An Optimist with a Passion for Organizational Change ManagementApril 2015
April Berrian is a good listener. That's not only a valuable quality for a psychologist, but for someone helping government sponsors like the IRS, Census Bureau, and the Veteran's Health Administration (VHA) tackle big organizational changes.
In high school, Berrian became a peer counselor. In college, she received an undergraduate degree in psychology with an emphasis on child development, and then a master's in family counseling. But she had an epiphany while working with disadvantaged youths in Southern California: "I could only do so much one-on-one. You need to look at the entire system: parents, schools, courts, and more. I became interested in systems psychology, realizing that I could make more of an impact by partnering with others on system-wide changes."
After earning a doctorate from Indiana University, where she studied organizational psychology, and years of private consulting for clients like the National Institute of Public Health, Berrian joined MITRE. Here, she has worked for the Census Bureau, the IRS, and is now back to her first love, healthcare, with the VHA. When asked why she enjoys tackling thorny issues that would cause many people to throw up their hands, she laughs and says, "Boundless optimism, I suppose."
Helping the IRS and Census Bureau
While Berrian credits IRS executives with already having a strong and versatile skill set, she helped emerging leaders make the most of their working relationships with their staffs and across the organization. "Within MITRE, we have the tools to help government leaders tie vision into actionable steps and build a strong corporate culture."
Berrian moved within MITRE's Center for Enterprise Modernization to help the Census Bureau. She helped the IT group with a customer relationship system so they could better serve the business units. Soon after, she took on the Census Program Manager role.
Veterans Health Administration Modernization
As much as she enjoyed her work with the IRS and Census, Berrian was delighted to find an opportunity to support the VHA's commitment to improving veterans’ satisfaction, health, and well-being, while also making services more cost effective. In 2013, it commissioned MITRE to conduct a modernization study that resulted in a VA Health Care System Modernization Report. The report included nine recommendations for transforming from a traditional "disease-based" healthcare delivery system to one that is more holistic. Berrian led a six-person team, which collaborated with more than 55 experts, including physicians, nurses, medical directors, chief financial officers, executive directors for health affairs, and senior VHA leaders.
Berrian cites several aspects of MITRE that not only resonated with her when she joined the company, but proved essential for the VHA project. For example, MITRE doesn't compete with industry. "I really liked it that we're a not-for-profit and have no motive to sell more services or promote a set of products. With MITRE, you can tell that our government sponsors recognize we are working in their best interests."
Berrian points out that the depth and breadth of MITRE's expertise makes it easier to focus upon what the sponsor truly needs. "When we originally discussed the project with the sponsor, we said, 'Yes, we can interview some people and collect data, but we believe what you really need is an overarching framework.' From that macro level, we're also able to delve deep. On my team, we have experts in enterprise strategy, cost estimation, performance management, and more. Plus, we can reach back into the company for any other expertise we need."
She adds, "If you’re truly going to 'bring the best of MITRE to bear,' then that means you don’t leave team members in a back room doing data analysis. The sponsors told me they loved that everyone on the MITRE team participated in the conversation. It was one team, with MITRE and the VHA working together."
MITRE and the VHA completed the study in spring 2014. Berrian's team also helped incorporate many of the study recommendations and findings into the VHA's Blueprint for Excellence, which Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald posted on the VHA website.
When not deep in conversation with her customers, Berrian and her husband are active, biking, hiking, rock climbing, and whitewater rafting. They live in Bowie, Maryland.
—by Bill Eidson