- Programme: Leading Change
- Nationality: New Zealand
- Job Post-programme: Client Representative, Lincoln Hub
“Change can be a very slow and tortuous process”
In February 2011 a 6.3 magnitude earthquake rocked Christchurch, New Zealand, and changed the lives of many. By May, efforts switched from search and rescue to repair. Greg Wilson, who served in the military with the New Zealand Army for 17 years, took up a position with the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) to help.
“I thought I would be there for a month, but it turned out to be a full-time job,” says Greg, who worked with CERA for five years. He started out as a manager of the significant buildings and security unit and later became the deputy director project delivery within the Christchurch Central Development Unit, overseeing a major capital works programme for the city.
“I started off helping out with the emergency operations centre planning, but the role morphed into demolition projects, taking down severely damaged buildings in the high-security area.”
Handing back control
CERA was established in 2011 but shut down as forecast in April 2016. The department was extended yearly by the government; its functions were gradually handed over to local agencies, leaving Greg and his colleagues to find new work. Before the handover, Greg took London Business School’s (LBS) Leading Change programme to tackle a major challenge: motivating people to do their best work when faced with impending unemployment.
The second challenge was around social dynamics. Greg managed agile professionals who worked within the constraints of tightly regulated central government. “70% of CERA staff were from the private sector; we tried to be innovative, but the public sector takes a traditional risk-management approach to things.” While the New Zealand government wanted to predict the future, Greg and his team wanted to build it.
The final challenge centred on personal resilience. By design, crisis management is urgent and all-consuming; the hours are long and there’s always more work to be done. Greg was tasked with protecting his team – and himself – from burnout.
Doing the right thing
Greg’s life motto is to “do the right thing”. “There’s an easier road to take, but it’s not always the right one. With constant pressure from all quarters, it’s hard getting people to carry on doing their work and doing the right thing.”
On the programme, Greg discovered the Change Curve. With a better understanding of people’s emotions and expectations, he was able to reassure his team. “I discovered that change can be a very slow and tortuous process. I told them, ‘Change is stressful. Everyone needs to go through their own course of grief.’ I let them know that what they were feeling was entirely normal. I also told them to look out for the opportunity at the bottom of the curve.” Finally, he put purpose at the centre of change. “I explained that central government could not carry on leading the way and that local government and agencies needed to take back control.”
Today, Greg continues to apply what he’s learnt to his role as a client representative at Lincoln Hub. The initiative is a collaboration between research, education and industry, designed to transform the world's primary education and research sector. He says: “Many people make good decisions for today, tomorrow, next week. The harder decisions might be unpopular, but they’re often better for the long run. See beyond your lifetime and into the next. Make your next decision based on that.”