Author: Denis Barbeau

Denis Barbeau is a Systemscope Partner and engineer with more than 15 years of experience helping public sector clients to successfully address significant organizational and business challenges. As the Practice Lead for Strategic Business Consulting, Denis’ experience and specializations include business planning and transformation, organizational redesign, governance and integrated process management. Denis’ broad experience in the public and private sectors, coupled with excellent communication skills, allows him to leverage best practices for a wide variety of organizations and propose achievable solutions for the benefit of his clients. In 2008, Denis was named one of the National Capital Region’s Forty under 40 by the Ottawa Business Journal. The awards recognize business people under the age of 40 for their career accomplishments, professional expertise and community and charitable involvement

Hanging Ten at the Special Surfers Night

As one of the core values of our firm, Systemscope prides itself on giving back to the community through sponsorship and participation in charitable events.   We are regular sponsors of Government of Canada Charitable Workplace Campaign events, An Evening of Hope, which raises funds for Lung Cancer Research, and the Ottawa Hospital Foundation President’s Breakfast.    We also encourage our employees to take advantage of their annual volunteer days for worthwhile causes.  These volunteer days have been used for fundraising bike tours (Tour for Kids), building playground structures for underprivileged neighbourhoods, participating in fundraising barbeques, organizing Christmas hamper programs, and being volunteers at our childrens’ schools. I would like to share my own personal volunteering experience – being a first-time participant in Special Surfers Night.

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How to be a Boss without being Bossy – Part 1

We are all leaders in one respect or another.  In business, we lead firms, divisions, and projects.  In our professional growth and personal branding, we speak at conferences, write white papers and post blogs.  In our personal lives, we are moms and dads, we serve on boards, and we lead community groups.

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Hey, It’s Not Brain Surgery!

Having just come through brain surgery, I’ve learned valuable life lessons that can also be applied to change and transformation management.

A little background context – In early January, 2012, I started experiencing problems with my vision and after a series of tests culminating with an MRI in early April, was diagnosed with a pituitary macroadenoma – in layman’s terms, a 4.0 cm benign tumour situated between my brain and my pituitary gland.

The Outcome – On June 4, a neurosurgical team at theOttawaHospital performed the surgery to remove the tumour using a minimally invasive, Endoscopic Endonasal Approach (EEA).    The surgery was made more complicated by the fact that the tumour had grown to approximately 4.0 cm in diameter and had to be removed through my nostril via a deviated septum.    Despite the complications, the tumour was successfully extracted in one piece and an MRI the next day confirmed that the area was “clean”, setting the foundation for a quick recovery and an excellent long term prognosis.

How I Prepared and What I Learned – When I was initially diagnosed with the tumour and the prospect of a serious surgery, I contacted the renowned sports psychologist Dr. Terry Orlick ( to ask his advice on how to prepare for this event.   Years ago, I had read Terry’s book “In Pursuit of Excellence” which chronicled Terry’s work with athletes and high-performance executives, and we had invited Terry to one of Systemscope’s corporate retreats in 2008 to present and discuss techniques on achieving higher levels of performance.

After a long talk, Terry offered me these three pieces of advice:

  1. Focus on positive outcomes
  2. “Change the channel” and think positive
  3. Lean on your support networks

The advice prepared me well for the surgery, but it also made me think of how this applies readily to any person, or any organization, about to undergo a major event or transformation.  Based on my own experience, I would add two additional lessons learned:

  1. Communicate effectively and be persistent
  2. Celebrate success and acknowledge who got you there

Applying the lessons of Brain Surgery to Transformation and Change Management

Let’s examine each of these five areas in more detail:

  1. Focus on positive outcomes – as an engineer, it would have been too easy for me to get caught up in process details: testing, consultations, surgical delays, worrying about things beyond your control etc.   Instead, Terry recommended that I focus on positive outcomes – the removal of the tumour, restored eyesight, and re-established quality of life.   In organizational transformation and change management, the same technique can be applied – establish a vision of what outcome(s) should result:  greater system efficiencies, better service to clients, or increased productivity.  Once you set your eye on the outcome and keep it there, you can enhance your enablers for success and minimize any barriers or risks along the way.
  2. “Change the channel” and think positive – this was one of the more creative techniques that Terry taught me and it worked remarkably well.   Terry told me to think about picturing a large TV screen in front of me.  Whenever negative or worrisome thoughts crept in about the upcoming surgery, he suggested that I simply “switch the channel” to positive, outcome-based thinking.  I must admit that my visual depiction of changing the channel literally meant going “old school” and turning a dial on a TV rather than use a remote, but nonetheless, the positive imagery served me well before the operation and again during my recovery phase.    Too often and too easily during major change, we embrace a level of negativity or cynicism that can spread like poison and bring down even the most well-planned change management programs.   To mitigate this, I believe that the onus must be on each individual throughout the organization to deal with change using positive behaviours that foster a culture of optimism and progression.   Feeling down about changes to your organization?  Change the channel and look for the positive possibilities.
  3. Lean on your support networks.   Terry had reminded me that I was under the care of one of the best neuro-surgeons in the world, a pioneer in the EEA, and in one of the best medical institutions inNorth America.  Further, I had an amazingly supportive family and colleagues at work, and a wonderful network of friends I could draw upon through this process.   Applying this to organizational transformation, the same can also be said.  You’re not alone in change management – seek out the strong and supportive leaders who can make change happen effectively and lean on your colleagues to collectively get you through the transformation.
  4. Communicate effectively and be persistent.    Although it may seem obvious that communicating effectively is a basic tenet of dealing with stressful events (and in many cases a foregone conclusion), I never took communication for granted.  Apart from the therapeutic value of just talking about my tumour and the surgery, strong and persistent communication with medical practitioners in the days and weeks leading up to the operation left me feeling more comfortable and confident about the event.   In organizational transformation and change management, lip service is frequently paid to positive and effective communication, but the actions rarely reflect the intent.   This leaves managers and staff confused, anxious and prone to rumour mills, which in turn create a compound effect of negative stress.   Rather than turn the communications taps off during times of challenge or change, put a communications framework and strategy in place quickly, and let the messaging flow both ways!
  5. Celebrate success and acknowledge who got you there.    In the days following the surgery, I sent thank you cards and flowers to the surgical team and recovery ward nurses.   I wrote a letter to the CEO of theOttawaHospital acknowledging the success of the surgery and the professionalism of all staff involved along my journey.   I took the time to cite particular individuals who I felt had gone beyond the call of duty.   The responses that I received were completely unexpected and articulated increased morale for them and their staff.  Executives and managers have to take the same steps during programs of change to recognize and celebrate success at regular intervals (not just at the end) and acknowledge their staff’s contributions.  They should cite the Herculean efforts of key individuals and trumpet achievements over all channels.

