Thursday, May 18, 2006

Holly Harkness on change management

Holly Harkness, Manager of IT Documentation at Mirant Corporation and incoming president of STC Atlanta, presented her views on change management at the conference this year. We're following-up with Holly to discuss this important topic.

Hello, Holly. Welcome to the conference blog at STC Chicago! Your presentation on change management really struck a chord with those who attended.

Thanks! I was pleasantly surprised at the number of people who showed up.

Q: If you had your way, would all technical communicators add the change management skill set to their portfolios?

A: Yes! Good technical communicators are probably already instinctively implementing change management strategies in their work, but I’d recommend that everyone in our profession take the time to become familiar with this growing field so that they can articulate it to their management or prospective employers. We should be selling this as an added service we can provide.

Q: You’ve written about two fairly recent opportunities where technical communication professionals needed to adjust to rapidly changing environments: Y2K and Sarbanes-Oxley. Do similar opportunities exist out there today?

A: Good question! I’ve just agreed to deliver an STC Webinar in the fall on “Ten Ways to Increase Your Value as a Technical Communicator” where I’ll take up this subject in more detail.

One potential opportunity for technical communicators is disaster recovery or business continuity. After 9/11 many organizations began to take this more seriously. After Katrina, executive managers were even more convinced to fund these kinds of programs (even as they are cutting other types of projects).

Where do we come in? In a disaster, communications and clear procedures are key. Employees need to know what to do and where to go to keep operations going. Technical communicators are well positioned to take on this documentation effort. In addition, there’s a huge IT component to business continuity that requires detailed documentation that can be understood by the personnel who are tapped to start up the networks.

Q: Will you be offering workshops in change management through your chapter? Is this type of workshop STC chapters and SIGs should pursue? And, do you think change management will become an important career path for tech comm professionals?

A: I spoke at our chapter meeting on this topic last year, but workshops are a good suggestion –- for both chapters and SIGs.

This career path will probably appeal more to technical communicators who enjoy project management, training, and other people-oriented activities. But some aspects of this profession are less appealing, such as becoming a spin doctor for bankruptcies, layoffs, plant closings.

I think the biggest immediate opportunity for tech comm professionals to participate in change management is on the project level rather than the corporate level.

Q: In your opinion, what was one of the highlights of the STC Conference in Las Vegas? And what would you like to see next time that you didn’t see this year? I guess I’m asking, “What would you like to change” about the conference?

A: The highlight for me was the Leadership Day presentation of the plans for the upcoming year. (This is what I would change about the conference as well. All the conference attendees should hear about these developments, not just the small group that shows up for Leadership Day.)

I’m excited about the commitment to promote our profession and to adopt an international perspective. The global character of STC was really apparent this year! I loved hearing Tang Graat’s description of the Trans-Alpine chapter’s activities in Europe, including their Chocolate Raffle fundraisers. In two separate discussions, STC members who live and work in the US told me they’d joined the India chapter to strengthen ties with their coworkers and colleagues in that country. This kind of collaboration is fantastic.

Great talking with you, Holly! Thank you for sharing your views with us.

Thanks for inviting me!

For more from Holly, visit the new blog she's started as incoming president of STC Atlanta.

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