“No One is Listening and It’s Your Fault,” with Pam Marmon
Amanda Stubbert: Welcome to SPU Voices Podcast, where we tell personal stories with universal impact. I’m your host, Amanda Stubbert. And this is my producer, Kyle. Say hi, Kyle.
Kyle Brown: Hi, Kyle.
Amanda: Today we sat down with Pam Marmon. She graduated with her master of business administration from SPU in 2012. She’s the CEO of Marmon Consulting, a change management firm that provides strategy and execution services to help companies transform. Pam is also the founder of Threefold Tribe, a consulting firm that helps growing churches multiply.
From Fortune 50 to startups, Pam brings unparalleled change expertise and insights as a practitioner, a speaker, and the bestselling author of No One’s Listening, and It’s Your Fault. Pam was an adjunct business professor at Wheaton College and has been featured in Christianity Today and Entrepreneur Magazine.
Pam, thank you so much for joining us today.
Pam Marmon: Thank you for having me, Amanda and Kyle. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Amanda: Well, let’s just start with, with kind of the obvious question to me. So many people misunderstand or really have no idea what a consultant does. Can you talk about what a typical day looks like for you?
Pam: Absolutely. So consulting is interesting because there are so many different types of consultants. You may have a technology consultant, you may have a project management consultant. My specialty is around change, change management. And I typically work with clients that have large implementations of either technology or process change of some sort. And so there’s typically a beginning and an end to that initiative, and every day is different. You probably hear that often, every day is different, but a lot of the work is tied to the project itself. Lots of meetings with clients. And I usually work with the executive team and the leaders of the project itself to identify what is the behavior change that we want in your people? And how do we help these leaders in your organizations, the managers, the executive leaders, to be able to articulate that change and to help bring people along this journey?
So every day is a little bit different, but essentially what I’m looking for are specific strategies that we can apply to that organization, to these leaders, to the people, to the employees, and the people receiving the change itself, so that they can be successful.
Amanda: Well, let’s start with the fact that you called it behavior change, because I had to tell you, I have never thought about it that way. You talk about a restructure in a business. You talk about a new program in a church. But really, nothing’s going to happen unless the behaviors of the actual employees change. And I never really thought about it that way.
Pam: Yeah, it’s fascinating. So if we think of project management as implementation, change management is about adoption. And adoption has to do with our behaviors. Are we using the technology? Are we making the most of whatever the new process is? And oftentimes, when it’s not done well, people hold back. They don’t want to try the technology. They don’t want to follow the process, or they create their own workaround, and ultimately the work is not successful. So what I help leaders do is to identify what are the mindsets, which it actually starts with, the mindset. How do we think of ourselves, our work, our environment, our business, our community, and then how do we change that in a positive way? So it’s not like we’re coercing people, but we’re just shifting the mindset to help people adapt to a new way of working.
“How do we think of ourselves, our work, our environment, our business, our community, and then how do we change that in a positive way?”
Amanda: And what does big picture success look like for you, once you get people to start changing those behaviors?
Pam: So for projects where there’s a beginning and an end, it’s always associated with the success of the actual project itself. So for example, a lot of the work that I do is around technology implementation, and whatever the success factors or measures of that technology are, that’s how we evaluate the success of the change efforts. If we’re launching a new technology, and we say, OK, are people actually using it? Have we seen an increase in numbers or customers or whatever that measure is that the organization decided, that will be how I measure success. Now for clients where I do coaching and more of leadership engagement or things like that, it’s really helping the leader himself or herself adapt to leading more effectively in an organization. And ultimately, you could look at 360 results or just evaluation of that leader’s effectiveness over the course of time.
Amanda: I’m sure there are people listening who might not be managers. Maybe they don’t lead a number of people in their business. Maybe they aren’t the pastor of a church. And yet when you talk about behavior change as a microcosm of major change in an organization, I can’t help but apply that on a personal level. If I go to church on Sunday, and I hear that I need to love my neighbor, that comes down to a microcosm of behavior change. Does it not? I feel like everything you work on could be brought down to the personal level.
