First, a Math Whizz
For as long as I can remember, I have always been a math geek. In my early years in secondary school, I won first prize in a school-wide Mathematics competition. In my book-keeping classes, I fell in love with the faultless logic of the double-entry principle and the elegant symmetry of the Balance Sheet. My love for quantitative reasoning led me to study Accounting at the University, where I graduated at the top of my class with a First Class Honors degree.
Numbers have always made sense to me; people, on the other hand, have not. So in my career choices, I have always been careful to choose positions where I could play to my strengths and play with figures – first as an analyst in a top investment bank, then as a Finance & Performance Management analyst in a global consulting firm.
Then, a People Manager
Sometimes, though, Life throws you a curve ball. In my milestone year as an Experienced Analyst, my firm threw me one such curve ball. Just as I was gearing up to climb up the career ladder to the coveted ‘’Consultant’’ rung, something I had never anticipated happened. I was staffed as a Change Management specialist on a 1-year project for a government agency in Abuja. My role was to manage the ‘’human’’ side of change.
My jaw literally dropped. ‘’Change Management?’’ But what did I know about that? It sounded like psycho-babble, touchy-feely stuff – the kind of field that did not have established standards and generally accepted procedures. In other words, the very antithesis of Accounting. How would I survive, much less excel, when I had never done anything like it in my life?
My first instinct was to ‘respectfully decline’. But two things held me back – first, I have always wanted to serve my country as a consultant for the Public Sector. Second, I loved the city of Abuja. So, I took a deep breath, crossed my fingers and said ‘’Yes, I’ll do it!’’
My first month on the job was dreadful. Acronyms flew around in dizzying succession. After some time, I adjusted to the bureaucratic environment, poor infrastructure and long, irregular hours. But my biggest challenges still lay ahead of me.
Because the Change Management model adopted by the client was different from my firm’s methodology, we found ourselves with the challenge of integrating several models. I found myself wondering ‘’Why can’t we have one universally accepted Change Management model? Why can’t we all speak one language? ’’ Because, alas, I reminded myself, this was not Accounting.
A Maiden among Matrons
I found to my dismay that I couldn’t quite strike the right note with the matronly and elderly female client staff, most of whom eyed me with suspicion. In this part of the world (Africa), a young, single woman has little or no informal authority over older, married women. And so my initial interactions with them were awkward. My micro-managing was tagged ‘’hounding’’, my attempts to provide direction were seen as ‘’condescending’’ and my drive, intensity and sense of urgency were an affront to their slow, sluggish Public Sector ways.
After my first few months, I was ready to throw in the towel. But I’ve never been a quitter. So I gritted my teeth and bore it.
Off to South Africa
I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel when my friend mentioned going for a Change Management certification course. Being a philomath (one who loves to learn), I was intrigued and began to make inquiries. After finding out the location and the vendors, without much ado, I signed up for the course.
I was ready to foot the bills but my firm graciously offered to pay for the training. I made all the necessary arrangements – visa, ticket, passport, hotel, etc. Finally, the day of departure arrived and off I went.
South Africa was absolutely divine. Even though I was the youngest in the class, my previous experience as a Change Manager, my intense interest, razor-sharp focus and rapt attention held me in good stead. Not only did I pass the certification exam, but I emerged as the best student in the class and received a butterfly key-holder as a token of my achievement.
After classes, I was treated to the sights and sounds of South Africa. The balmy weather and soft tropical breezes served as an effective backdrop for the majestic mountains and rocky terrain. I fell in love with South Africa and promised myself I’d return on vacation.
All in all, the training was a blast.
From Zero to Hero
Back in Abuja, I felt refreshed, re-energized and rejuvenated. I took on the challenge of managing the change on my two projects with renewed gusto.
Having been equipped with a conceptual understanding of Change Management, I began to see the big-picture of the seemingly random tasks I was performing.
From Maiden to Maestro
My moment of glory came when I was put in charge of transferring knowledge on Change Management to the client staff. The classes were a huge hit with the client. My carefully prepared presentation materials, passionate delivery and zealous follow-up endeared me to the ‘’students.’’
Disregarding the 10-year age difference between us, the women eventually gave me the nickname ‘’Professor.’’ Overcoming their initial prejudice over my comparative youth and earning their respect for my intellectual prowess remains one of my most gratifying achievements on the project.
All’s well that Ends Well
The other day, at a training organized by my firm, my Country Managing Director, passed a comment. ‘’If you want an expert on change, meet Glory.’’ I couldn’t help smiling.
As it turns out, I enjoyed the project so much; I began researching other Human Performance offerings. Today, I am a HR Consultant. Behold, the math whizz has metamorphosed into a people developer.
This proves that the human mind is capable of stretching in any direction it wishes. For where there’s a will, there’s always a way …
Who says you can’t teach a number-cruncher new tricks?