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How to manage change

Danielle Duplin, a Northeastern University parent and Boston-based executive, discussed the ups and downs of workplace change in an interactive presentation at the Alumni Center on Friday morning.

“Change can be frightening,” said Duplin, mother of Alexandra Duplin, DMSB’17, and vice president at Fidelity Investments, “but it can also be exciting, because it means something amazing could happen.”

Her talk marked the second installment of We Aspire, a professional development program. Attendees included those who wanted to share professional development strategies for continued career success, with a particular focus on effecting positive change through leadership.

University Advancement designed the program in recognition of the contributions made by the Northeastern community to Empower: The Campaign for Northeastern University. The historic Empower campaign aims to secure $1 billion—$500 million in philanthropic support and $500 million through industry and government partnerships—by 2017 to support programs and initiatives university-wide, focusing on three strategic goals: student support and financial aid, faculty advancement and expansion, and innovation in education and research.

“This series grew out of our desire to connect our inspiring alumni and parents with our dedicated faculty and staff,” Diane MacGillivray, senior vice president for university advancement, told the audience. “We want to thank those here today who have made the Empower campaign the success that it is.”

Duplin—who is also the curator and executive producer of TEDxBoston, an independently organized TED event showcasing ideas worth spreading—kicked off her talk by engaging her audience in a quick exercise: Placed on the tabletops were paper slips emblazoned with quotations from poets, philosophers, academics, and politicians—all of them focused on the theme of change. One quotation, from the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus, said, “The only thing constant is change.” Another, from Gandhi, said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

Duplin asked the attendees to read the quotations to their tablemates and then solicited feedback on their findings. One person read a quotation from the systems scientist Peter Senge—“People don’t resist change. They resist being changed”—and then noted that the two-sentence witticism triggered an “aha moment.”

“We all have a sense of self, and it’s tough to take if that change is threatening,” Duplin said in response to the attendee’s revelation. “Change,” she added, “is part of the human condition.”

Duplin illustrated the potentially threatening—but ultimately enlightening—nature of change by telling short workplace stories. She described how compassion helped her teams overcome anxiety in the face of forthcoming change; how communication helped them understand why the change was beneficial; and how their unique qualifications helped to make their work successful.

“Sometimes change can reveal new career trajectories for people,” Duplin said. “Under the right conditions, they can soar.”

The program included several mini breakout sessions. Attendees discussed how the concept of change applies to their work at Northeastern and then a designated spokesperson from each table reported the findings to the whole group.

One breakout session focused on how attendees had gone about dealing with drastic changes in their professional lives. Will Wakeling, dean of University Libraries, discussed his strategy for managing Snell Library’s radical shift in work practices from acquiring print materials to bolstering its digital collections of online e-books, journals, and periodicals. He noted that he formed two new teams—one that stayed focused on the print side, the other that grappled with the innovations and changes on the digital side—and then steadily moved more people into the digital realm. “The next challenge is figuring out other new jobs people can move into as the balance changes” he added, saying that the library believed strongly in investing in professional development to help its employees maintain and develop their expertise.

Sierra Rosen, director of gift planning, discussed Northeastern’s culture of innovation, which, she said, encourages students, faculty, and staff to be flexible and open to change. “[President Joseph E. Aoun] thinks outside the box, and that empowers us to change too,” she said. “It’s modeled at the top and it’s working.”

“The word on the street is that Northeastern is the place to be, and each person who works here can manifest that in his or her own way,” Duplin added. “You get to choose your own narrative. You can be your own change agent.”

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