Pam: Absolutely. Yeah. And I often think of myself as shifting an entire organization, but every organization is made up of individuals. And in order for us to shift the organization, we have to address each individual. And there’s something that we can all take away, in terms of how we look at the world. And if we examine our own behaviors and our own mindsets, if we were to shift any of our own personal behaviors in any way, the principles that I teach and the things that I do from a consulting perspective would be beneficial.
“In order for us to shift the organization, we have to address each individual.”
Amanda: Yeah. I remember my mom always used to say… She would go to church, and they would say something along the lines of “love your neighbor” or “don’t hate your enemy.” And she would always turn to me and say, “Well, duh. How?” The how is what it really comes down to. We may know very well what we want to do in our lives, whether it’s lose weight or be a better citizen. And yet it’s the how that trips us up.
Pam: Yeah. It’s interesting you bring that up because to me, when I think of love your neighbor, I have to examine my own mindset, that my neighbor is worth loving, and my neighbor is a child of God, and a child of God wants to be treated a certain way. And then I start to look at how do I treat people? How do I think about people? How do I treat people? And then really examine, am I loving that person? So it definitely … You almost have to take it a step below just the behavior, but even the mindset of what are some of the biases I have about people and how I behave toward them, and then examine whether it’s a loving way.
Amanda: Right. I know you’ve done a lot of work with churches, as well as businesses. What’s different? Because I have to imagine it’s very different going into a church organization versus going into a big business organization and helping to foster change. What’s the difference between those two types of organizations for you?
Pam: Yeah, there’s definitely a difference. So the process is actually the same. That’s the interesting part. The difference is the pace, the pay, and I would say also, how risk-tolerant churches are or not. And so if I can elaborate a little bit more on that, pre-COVID, working with churches was actually quite different than post-COVID or the times that we are living in right now. Pre-COVID churches tend to take a little bit longer and be just more hesitant to rush into decisions, and just be more cautious with how the decisions are perceived, the board of elders, how things got approved, things of that nature.
Post-COVID, I feel like churches are actually a little bit more aggressive. And part of that was forced urgency. We just had to. Some really good things have come up as a result. In so many ways, we’ve spread the gospel online, infinitely now, than before. And I don’t think those good things will disappear, but we’ve also learned what our people needed, and how do we engage people when we are separated physically from one another, and what defines church. And so I think while it’s different, when you look at the whole process and the type of work itself is also different, my work was churches typically is either multiplying multi campuses, or just they’re growing, and so we have to expand the services. Now with COVID, it’s been reopening churches, and how do you go about doing that? And then with businesses, obviously, it looks very different and the hours and the resources, and the funding is very different as well.
But if I can just back up a little bit, the reason why I started working with churches was because I felt the Lord nudging me to use the gifts that I have developed in the business world and bring it back to the church. And at the time, this was almost three, maybe a little over three years ago, I was teaching at Wheaton, I was doing full-time consulting, and I had just become a mom of three very, very young children. And I said, “Lord, what do I have? I’m a consultant. I teach. What can I do?” And that’s when I just said, I’m going to use whatever I’ve got. And what I’ve got is this gift to connect with people and to help leaders overcome this fear, whether they’re in the for-profit or the nonprofit sector, this fear of change. And I started to just create online courses, and then connect it with churches, and then that led into consulting.
“I felt the Lord nudging me to use the gifts that I have developed in the business world and bring it back to the church.”
So it’s evolved over time, which is the interesting piece, but it definitely came from a heart of “Lord, I want to see your church grow. Just the way I’m helping the for-profit, I want to help the church as well.”
Amanda: Well, can we just celebrate for a moment stopping and saying, “OK, God, what do I personally, uniquely have to give?” Because I honestly feel like if every single one of us did that, this world would be such a better place. We all have been given such unique experiences and qualities and guidance for the rest of the world. And yet somehow, we tend to see it as sometimes not needed, or we’re just not sure where it fits. So I just want to celebrate the fact that you asked that question, number one, and then really acted on that answer.
