When Natasha L. Rankin, MBA, CAE, became CEO of the Irrigation Association in 2022, she knew she’d have to make some changes. IA still hadn’t settled on a policy around remote and hybrid work, and anxiety among the 20-person staff was high.
“I had to assume that I was starting out with a negative balance of trust,” she said.
Rankin’s first step in her role as change agent was to both get and deliver clarity around her new staff. She developed an onboarding plan to the board that meticulously tracked what she wanted to accomplish in her first 30, 60, and 90 days on the job, and how she would communicate her goals to staff. Much of that involved one-on-one communication with employees.
Rankin learned that IA was heavily siloed: staffers understood what projects they were working on, but not how they related to other departments or strategic goals. Rankin also noticed that internal communication was often disorganized, with too many work messages circulating off-hours and on weekends.
So, she started relatively small, setting guidelines for staff on what qualified as urgent communication. “My thought was, I want people to be able to bring their best selves to their role,” she said. “And that means giving them opportunities to disconnect.”
With the temperature lowered somewhat on a day-to-day basis, Rankin could more confidently pursue more complex organizational changes. Part of that process meant redefining staff roles, which meant consistent communication about what work would need to be done and who would be doing it.
“It’s been an ongoing education process of creating awareness, giving examples, and showing people the positive impact by them experiencing it, product by product,” she said.
Handling what needed doing was managed in tandem with how it would be done. IA established clear criteria around remote and in-person work. “It was a way of saying that we’re removing the arbitrary from the table when it comes to what your workplace is going to look like,” Rankin said. “These are the criteria we use, and if there’s a change, we’re going to have a discussion about the rationale about that.”