So there you have it – brain surgery preparation applied to organizational transformation and change management in 5 easy steps!   In all seriousness, these tips combined with a strong roadmap of change, communications and engagement strategy, can go a long way to help individuals and organizations prepare for and achieve successful outcomes in times of major challenge and change.


Our New Space: Designed for Collaboration to Help Our Clients Transform

Mash-ups. The world seems to love them. Everything from Web content to songs and videos are being mashed to create new energy, ideas and outcomes. Why not clichés? If we take the ideals of “Location, location, location” and “Timing is everything” and mash them up, they pretty much form a foundational piece of Systemscope’s announcement that we have moved into a new, larger office space in Ottawa’s Byward Market.

Systemscope is one of Ottawa’s leading strategic consulting firms, specializing in business and service transformation. “Transformation doesn’t happen in a box, or simply through a tool … it requires a collective conscience around a business challenge, where collaboration can produce a clear path forward,” argues Systemscope Partner and Government Service Excellence Practice Lead, Stephen Karam.

With this in mind, “Location, location, location” embodies not only the physical address of the new Systemscope offices, but the layout as well. Systemscope chose the former Shopify offices as its new home primarily because the footprint of the office space makes it ideal to foster collaboration, creativity, and innovation, which are essential in the transformation process for the company’s clients.

The new offices are anything but typical. The new Systemscope environment boasts a variety of creative office spaces including:

  • communal offices for the company’s three Practice Areas (Government Service Excellence, Enterprise Information Architecture, and Strategic Business Consulting)
  • an expansive boardroom for hosting clients in more formal, facilitated workshop settings and for firm-wide strategic planning;
  • the “Systemscope lab” – a glass enclosed central room where multiple practice teams can work together to cross-fertilize ideas among different project and practice areas, and formally develop architectures, models, methodologies and more; and
  • finally, and perhaps most significant to our quest for optimized collaboration, there will be the “Systemscope Lounge” where employees and clients can meet in a central and casual environment to stimulate the creative and out-of-the-box thinking for which Systemscope is known.

This collaborative approach is the key to Systemscope’s successful service offerings, and is entirely reflected in the design choices for the new space. A significant portion of the new office is dedicated to casual common spaces including the lounge, a kitchen, a library, a shower facility (for those who wish to bike or run to work), and even a yoga ball. Even the senior partners of the firm, Denis Barbeau and Stephen Karam, insist on maintaining a shared office in order not to lose touch with the ethos of the firm.

In a further attempt to enable the nature of Systemscope’s collaborative practices, Systemscope will introduce the practice of having monitors showcasing the range of Systemscope’s work and client successes to date. “We are so busy and so focused on current projects that it is easy to lose sight of the excellent work we have already completed. This showcase is a constant reminder for us, and our clients, of the successes of the past and the full range of Systemscope capabilities.” says Kellen Greenberg, Director of Strategic Business Consulting.

“Collaboration doesn’t happen in isolation, and it must respect the systems of human and organizational behaviour” maintains Denis Barbeau, Partner and Practice Lead for Strategic Business Consulting. “Systemscope has picked a time in government where collaboration is needed more than ever and our new location is built just for this purpose.”

Our New Space!

 Learn More:

Systemscope Claims Old Shopify Digs – Ottawa Business Journal profile
Our New Space: Designed For Collaboration to Help Our Clients Transform by Denis Barbeau, Systemscope Partner
Introducing the Systemscope Lounge – Our Creative Commons by Denise Eisner, Senior Consultant

Who’s on First?

By Denis Barbeau

After watching this video, I found that this is often the starting point for RACI sessions we hold with the public service.   Or put another way, who’s  going to get the call if things go wrong?  Often times (after arms become uncrossed) we see one of two reactions – those who see the advantage of coveting additional accountability and those who would prefer to stay under the radar and defer the accountability.

The simplicity and clarity of the RACI helps us cut through these types of challenges and by the end of the session, we often strike the right balance of accountability, remove any overlaps (perceived or real) and fill in any organizational gaps, such as needs for new or enhanced skills and competencies.    The RACI model gets our clients to the interim outcome they want – a self-identification of functional roles and responsibilities as a starting point to governance and organizational redesign.  Simply put – it starts to fix what’s broken and fine tunes the organizational engine.  More importantly, a RACI matrix is more than tool; it’s the fuel that fosters the right dialogue between the right stakeholders.

Luckily Abott and Costello didn’t have a RACI matrix in front of them. If they did, there would have been no confusion and we would all have one less thing to laugh at in this world.

Denis Barbeau is Partner and Practice Lead, Strategic Business Consulting. He can be contacted at