Pam: Yeah. And looking back, I certainly had the fear of the Lord, that if I don’t take action … I want to be a person of my word, and I wanted to take action. And I knew that it would be messy, and there would be a lot of learning. And it was. In all honesty, it was messy, and I didn’t know what I was doing. But the cool part is that the Lord opened the door, right as I started to do the church consulting piece, the Lord gave me an opportunity to write for Christianity Today. And so that was almost a God moment to say, “I’m going to nudge you, and I’m going to open some doors that you never even imagined.”
But it definitely comes down to just taking action. And sometimes we can minimize our skill set and think, well, little me, what can I add? We all feel it. And we all have that sense of who am I to really make any difference in the world, or even a small difference in my own church, but we all can. And we have different skill sets that translate into the nonprofit space. And I strongly encourage people to explore that. Rather than waiting for somebody to knock on your door, what can you do? I might be very influential for the kingdom.
Amanda: For sure. I’m sure I’m not the only one listening to this who has felt like there are so many people who are experts in so many things. And yet there’s this strange, untested idea that what I know, clearly everyone else knows. Because you don’t consider yourself an “expert,” therefore, if I know it, it must be common knowledge, which is clearly not the case. We’re all so unique in our perspective.
Pam: I completely agree with you. I used to think that change management is just common knowledge. It’s common sense, almost. And until you start practicing, and you realize it’s not for everybody, and it’s a challenge for a lot of people, that you start to appreciate the gifts that God has given you. And you can lean into that, to say, “Lord, there’s something here that you want me to do or learn or practice, and just give me the eyes to see it, so that I can live according to the will you have for me.”
Amanda: Diving into your book, No One’s Listening, and It’s Your Fault: The very first takeaway for me was the idea that change is hard. Period. And to maybe actually question that first assumption, is change hard? Does it have to be hard? And I just dove right in. As soon as I read that, I thought, I need to know more about this. I don’t want change to be hard. Can you talk about why you don’t think change has to be so hard?
Pam: Yeah. So it’s a mindset. We’ve grown up to believe that change is hard. And because we believe it, we’ve started to behave like it. And I’m guilty of that. I used to think change is hard. And even though I thrive in change, I certainly had that mindset, and change was hard. That’s just how things were.
But as I started to practice change management, and it just took a decade for me to get to a point where I actually started to question this assumption. It almost changed my perspective to say, what if we just stop saying change is hard? What if we make it just a different … change is personal. It’s still a true statement, but you remove the change is hard piece, and you start to address why is it difficult for some people to overcome this personal, very emotional practice that happens.
“We’ve grown up to believe that change is hard. And because we believe it, we’ve started to behave like it.”
So that inspired me to actually write the book, to help people and leaders overcome this fear of change, because I truly believe that it’s holding people back from living a good, robust, enriched life, and also for companies to thrive. And my hope is that as people read it, they’re inspired to make personal change, but they’re also inspired to make organizational change and make our world a better place.
Amanda: For sure. For sure. I want to ask you also about the acronym LESS, another thing I found fascinating that you talk about.
Pam: Yes. Just like every consultant in the world. I had to come up with an acronym, and mine happened to be LESS, which I thought was interesting, related to change. So LESS stands for listen, empower, speak, and solve. And in the book I talk about this process.
So starting with listening, listening … And that’s another aspect where people could say, well, of course, everybody needs to be a good listener. In the book, I actually give you practical ways that you can be a good listener in an organization, so that you hear and you understand what people need and want.
And then we shift to empowering people, empowering leaders, managers, change champions, which I explain in the book as well, and giving them the podium to be able to verbalize and spread the message.
The speaking part is really understanding what is your communication strategy, your channels, the frequency of messaging, what types of messaging you send. So this is very practical.
And then the solve piece is how do you measure results? What are the metrics that you need to be mindful of? How do you structure that, and how do you celebrate the wins along the way, rather than waiting for a big moment of celebration. Because for a lot of changes that I lead through with organizations, it may be six months, it may be a year, it may be two years down the road. And so you want to be able to infuse enthusiasm throughout the organization, in the duration of the project.
Amanda: And once again, I don’t want to use your work in a way that was not intended, and yet in this time of unprecedented change, we all are experiencing change at work and at church, but also in our own homes and with the education of our children. I just feel like we can use these skills in our own home every day, as a parent, as a spouse, as a roommate. Right? We are all going through change more than we would like, I think, at the moment.
