158 : Building Learning Communities (w/ Brian Hampton)

Zach discusses building learning communities with ChangeNerd CEO and founder Brian Hampton. Brian talks a bit about ChangeNerd, a digital learning community that supports change management practitioners and inspires innovation, and he also offers some advice for black and brown folks who are looking to build a learning community of their own.

Connect with Brian on LinkedIn!

Check out ChangeNerd’s home page and follow them on LinkedIn!

Want to become a member of the community? Click here!


Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach with Living Corporate. Now look, you know what we do. We have authentic conversations about being black and brown in the corporate space. Now, corporate space makes it sound really fancy, right? Like you’re wearing a suit and a tie, you know, maybe sometimes you have to actually put some lotion on your ankles. That’s not what I mean, right? I just mean the place that you actually have to work, right? Living Corporate is a place that amplifies the voices of black and brown people at work, okay? And how do we do that? We do that with authentic conversations with black and brown executives, entrepreneurs, influencers, educators, public servants, creatives, activists, right? And we do that in just, like, one-on-one conversations, sometimes we’ll do a two-on-one, sometimes we’ll do a three-on-one, sometimes we have, like, a–you know, we mix it up, but the point is we’re having real talk, and that’s why our tag line is what? Real talk in a corporate world. All of that being said, y’all know we’re having dope conversations every time y’all hear this podcast, and today is no different. Today we’re talking to Brian Hampton. Brian is the CEO and founder of ChangeNerd, a company that supports change management practitioners and inspires innovation. Brian, welcome to the show. How are you doing, man?

Brian: I’m doing well. Thanks for having me, Zach. I really appreciate it.

Zach: For those of us who don’t know you, why don’t you tell us a little bit more about yourself?

Brian: Yeah. So, you know, I started ChangeNerd. It’s primarily a digital learning community. I started it to really bring professionals together, because for us who do change management and help organizations adopt new ways of working, we really just tend to be heads-down, working on our projects, and I wanted to create a way for us to just connect and share best practices. Prior to launching ChangeNerd, I consulted at Deloitte. I also led change management teams at different companies, both private and non-profit. So I love the field. I’m super passionate about it, and I’m glad to talk about it today.

Zach: Yeah, man. You know, and coming from a change background myself, you know, I don’t see a lot of black men in this space, right? I don’t really see a lot of black folks period, but I definitely don’t see a lot of black men specifically and just black and brown men in general in the space. Can we talk a little bit about, of all the professions you could have chosen, like, what about change management got you?

Brian: Yeah. This is real cool, this is real cool. Nice question, and–great question, actually. So I went to college in undergrad for criminal justice and then soon realized there was no real money behind it, and so I jumped into HR, jumped into the federal government, and at around 2008, 2010, I felt like HR was kind of flat, and then I was introduced to change management because the agency I was at at the time, we were implementing PeopleSoft, and so I was formally introduced to change management, and I really couldn’t believe this was a full-time job, right? ‘Cause it’s really around just working with people and helping them, you know, really adopt new ways of working. And I’m like, “Wow, people get paid doing this?” So I did some research and saw that the pay was decent, and so I jumped into the field. So yeah, I thought–at the time I thought HR was boring, and change management seemed to be the new thing, and there’s some really strong transferable skill sets from HR to change management, and so I took the leap.

Zach: Man, you know, that’s 100%, and it’s interesting because my career was a little bit the same. I think we talked about this off the mic, but, like, I started as an HR manager at Target and then transitioned into org design and just being, like, a specialist, right? And then eventually formed all the way into change management. And you’re absolutely right, a lot of it’s transferable, but you know what’s interesting? I think a lot of it isn’t, because–I do agree that often times HR gets a tough rep as just being, like, the benefits folks, right? And kind of helping with ER issues, but really they’re just kind of–they’re almost like the security guards of the company, but they don’t have a gun. They’ve got, like, a roll of quarters to call the peace when it gets really scary, you know? They might have a flashlight so that they can look at you while you’re doing something wrong, but they don’t really have any actual, you know… come on, man. Yeah, so anyway. Okay, cool. So look, we’re talking today about building learning communities, right? ChangeNerd is a learning community, like you said at the top, but to start, like, how would you define a learning community, and what are the benefits of being in a learning community?

Brian: Well, you know, quite honestly–and, you know, the whole theme of this podcast is corporate–you know, corporate living, and if you’re in corporate, your organization is more than likely changing. It’s using and bringing on new technology, new processes, you know, organizations are trying to be competitive, so all of that activity is happening, and what that means for the individual person is that you have to take ownership of your own journey, your own learning journey. And so the best way to do that is really tap into some type of social learning community, and that’s part of the reason why I created ChangeNerd. There was nothing out there specifically for, you know, professionals who spend a lot of their time in project management, change management, and so I wanted to create a community for us folks. And, you know, what I’m noticing after doing this just for 12 months is that it’s extremely beneficial. We got thousands of people in the community, both at the executive level and, you know, practitioner level, and the people love the community because they can take charge and, you know, tap in whenever they want to tap in. It’s LinkedIn on a much smaller scale, you know? And there’s beauty in having access to like-minded people. So if you’re on a project and you’re struggling, you know you’re only a button away or an email away from getting help, and that’s what it’s all about, and for us, we tend not to have those strong networks when it comes to corporate, and so–you know, I’ll be honest with you. I’ll share this story. Deloitte was–working at Deloitte was the hardest–and it was fun, but it was extremely difficult, primarily because I didn’t have that network. Even tapping into, you know, the African-American BRG, it’s still tough for us to connect with the right people, people that we can trust in the corporate atmosphere. And so, you know, yeah, you go to work every day and you build a network there, but there’s nothing like building an even broader network outside of your organization to give you the confidence you need to be successful.

