Uncommon Person: Frederick Martin

Fredrick is Uncommon. 

Fredrick Martin, Sr. Director of Change Management at the University of Virginia, has been at the forefront of driving organizational transformation for more than 15 years in highly complex and matrixed organizations. With a diverse background in several industries, from healthcare to offshore outsourcing, Fredrick brings a unique approach to change like no other. 

We asked Fredrick to share some uncommon sense from his life and his career.


Bulldog Drummond: What value, phrase or uncommon truth do you live by?
Fredrick Martin: Don’t allow your ego to have you end up on the wrong side of disruption.

BD: What accomplishment in your life are you most proud of?
FM: On a personal note, it would be raising two amazing daughters that are now blazing their own trails in the world. Professionally, being able to create the space that allows for companies to become the best version of themselves by changing mindsets and behaviors––igniting their ability to accept reality and rethink how they solve problems and explore opportunities. All in all, my goal is always to leave people better than I found them, because people are the life-blood of any company.

BD: What gets you out of bed in the morning? What’s your purpose?
FM: That’s a great question. It’s funny because on my nightstand, I have a picture frame that has a blank sheet of paper in it. It reminds me first thing in the morning that each day is a blank slate ready for something new. My purpose is to bring sustainable disruption to organizations and to the world of change management. While our discipline has made amazing strides over the decades, it’s time that we evolve and bring fresh and new ideas to our discipline. The pandemic has accelerated the pace of change, and we will be asked to help organizations navigate change and, in some cases, create it.     


BD: What’s the most useful question you ask often? Why? 
FM: What problem are we really trying to solve? I’ve found that many leaders try to solve symptoms and not causes because it’s easy. This question requires that people really dig deep inside themselves and be honest about the root cause of a problem. It’s a simple question that I’ve seen make a room full of people stop and reflect.

BD: What makes you uncommon? 
FM: I have no problem telling someone, “your baby is ugly”. In transformation, you find that people want to hold onto things such as processes, operating models, business practices ect., all because they created it and see it as their baby or pet project. In order to provide them with a high dose of reality, I simply tell them that their baby is ugly. See, transformation has to be made personal for people, and there’s nothing more personal than your baby. My approach to change and transformation is grounded in telling uncomfortable truths and giving organizations a path to cultural success.

BD: Can you tell us about an experience that made you who you are?
FM: I got married and had a family at a young age. Like most people, family is one of the most important, if not the most important, things in our lives. After many years of marriage, we found ourselves in the space of getting divorced. As one can imagine, going through this life change can be an emotional and mental roller coaster. I learned so much about myself during this journey, which has benefited me both personally and professionally. To take a line from an episode of Sex In The City––Candice Bergen’s character was having lunch with Charlotte, and they were talking about marriage. She told Charlotte “stop expecting it to look like what you expected it to look like”. This resonated with me because I think we often go through life with a picture of how things are supposed to be, and in most cases, it doesn’t turn out this way. Somehow that experience has made us all closer as a family in a way that I would not have expected. I follow this same logic in the space of change; change doesn’t happen in a linear fashion. So your approach to change can’t be either. You can’t put change in some box and expect to win at it using only a series of models and theories.   

BD: What idea have you come across most recently that has changed your thinking? 
FM: The idea around personal and organizational ego. It’s been like a flashing red light in many encounters that I’ve been in over the pandemic, which makes me often say, “don’t allow your ego to have you end up on the wrong side of disruption”. I’ve seen leaders make poor decisions because their ego got in the way. The collateral damage left behind can be felt throughout the organization long after the leader is gone. I’ve also seen organizations not take advantage of new ideas and ways of working because they didn’t somehow match the perceived identity of the organization.   


BD: What is the most important decision you made in the last 18 months? 
FM: Given the last 18 months have been a roller coaster, to say the least––it’s made me relook at the idea of what we call “home”. Like most of the world, I’ve been working remotely for the past 18 months. I’m looking forward to taking advantage of a hybrid working model in the upcoming months.    

BD: What are you working on that you are excited about? 
FM: I’m currently writing a book on change management and organizational transformation that takes you behind the curtain of organizational transformation. It will focus on elements that make change successful and those that act as roadblocks. It’s not a book full of theories and models, but one ground in real-life situations. As you can guess, the title is “Your Baby Is Ugly”. In addition, I’m working on a new approach to change management that leverages the power of human-centered design with my partners at The Spill Teem where I head up Change Design and Implementation.


BD: What makes your company a unique and different organization? 
FM: Working for the University of Virginia and being able to see the future being shaped in real-time has been super exciting. Whether it’s in the space of patient care, cutting-edge research or watching future leaders develop right in front of your eyes. There’s a certain energy that lives at UVA that excites me every day. I also think that the world of higher education will face major disruption post the pandemic, and the opportunities that come from this disruption will be endless.   

BD: What positive difference are you trying to make in the world? 
FM: Putting the “people” back in the change process. Somehow, the people have gotten lost in the change process. Change needs to happen with people and not for them. 


BD: How would you best describe your role as a leader in Cultural Transformation?
FM: I live in a small world called reality, the population is low, but some people visit from time to time. I see things for what they are, including the blinds spots. For true change to take place, you have to unpack the core beliefs and behaviors of an organization. This requires deep thought work and the ability to accept certain truths about your organization.  

BD: What makes you a good leader of people? 
FM: My approach to leadership is how can I bring the best out of people, so they can do extraordinary things. 


BD: Considering the current state of the world, what is your biggest observation about humanity/society? 
FM: The human spirit is extremely resilient, and the current state of the world is truly testing that resilience. My fear is, what happens if resilience turns into tolerance?

BD: How has the industry you work in changed as a result of the pandemic? 
FM: This pandemic will change the face of higher education for the next five to ten years, in my opinion. The value proposition of college was already in question, with people asking, “what am I paying for and why does it cost so much?”. These were the very same questions the healthcare industry was faced with over a decade ago when it was forced to rethink and redesign the customer care model. What most people don’t know is that institutions of higher education are poorly run businesses, mainly because they don’t see themselves as one. Outdated practices, operational inefficiencies and enormous duplication are very expensive. The current model of asking for more money from donors or raising tuition is not a sustainable one for the future. A number of institutions will not survive the pandemic, and others will be forced to rethink how they actually run as the competition for student dollars becomes bigger.


BD: What’s the most pressing human issue we face today? 
FM: Race relations, there’s a huge divide among humans today. I hope we can begin to close this gap for the sake of our children’s future. 

BD: How has your background and upbringing affected your worldview and life experience? 
FM: Growing up in South Florida with loving parents and grandparents taught me the value of hard work, treating people with kindness and curiosity. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel the world and have many different experiences in my life. Some good and some bad. One thing I always come back to is not being afraid to take risks and always bet on myself. A mantra that I live by is “if you’re not living life on the edge, you’re taking up too much space in the world”.
Connect with Frederick on LinkedIn, IG @FredrickJMartin320 or his website: www.spillteem.com

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