Pam: Absolutely. The complexity that we are living in right now is very, very high. And we’re seeing employees and families and individuals just go through massive, massive amounts of change. And a lot of times, it’s not staged. It’s not layered in a way that would be easy for us to comprehend it and process it. It’s kind of all on top of one another. And people come to a point of change saturation, and that’s when you just can’t absorb any more. You kind of shut down. It happens at the individual level. It happens at the organizational level. And so as much as we can understand how our minds are wired and how our bodies are wired and just have a lot of grace for one another during this season, I think that would be really beneficial for everyone.
“The complexity that we are living in right now is very, very high. And we’re seeing employees and families and individuals just go through massive, massive amounts of change.”
Amanda: I understand that you actually grew up in Bulgaria and moved to the United States. Do you think your interest in this communication and this change and being comfortable with change, do you think any of that came out of your upbringing of straddling between two cultures?
Pam: I think I would say yes. So I moved to America when I was 12. I came to the U.S. without speaking English and have been able to learn the language, obviously. And it’s actually more my interest in leadership that got me started down this path. As a graduate from Calvin University, and then before starting SPU, I found myself in this really interesting space of wanting to make a difference and realizing that it was the leaders of organizations that were driving a lot of the change, and so naturally I kind of gravitated toward leadership. And once I started consulting, I found this beautiful space of change management, which was just perfect.
But I do believe that because of my upbringing, and I had also done international studies, traveled the world, and studied international business. And after coming back to the U.S., I thought of myself as a world citizen, which I think also changed my point of view on life. Because you realize that people of all nations want the same things. They want to be loved. They want their work to matter. They want to be able to provide for their families. They want to be important to somebody. And when you start to see the similarities across the globe, it changes you. It changes your mindset.
So I do want to give credit to my multicultural upbringing because I do believe that this mindset of change, and change is good, and change is abundant, and we can overcome whatever obstacle is in front of us, has shaped me in great ways.
Amanda: Well, you have definitely hit upon a passion of mine. There’s nothing like traveling the world to open your perspective, and for you to realize possibly how small you are on one end, and then how powerful you can be within personal relationships across the globe. So high-five to you on the traveling the world, and what I think we all should have a chance to do at some point. Once we can travel again, of course.
Pam: Exactly. Yes.
Amanda: So let me ask you this: As we try and apply the principles you’re talking about to our business, our church, and now our homes and families, what do you think is the biggest mistake people make when they are entering a season of change and trying to connect with those around them at the same time?
Pam: Yeah. So I think the biggest mistake that we make when we want to connect with people, and we’re trying to make a change for ourselves or for others, is our lack of understanding around motivation. Part of it is for ourselves, what motivates me, just examining that. But when we think of motivating factors for an organization, and we want to shift the way people do work, it’s this lack of understanding. Why should people care? What would make them change their mind or change their behavior? And for some people that may be around status or a title or a job that they’ve been doing for quite a while, and so they’re very comfortable with their process, you may be shifting that. Or maybe they have skill or knowledge in a specific technology, and now you’re shifting that. It could be a variety of different things.
And as leaders, I want to challenge people to really examine what motivates your team, what motivates each individual person on your team. And once you have that understanding, I think that unlocks the behavior change.
“I want to challenge people to really examine what motivates your team, what motivates each individual person on your team. And once you have that understanding, I think that unlocks the behavior change.”
Amanda: Yeah. I think we can all think back to being a child and having a parent answer a why question with, because I said so. And that’s never motivating.
Pam: Exactly. Not helpful.
Amanda: I just think of all the arguments these days. You can’t get on social media for five minutes without hearing, basically, my team is right, your team is stupid, as an argument toward a goal and as an instrument of change, and it just never works. And I wonder if you have some ideas for us as individuals, when we’re just chatting with a friend or posting on social media. What can we actually do to help people see our point of view without simply slapping the other side in the face?
