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Course Showcase - Organizational Leadership and Change

Posted: February 1st, 2023

Change is constant in our personal and professional lives, and successful business leaders are able to adapt and manage that inevitable change.

One of the University of Wisconsin MBA Consortium's most popular elective courses is MBA 762: Organizational Leadership and Change, which helps business professionals better understand best practices in the change management process.

Course instructor Mark Wehde, the chair of Mayo Clinic's division of engineering, has used change management principals throughout his professional career.

"Change is hard for folks, and change management is even harder, so it is something we all need to get better at," Wehde says. "Whether you are advocating for change, leading change or responding to change, understanding the change management process will allow you to participate in change productively."

While change can be difficult, Wehde says, he emphasizes to graduate students that some straight-forward steps and approaches will allow them to be more successful.

"Understanding change management best practices increases the odds of successful change in the same ways that understanding conflict resolution and crucial conversations helps us better address conflict," Wehde says. "There are no easy answers but there are ways of changing the odds in your favor."

Paula Lentz, academic director for the UW MBA Consortium, says it's no surprise that the Organizational Leadership and Change course is one of the most popular electives in the program.

"The course resonates with students - who are frequently planning for, managing and navigating change in their organizations - because it provides a framework that students can immediately apply in their professional lives," Lentz says. "As the instructor, Mark brings his professional experience from his position at the Mayo Clinic as well as his expertise as a graduate of the UW MBA Consortium Program and instructor in other program courses. It's a great fit all around."

Wehde also teaches one of the program's core courses, MBA 705: Navigating Change amid Uncertainty, and the elective MBA 764: Work-Family Issues in Contemporary Times. He graduated from the UW MBA Consortium program in May 2018, when he was named the outstanding student, and began teaching in the program that fall.

Among the principals Wehde outlines for students is how good leaders need to show their teams that a specific problem is worth solving through change. Teams want to know how change will impact their lives, and a good leader makes the team part of the change process, he says.

"I think often many folks in business, especially engineers like me, believe that a good idea sells itself. It doesn't," Wehde says. "It's a bit of a revelation to students that there is so much to effectively leading change. I know it was to me. I took my first change management class well over 20 years ago and have used the skills I learned every day since."

Joshua Cotten took the Organizational Change and Leadership course in fall 2022. One of his assignments was to interview a senior person at his workplace at Amazon, where he is a program manager for global IT supply chain.

"It gave me insight into the strategic goals of our organization that hadn't been shared and I learned about his approach to change within such a massive company like Amazon," Cotten says. "This, along with other things I learned from the readings, gave me greater confidence to know that I can execute change, no matter what that change might be."

Cotten was able to directly apply what he learned in the course when he was tasked to help create a strategic plan for restructuring the organization at work. He learned the importance of following the proper steps to ensure successful change, and recommends the elective course to other graduate students.

"The class uses real-world examples of how change efforts have failed when not following the steps and how the failures could have been avoided if they had used the steps," Cotten says.

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