m not saying don’t do what’s important, but look at the environment we’re in and what it would take for each individual to get on board. I’m very big on understanding the culture and the environment that we’re working in.
What advice do you have for Black alumni navigating the industry of organizational change management?
Do your research. Go and learn and read about the industry you’re interested in! If you’re targeting OCM, there are so many resources out there to help strengthen your skillset: Linkedin courses, a ProSci certification. Take advantage of the resources that Merage offers. I’ve since come back and audited many classes at Merage. This helps equip me to be better.
I don’t know everything! Hence, I make phone calls, I get on Zooms, I put myself in uncomfortable situations to learn. This is what Merage did, it propelled me into these spaces and if I hadn’t gotten my degree there, there’s no way I would be where I am now.
You hold a range of professional memberships, including serving as an advisory board member for UC Irvine. What does that entail and what initiatives are you excited about?
I work on UCI’s Black Thriving Initiative. As an Advisory Board Member, we advise the University in three areas:
Connect with Vernon on Linkedin.