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Speaker Profile: Deron Kling

May 25, 2020

Deron Kling
Senior Manager at Wipfli, Consulting

At the National Training Conference in Las Vegas in September, Deron will be speaking about:

  • Change leadership and change management
  • Strategic planning
  • How to use visual and dynamic tools to get the most out of meetings

Deron will also lead strategy-focused portions of the pre-conference leadership workshop.

What is your role at Wipfli?
As a senior manager in Consulting and leader of Wipfli’s change Management practice, I help clients develop strategic plans and move through change successfully. Ideally, we want employees and teams to embrace and thrive through change, not just accept it.

Both disciplines – strategic planning and change management – go hand-in-hand. If change wasn’t necessary, you wouldn’t need strategy; you could just put yesterday’s actions on repeat. Essentially, a strategy is a plan to change.

What path has your career taken?
I started out in healthcare security, where I trained officers and medical staff to protect themselves and provide a safe care environment for patients and visitors. (Fun fact: I was a certified law enforcement instructor in tactical handcuffing, baton use and principles of subject control.)

During that time, I was asked to represent the department on a major telephony initiative. I loved the project, so I transitioned from security to telecommunications and later to healthcare IT. I loved technology, but I was always drawn to the people-side of the projects. In IT, we were constantly initiating change and guiding people through it.

I moved up through various IT and leadership roles at a Fortune 500 company, an international toy company, and a college. When I moved into consulting, I began working with nonprofits, as well as technology firms. I focused on how nonprofits could use technology to deliver services; do more with less; and reach more of their community members. Those are often strategic decisions, so my focus started to shift from technology to strategy.

Today, I spend 90 percent of my client time with nonprofit organizations from across the country, including community action programs, Head Start programs and tribal organizations.


What traits made you successful?
I have a strong sense of empathy, which helps me facilitate groups. I can sense where the group is going, the overall mood and where we might hit a snag.

From my IT experience, I’m a systems thinker. I understand complex systems and can work through a process to reach the end.

I’ve always had an outward mindset, too, which means I’m very focused on others – in this case, my clients and their communities. I’m always asking, “How can we help?” 

Beyond that, humor helps a lot. And I have a ridiculously positive attitude.


What are some lessons that have stuck with you throughout your career?
When I was brand new in IT, I worked with a VP who ran tremendous enterprise-wide projects.  He did two things that I’ve tried to carry with me:

First, he took time to formulate his thoughts before he answered a question. He’d say, “I need to think about it,” pause, and then deliver an insightful and precise response. He was comfortable with silence, even if there were 20 people around the table.

I think that habit is probably even more important today, as the speed and rate of communication keeps increasing (and attention spans shorten). It’s also important in my work as a facilitator, where you have to bring a wide spectrum of personalities and thinkers together. A facilitator has to respect all of the different personalities, learning styles, and “processing” types in the group. Some people need more time to formulate thoughts than others. If you wait for them, you’ll get exponentially better ideas.

The second takeaway was how he asked questions; he was honest and direct, but always kind.


How has the nonprofit industry changed since you started consulting?
Clients are more comfortable with technology today. Now they’re getting really sophisticated in how they think about systems and use data to support decision making, get information to funders, create new services and identify needs.


What is biggest challenge you experience as a consultant?
Focus. The biggest challenge is definitely finding and keeping focus because there are so many ways and opportunities to help clients. You have to sift through all sorts of potential projects that are interesting and seem positive and have good potential, and then pick a vital few to focus on first – or even exclusively.

That’s also one of the reasons I like consulting. Across the country, nonprofits are experiencing a variety of challenges. I get to work with different groups on different projects that will have the most impact. For me, it’s fun to do the groundwork for exciting projects with interesting and inspiring organizations – even if I don’t get to stick around for the impact of our successful efforts.


How do you stay motivated?
A couple of my mentors have said “Any action is preferable to inaction.” So when I feel overwhelmed or I don’t know what to do next, I pick one thing I can do. Maybe I need to ask questions or do more research – whatever it is, it’s always good to take a step forward. Then you can take one more. After you take the first action, momentum starts picking up. Always look for the next right action.


What’s the best career advice you can offer?
I encourage people to take risks in their careers. If you’re interested in something, pursue it. There’s so much online learning available now that you can dip your toe in the water to see if you love something without getting a degree. Test drive jobs and find one you love.

I also tell people to listen. Clients will tell you where they need help – but you have to actively listen and get to the “why” behind what they’re telling you. When I’m hired as a consultant, it’s because an organization is having trouble solving a problem. My job is to keep asking questions until we get to the root cause and understand all of the underlying factors. You can’t get there unless you listen.

 

What is the most fulfilling part of your job?
Helping people is absolutely the best part of my job. Some of the things I do might seem kind of dry – fiscal process improvement, operational strategy – but those projects help organizations direct more money toward programs.  

If you begin every project with the end in mind, it’s very rewarding. To do that, I start most new client engagements with a tour. It helps me stay connected to the people side of our projects and understand the organizational culture, the “why.” When I see kids at a Head Start center or a CEO interact with elderly clients in a senior program, I remember why we’re there. The nonprofits I serve change peoples’ lives in dramatic ways and I’m privileged to work with them.


Outside of work, when and where are you happiest?
I enjoy a lot of things, but I’m probably happiest playing board games. One game I play, ironically, is called Pandemic. I’m married, and I have four daughters and a golden retriever named Princess Zelda.  

 

Register today to hear Deron Kling speak at the National Training Conference.

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