Zach: Man, you know, you’re 100% right. And it’s interesting. Like, as organizations, or just as technology continues to grow… like, at first the draw of technology and, like, social networking was size, right, and scope. Like, “You can reach anybody anywhere!” Like, you know, big numbers were attractive, right? So if you could say–you know, you say LinkedIn, like, millions of people use LinkedIn every day, right? But then, like, the disconnect is “Okay, what does it look like for me to actually touch somebody?” ‘Cause I don’t really need to touch a million people. I [may only?] really need to touch, like, 15. So what do I need to do to make sure that I can actually touch those, you know, less than 20 people that I actually need? And so it’s just interesting as you see, like, communities change or digital communities change and evolve that, you know, we’re noticing that size isn’t everything, you know what I mean?

Brian: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And, you know, building a community around, you know, your role or your aspirations professionally, it’s an ongoing journey, and what I will say is–here’s the major benefit, right? If you got 100 people, because you were diligent, and let’s say you spent, you know, three to six months really building a community around you or tapping into an existing one, and you now have 100 people that you trust that you know you can reach out to. If you get laid off, if you want to go independent and start your own agency. You know, if something bad happens to you, you’ve got 100 people who got your back, and that’s what it comes down to. I can’t–you know, just in doing this community, you know, ChangeNerd, I can’t tell you the amount of people that I’ve been able to help, you know? So-and-so got laid off? Oh, I know this partner at this firm, right? And there’s a trust that’s built. And so, you know, submitting your resume becomes more of a–it’s something that happens afterwards, right? Because of trust, that organization is pretty much gonna bring you on, right? And so your resume becomes a formality after the fact, and so, like, that’s the beauty of having a network and being tapped in to a digital learning platform or any social learning community that you have.

Zach: Yeah, man. You know, it’s interesting. You talked about some of your challenges at Deloitte and, like, the barrier being you not having that community, formally or informally, right? So, like, based on your experiences, what advice or, like, what lessons learned would you be able to share and kind of what would you be able to give to black and brown folks today who are looking to build those types of spaces for themselves for their own professional development?

Brian: To be honest with you, it’s a journey. It’s a journey, and the reality is you don’t know what you don’t know. Years ago when I was at Deloitte, I don’t think I had the right mindset, you know? You know, they hired me for a job, you know, primarily to do deliverables on projects, and that’s what I did, but to be successful, there are–there are so many other competencies there, you know? You’ve got to be able to manage up. You’ve got to be able to build relationships. And, you know, when it comes to corporate, a lot of times, you know, I know for me and probably for the folks that are listening to this podcast, sometimes you may be one of the few black or brown people in a room, and it’s difficult to raise your hand, and it’s difficult to bring your perspective without being judged, but over time with the right experiences you get really good at it. But honestly, I don’t know if there’s any advice that I can give to anyone other than, you know, go for it. Continue to build your network out. But ultimately, it’s your journey, and you have to own your own learning process, regardless of what type of, you know, leadership development programs you find yourself into. You have to own your own learning. Tapping into a network is beneficial, but just recognize that relationship building and having the ability to build trust with others, those are the things that you’ll learn along the way.

Zach: Man, well, let’s do this. Let’s talk about ChangeNerd, because I do get folks who hit me up, right? I have old colleagues, I have people in different, like, just social networks who hit me up about getting into change management. Let’s talk about ChangeNerd, you know, why the name, the journey you got there, and then just where people can learn more about it.

Brian: Yeah. So it’s funny, I knew I wanted to bring–well, I’ll tell you this. Me and the team, we were building an app. So we built this nice, sophisticated change management app, and as I was trying to sell it to different companies I realized that change management teams didn’t really have the budget for it, so we scrapped it. But I ran into–I live in the Chicago area. I found six large companies all implementing SAP all struggling at the same point in time, right? And it was that moment where I realized “Wow, I need to build a community, because we’re just working way too siloed.” So I launched the community. And the community is free to join, and every week I interview a subject matter expert around–and we talk about some area surrounding organizational best practices, and every so often we offer virtual courses and we also offer in-person events. And so, you know, when people think of ChangeNerd, I want them to think about the learning community, because at the heart that’s what it is. We pay the bills by consulting different companies, but we try to spend the bulk of our time just enriching the learning community.

Zach: Well, that’s incredible, man. So talk to me about where–at what point did you realize that ChangeNerd was, like, “Okay, wow. This is something serious.” Like, this is an actual–so I’m not gonna say it’s a movement because that’s mad corny.

