Stu Hamilton in a kayak on a Yukon river.

It’s Time for a Change!

There’s a certain amount of comfort in knowing that tomorrow will be familiar.

Familiar routines, familiar opportunities and familiar challenges are all welcome because the only alternative, creating new experiences, is unpredictable. People are risk-averse and we like predictability. This is true whether we are a hydrometric agency needing to modernize or an individual embarking on a new adventure. I make this comparison because I see similarity between the change that I have helped many clients navigate as they migrate from old familiar data management systems to AQUARIUS and my northward migration to a new lifestyle.

There is an important distinction between my motivation for change and that of hydrometric agencies.

There is no pressure or urgency for me to make a change, whereas many agencies with aging data management systems are driven to change by fear. This fear may be a combination of factors such as security (i.e., fear for business continuity and resiliency of aging data management systems) or single point of failure (e.g., dependency on someone who cannot be prevented from being hit by the proverbial bus). The latter is a result of a younger workforce that is uninterested in learning all of the special tricks necessary to keep old data management systems working.

If not fear of failure it may be a fear of aging. One human year is about 3 data management system years. Younger rivals are much more in touch with technologies that didn’t even exist when older systems were already mature. There are lots of systems out there that are well past the age where they need to be put into retirement.

While motivations may vary, the process of successfully navigating change is essentially the same.

It starts with a eureka moment, i.e., a realization that the status quo is held in unlocked gates. On close inspection of these barriers you realize you are free to go in whichever direction you choose.

The next step is orientation, you need to scope the horizon to get your bearings and figure out where you want to go. For many new AQUARIUS clients the choice is made to achieve more timely, trustworthy, reliable and accessible data to better inform water stewardship. In my case, I was looking for better access to quality activities that Pam and I enjoy the most (e.g., paddlesports, cycling in several forms, hiking, and especially cross country skiing). 

The orientation process creates a desire for change.

Being able to clearly explain the benefits of change is essential to building the collaboration that is needed to ensure success. For a hydrometric agency this includes not only the stream hydrographers who will be on the front line of change but the desire for change must infect all support services such as finance and IT as well. 

Successful change creates a win for everyone involved.

While it is easy to imagine that the whole organization will get behind change that benefits any one part of the organization that isn’t quite the way most organizations work. In my case, the management team listened to how the proposed change would benefit me but their initial focus was on the negative consequences to the company as a whole resulting from me working remotely. To resolve this, I had to listen to their concerns and re-frame the proposal to highlight the benefits from a management perspective.

The result of this negotiation is that I will continue to work not as an employee but rather as a contractor.  While the analogy isn’t quite perfect, I like to think of my new role as professor emeritus status. I won’t be involved day-in and day-out within the office but I still will be available to answer questions and solve problems that require specialized knowledge and experience. This arrangement will give me more time to do the activities I love to do when we move to the Yukon yet I won’t have to give up the many and various interactions with my colleagues that make my job one of the most enjoyable in the world.

I recently drove from Vancouver to the Yukon to begin enjoying a very different lifestyle.

The biggest barriers to change have been in finding motivation, choosing a direction, and communicating benefits.

The move itself is merely an exercise in logistics. I find rejuvenation by making a big change in my life at irregular intervals and I have helped many clients make once-in-a-lifetime changes in their data management system, so I am no stranger to change. In my experience the only regret that comes from change is the regret of not starting it sooner.

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