Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How to Make Change Happen

Change takes work, and work is hard. Why there are barriers to change.

The concept of change sounds great in theory but when we actually have to change, it becomes something we are resistant to do. Have you ever heard someone utter the phrase: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?

We don’t like change, and with good reason. Change takes much deliberate and continued effort; in other words, change takes work. If we believe that something isn’t broken, then we aren’t likely to invest the resources to do the work. Unfortunately, if we wait for something to be broken instead of preparing for it to break, we are already behind by the time it does break.

Organizations and communities (hereafter referred to as institutions) can be resistant to change for many reasons. Structural processes, complacent workers, and a history of successful operations can all serve as reasons for institutions to resist change.  It is easy to fall into the trap of relying on such rhetoric as “because we’ve always done it this way” or “this has always worked for us in the past” as justification to not invest the effort in change. It can be hard to generate the motivation to address something that isn’t broken without strong processes in place.

How can institutions address barriers to change?

One of the primary ways institutions can address resistance to change is to adopt a futurist perspective (Gowdy). Institutions face a changing landscape on five different fronts: demographic, technological, networking, cultural norms, and sector boundaries (Gowdy). When institutions are looking at possibilities presented by these changes they can be prepared for change.

A second way in which institutions can overcome resistance is to have strong leadership. As stated by Jack Welch, chairman and CEO of General Electric, institutions should approach change with a sense of candor. By candor he is referring to viewing change as opportunity for improvement (Charan). A leader can set the tone for the whole institution’s perception of change; and change as opportunity is a positive spin.

The third method of addressing resistance is through the use of strategic intent. Strategic intent is the process of setting a vision for the institution (Hamel). This process includes setting goals and motivating team members by communicating those goals and celebrating progress milestones (Hamel). Involvement in the goal and progress celebrations increases participant buy-in and makes change a positive mission.

Futurist perspective, strong leadership, and strategic intent lead into the final two ways in which institutions can counter resistance to change; strategic planning and strategic management. Strategic planning is an iterative process that allows the institution to continually review their projected direction. Strategic management refers to the formation and implementation of the institution’s strategy (Renz, 8). These two elements build the administrative foundation that allows the first three solutions to grow.

What is the common thread that makes addressing resistance possible?

Planning is the underlying theme that makes change happen in the face of resistance. Our natural state is to resist change and the solution to resistance is to have a plan. A plan that looks toward the future, sets positive intention, communicates the vision, evaluates progress, and has the foundation to make it happen.

Charan, Ram and Noel Tichy. 1989. “Speed, Simplicity, Self-Confidence: An Interview with Jack Welch.” Harvard Business Review. No. 89513:110-120.

Gowdy, Heather; Hildebrand, Alex; La Piana, David; Mendez Campos, Melissa; 2009. 
“Convergence: How Five Trends Will Reshape the Social Sector”. The James Irvine Foundation.

Hamel, Gary and C.K. Prahalad. 1989. “Strategic Intent.” Harvard Business Review No. 89308: 63-76.


Renz, David O, ed. 2010. The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco, CA.

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