Brian: It is. [laughs]

Zach: It’s mad corny. People always–man, sidenote. Man, people always talking about “it’s a movement, it’s a movement.” So many–how is everything moving?

Brian: I know, I know. So let me tell you how I knew it was real. It got real for me when I got an email. I got an email from an HR VP that said “Hey, Brian. We want to fly you to Boston, and we want you to do a series of workshops for our supply chain leadership,” right? That’s when it got real for me. So I replied back. I’m like, “Do you have budget?” And they told me the budget, and via email within, like, literally 5 minutes we negotiated budget. That’s when it got real for me, because what I found out was when you tap into a community or if you build a community, right, you’re automatically building trust with people, right? And so when they see you they trust you because you’re giving out good insight, you’re giving out–you know, you’re helping them, and when opportunities pop up they reach out to you. And so, you know, first it started out as a speaking engagement, right? And I didn’t have to give them documents and compete with other firms. They wanted me. That’s when I knew. I told my wife, “Honey, this is–like, this is real money,” right? And then the phone calls came, you know? Head of IT from this company, head of HR from this company. “Brian, we want to get your perspective,” right? And they knew that, you know, I wasn’t gonna do it for free, and so they came with the budget, and so it’s just–when you have that network of people, you’re able to help people, and they can help you as well. And so to be honest with you, that’s how I knew that this could be something real, when I started getting emails of different companies, from different companies, that needed my help.

Zach: Well, talk to me about what you’ve been most excited about that ChangeNerd has accomplished, and as you look at 2020, what are you most looking forward to?

Brian: Yeah. So when it comes to change management, you have major training companies really trying to control the narrative. You have–I won’t call out any names here, but you have companies, you know, controlling the narrative. What I’m so proud of is with me interviewing different subject matter experts every week, it just opens the opportunity for the narrative to change, right? And so for change management not to be come, like, an academic exercise. And so for people not to be locked into one particular framework, and for more stories and experiences to be told. As we move into 2020, we’re going to get a little bit more niche. We’re gonna have little–well, not little, but smaller digital communities. So change management in health care, change management in non-profits, change management in financial services. We’re gonna have digital communities by industry, by specialty, just to give people access to more practical advice. So that’s something I’m looking forward to as we move into 2020.

Zach: All right, man. Now, look, I wouldn’t be a platform if I didn’t give you a space to actually plug ChangeNerd. So, like, where can we learn more about it? What’s the content? What’s the information? Of course we’ll have it in the show notes, but go ahead and shout it out right here.

Brian: Yeah. So you can dive right in to the online community by going to community.changenerd.com. Community.changenerd.com. That will put you right into the community. Go ahead and join. It’s totally free, and I look forward to seeing you there.

Zach: All right. Now look, everybody–y’all heard him, okay? So y’all driving, you walking, you’re doing whatever you do, you heard what he said. Community.changenerd.com. It’ll be in the show notes. And y’all be clicking the links. We look at the Bit.lys. We see that y’all clicking stuff, but you ain’t gotta do it. You heard me, right? So you heard Brian, you heard Zach. Just go ahead and click that thing. Now Brian, before we let you get up out of here, any shout-outs or parting words?

Brian: No. Zach, I love what you’re doing, and it’s podcasts like this that really help people like us move forward, so I appreciate the effort that you’re doing. And if you’re listening to this episode, I would encourage you to reach out to me, and hopefully I can be of help to you, and that’s pretty much it. But Zach, I’m very proud of the work that you’re doing.

Zach: [air horns sfx] Man, them air horns is for you and for me, man. I appreciate you, man. I thank you, and I appreciate the work that you’re doing, right? You’re demystifying change management. You’re creating a space for folks who are interested in change management and who are already established change management practitioners to engage, learn, and build. And this is not an ad. So yeah, just shout-out to you. Shout-out to ChangeNerd. And listen, y’all, this does it for us on the Living Corporate podcast. Thank you for checking in. Now look, y’all typically know I kind of put all the ats and stuff, but every now and then I just kind of flex on ’em, just a little flex. Sometimes I’ll just say “Google us.” [Flex bomb sfx] You know? Just Google Living Corporate. Just “Living Corporate,” right? We’re on everything. We’re on all of the streaming platforms. We’re on Instagram at @LivingCorporate. We’re on Twitter @LivingCorp_Pod, right? And then if you want to check out the website, again, just Google us, Living Corporate, or you can type it in the browser – living-corporate, please say the dash, dot com. We’re also livingcorporate.co, livingcorporate.org, livingcorporate.tv, livingcorporate.net. We’ve got all of the livingcorporates except, you know it, livigncorporate.com, ’cause Australia has–Brian, Australia has livingcorporate.com, man.

Brian: That’s crazy.

Zach: Ain’t that crazy? Yeah. So listen, y’all. Appreciate y’all. Listen, if you have any questions, anything you want to learn about change management, make sure that y’all contact Brian. We’re gonna put all of his contact information down in the show notes. Until next time, this has been Zach, and you’ve been talking to Brian Hampton, CEO and founder of ChangeNerd, a digital learning community for change management professionals. ‘Til next time. Peace.

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