Pam: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think that when we start to look for similarities, rather than differences, I think that really will help us to be kind, for people who may have a different opinion than ours. Because I do believe that when people are judging others and making statements that just … They don’t understand the other person’s point of view, it can become quite heated. But the moment we actually pause and say, “I wonder what your life is like. I wonder what your point of view is like. I wonder why you think the way you think. Help me understand that.” That gives us empathy and compassion for the other person. And even if we disagree on the topic, it gives us an appreciation that they are also a child of God, and they also have free will, and they also have an opinion that’s rightfully theirs. And so I hope that that understanding toward people will help us to come together, rather than separate.
Amanda: Right. So often, we all have the same goal in mind, which whether that’s safe streets or well-educated children or healthy populations, we generally have the same goal. We just have a very different opinion of how to get there. And I agree with you 100%; if you can start with “we all want the same thing,” then you can somehow try and backtrack on how to get there. It’s when you have this idea that you’re both pulling in completely opposite directions, that there’s no way to go from there.
Pam: Yeah, exactly. Yep. And when we see the world from a broader perspective, rather than me, myself, and my town or my little community. But we step back and you say, “What’s the right thing for our nation or for the world?” We start to see ourselves very differently, and what we can do that’s much more on the global.
Amanda: Yeah. Can you give us a good or helpful question to ask, when we get into these conversations with maybe a family member or a colleague that maybe we do see things very differently in the policy front, but you’re trying to help them see that you are on the same page, as far as wanting what’s best in the end. Instead of being reactionary, do you have a good question that you like to ask?
Pam: Oh, well, so a topic that comes to mind right now, that’s a pretty important topic, is just education and our children, how schools are about to start, and there’s so many different options and debates about the right way or the wrong way, and it can get quite heated. I don’t know if I have a good question to ask, but I think the mentality that I hope we all have is that these are all our children, and we’re all trying to educate them. And at the end of the day, whether they’re learning online or at home through homeschool or in the classroom, we’re all doing our best to educate this generation, this next generation. And this perspective that no matter what, we’re all trying our hardest to make it happen because it’s not easy. And the circumstances are just much more challenging these days than in the past.
But I hope that it just gives people more grace towards one another to know that nobody is intentionally trying to make the wrong decision or make somebody feel bad about their decision. It’s just that we all have different families and circumstances that we have to make choices for the best for our families. And so my hope is that we have a lot of grace for one another, and we think of what defines success for us ultimately, and that there are many different paths to get to success, perhaps, for different families and different communities. And then we help one another get there. Be encouraging.
“My hope is that we have a lot of grace for one another, and we think of what defines success for us ultimately, and that there are many different paths to get to success, perhaps, for different families and different communities.”
Amanda: Yeah. I absolutely agree with that. It’s something I try and do quite a bit because it’s very easy to look at a decision that you feel is wrong or a decision that ultimately is not beneficial for you and your family or your team. It’s easy to then assign negative motives, when the truth is, the motive may have been pure or at the very least neutral, even though the result may be negative to you. So it’s hard not to judge the motive based on the outcome, when we really do always have the chance to at least offer within our own minds a slightly pure if not negative motive to the other side. Right?
Pam: That’s exactly it. Yep.
Amanda: Well, Pam, this conversation has been super fascinating for me. I think I will be listening to it again and trying to implement a lot of this in my own life and my everyday relationships and questions. But I would like to end with my favorite question to end our conversations with. If, from your unique perspective, you could have all of us do one thing differently tomorrow that would make the world a better place, what is it that you would have us do?
Pam: I love this question. It’s such a great question. I would have us be better listeners. And as the title of my book says, No One’s Listening, and It’s Your Fault, I think that if we, as people, learn how to actively listen and be curious about people, I think that would make the world a better place.
A great question that I like to apply is tell me why this is important to you. Obviously, if you just say what motivates you, I don’t think that’s going to come across well, but if you ask the question around importance and values, I think that unearths a lot of a person’s character, and it helps us all to understand one another better.
Amanda: Which is the goal, isn’t it? If we understand each other better, we can work on that change in a way that’s beneficial to all of us, which is what we all need right now, more than ever.
Amanda: Well, Pam, I can’t thank you enough for joining us today. And I hope everyone goes out and reads your book because I found it wildly helpful. And I hope to implement quite a bit of those suggestions, not just at work, but at home and at church.
Pam: Thank you, Amanda.