Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Barriers to Change

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  As a social worker, this is a quote that many people have encouraged me with and one that I frequently see posted on the walls of classrooms and offices.  While this quote is inspirational and does possess certain wisdom, I am often frustrated at its simplicity.  Yes, I can do my part as an individual to make a change in the world, but in reality, my impact as a single entity among billions is rather minuscule.  The change that I wish to see in the world is monumental.  However, bringing about change in organizations, communities, and beyond is incredibly difficult and cannot be done without planning and collaboration.    

Several barriers commonly stand in the way of substantial, macro level change.  These include, but are not limited to, a lack of unity between leadership, working within unpredictable and imperfect systems, and a lack of resources.  So how can we address these challenges in order to create the substantial change that we wish to see in the world? 

Lack of unity between leadership:

As seen through the case study of Habitat for Humanity International, it is difficult to implement quality services that bring about substantial community change when the focus of the organization is unclear and when there is a lack of unity between leadership.  In order to bring about change on a large scale, organizations need to have a focused mission and vision that is adhered to throughout all facets of the organization and by all members of the organization.  It is easy to attempt to address a variety issues and spread capacity too thin.  Effective change is mission oriented and focused, and this focus needs to start with a unified leadership team and disseminated from the top down.  Furthermore, in order to effectively carry out this mission, it is important for leadership among an organization to develop a strategic plan to direct its steps, utilize resources efficiently, and make sure that everyone within the organization is on the same page.             

Working within unpredictable and imperfect systems:

The systems in which we are attempting to impact change are imperfect and have the potential to drastically change within a short amount of time (I am currently thinking of the significant impacts that Governor Walker’s budget proposal will likely have on Wisconsin’s long-term care system).  In her article, “Transformational Leadership,” Kim Cameron argues that leaders who are most effective are the ones who work to transform systems and processes.  Working within these systems is not enough to impact meaningful change.  If organizational processes or systemic structures are not leading to meaningful change, focus should be placed on changing the system.  This cannot be done alone, however, and collaboration within as well as between organizations is critical.  People must strategically come together around shared goals in order for this change to have the chance to take place.      

Lack of resources:    

Another barrier to change of organizations and communities is a lack of resources.  Countless organizations are all vying for these limited resources in order to change the community in their unique way.  In regards to community change, resources may be used more effectively if there was more collaboration between organizations working towards the same goals and less competition between “silos.”  Within organizations, resources can be used efficiently through strategic planning as well as utilizing evidence-based practices in order to ensure the effectiveness of programs.

Cameron, Kim (1991).  Transformational Leadership.  Developing Management Skills.  New York: Harper Collins.

Slavitt, Andrew (1993).  Habitat for Humanity International.  Boston: Publishing Division, Harvard Business School.