Four years ago… you couldn’t get a group of people in the room to have a shared conversation and understanding about who we were, what our purpose was, and where we were headed.

Sabrina Hebeler is the Chief of Staff for Michigan State University’s Infrastructure Planning and Facilities (MSU IPF) department. Her presentation at Destination High Performance this past month inspired the crowd to think about what it takes to change a culture. MSU IPF has seen their share of change and the obstacles that come with it over the past four years. Like many organizations, a shift in leadership brought an opportunity to rethink systems and processes and create lasting changes for employees and those they served.

Why change?

Change is hard. It depends on people to shift their behavior, takes longer than expected (up to 10 years), and fails more often than not. But in the case of IPF, changing the culture was necessary.

Our environment around us dictated that we do it. We couldn’t show up the way we’d been showing up the last 10 years. Our administration started asking us to be more efficient, be more effective, and better demonstrate our value to campus. Internally, we had desire to be a best place to work environment. We cared about how people came to work, how they felt about their work, and we wanted them to be proud of all that they were doing.

How did they approach the change?

Sabrina is an advocate for Lewin’s Change Management Model for its simplicity. This model defines a change initiative in three stages: unfreezing, change, and refreezing.


In this stage of change, you are preparing the organization to recognize the opportunity for change and want to change. For IPF, this was a two-year process triggered by a change in leadership.

We shifted to a new leader with a more modernized vision of a matrix organization in which we have a set of executive leaders and business leaders who are encouraged to collaborate across the organization to make the best decision possible.

The unfreezing included a few critical moves:

  • Working with JoAnn Sternke, IPF adopted a Baldrige process to get a better understanding of where they were and where they wanted to go. In making this shift, the team was able to better make evidence-based decisions.
  • Implemented an Employee Engagement Survey. The survey created the first formal safe space for employees to give genuine feedback about their work and environment.
  • Created three strategic objectives. “… they became a focal point of everything we did. People started to ask ‘if it doesn’t align with that strategy, then why are we doing it?'”
  • Developed a strategy cycle.


In this phase, the organization is shifting from the old state to the new state. For MSU IPF, this meant developing strategic, organizational-wide action plans to align new behaviors and goals across teams to the overall strategic plan. They developed an organizational scorecard to set numbers to goals and concentrated on improving how they collected data. The continued to ask are we measuring the right things?”

Of course, gathering data isn’t enough. It’s what you do with the data that makes the impact. As part of the change initiative, IPF increased investment in Employee Engagement and Survey Results Rollout to help facilitate conversations about the data and get input from those who’s jobs were affected.


In the refreezing stage, new systems and processes are beginning to normalize. Leaders role model and support these efforts to help the change stick. At Michigan State University Infrastructure Planning and Facilities, this is the current effort. While there are still change pains, Sabrina Hebeler and her team now recognize a strategic cadence:

We have more shared understanding of why we exist, how people are supposed to engage in those activities and they’re showing up to the conversation more than they ever have before.

Efforts are paying off, but there is still more to do. As part of the refreezing, IPF is aligning employee development opportunities to job changes and defining leadership accountability that aligns performance and behavior.

What does rolling out a standard set of expectations for leaders across the organization look like.. not just in relation to their job duties, but how are they showing up as people?

Lessons Learned

In the video, Sabrina shares her greatest lessons learned:

1. Redefine success for the individual, team, and organization.

“What I know as a leader in this process of change is that you will absolutely have to redefine success.”

2. Meet people where they are.

“We struggled with this because we kept asking people to meet us where we wanted to go. We kept pushing without turning around to ask and check for understanding. They simply just wanted a why. Had we met people where they were, we would have made it a lot farther, quicker and in step than we did in the last couple of years”.

3. We aren’t that special.

“I don’t know how many meetings I’ve sat in over the last four years and people were like ‘well you know, we’re higher education’ or ‘we’re this industry’ or ‘that industry’. The excuse is always ‘it just won’t apply to us because there’s just too many things that make us different’. We’re not that special. Think about your uniqueness as a competitive advantage or an asset, rather than a crutch.”

Key Drivers for Cultural Change

According to Sabrina…

Know where you want to go. Develop your strategy – not just mission, vision, and values, but strategic activities to support strategy into the future.

Determine how you’ll get there. Use data to make decisions. Even better, develop systems for your data. Help people understand the why behind your decisions.

Measure your progress. Set goals, measure them, and share your progress widely. When you share, people connect individual work with the larger purpose of the organization.


Leave a Reply

Start typing and press Enter to search