Change is hard. I think most of us would agree that sudden disruptions to our routine make us uncomfortable, and require more than our normal workload to simply adapt to the new state of affairs. These changes throw us off; they make us question our own competence because of the loss of familiarity associated with the old routine (Moss Kanter). As a leader of an organization, you must grapple with aversion to change to improve systems and keep the organization current with external pressures. Change is made particularly difficult by cumbersome or inflexible management practices that are unable to move quickly and adapt to change (Charan and Tichy). For nonprofits, an added difficulty is that funders favor established, proven methods over exploration of uncharted waters (Gowdy et al), perversely, innovation may actually limit resources.
So, what can we do to make change easier, faster, and funded? The answers lie in the development of a strategic plan with strong core principals and regular reevaluations along with improved management practices such as eliminating unneeded managerial layers, employing self-confident managerial skills, and involving relevant stakeholders. These five measures will help prepare an organization for change and ease tensions during the process. How you ask? Let’s get into it.
- Develop a strategic plan with strong core principals. Planning to outline goals and strategies for achieving those goals is the key to organizational success (Renz Ch. 9). It also sets a baseline; leaders have a solid communal definition of the organization’s essence. Moving forward on major organizational changes will be easier if you have clear core concepts that you can keep common throughout changes that the organization undergoes (Cameron).
- Regularly evaluate your strategic plan. Regular reconsideration of this strategic plan then helps to insure that the strategies are proper and effective at achieving goals within the current environment. Constantly thinking about external changes that may impact the efficacy of your strategy and the future beyond the current strategic plan helps organizations see changes coming and preempt them (Tregoe).
- Limit managerial levels to those that are truly required. When supervisors are closer to the action they are more accessible to employees to hear complaints and suggestions and are thus directly connected to feedback loops within the organization. Streamlined management can also respond more quickly to change because they are not bogged down by complex hierarchical procedures (Charan and Tichy).
- Be a self-confident manager. According to Charan and Tichy, this is a manager who is self-assured enough to accept feedback – good and bad – and incorporate improvements to their management style graciously. They challenge processes to make sure that performance is efficient and effective and take ownership over creating the simplified hierarchical structure discussed in #3, though it may involve difficult decisions. This style of leadership creates a flexible, responsive structure, more able to adjust to the demands of change.
- Involve stakeholders and reward their adaptability. While asking for an inclusive decision making process slows down organizational response time, the key to successful change is to secure the buy-in of stakeholders, including funders. If stakeholders can’t give input before a change, make sure that they are informed of it and are presented a solid, evidence-based case for why it was pursued. Internally, rewarding exemplary adaptability and adoption of the new policies among staff and providing them with training opportunities builds support for change (Cameron).
Good organizational planning and adept management practices together form an agile organization in tune with prevailing winds that can create successful change despite our individual and organizational aversion to it.
- Cameron, Kim. 1991. “Transformational Leadership.” In Developing Management Skills. David A. Whetton and Kim S. Cameron. New York: Harper Collins.
- Charan, Ram and Noel Tichy. 1989. “Speed, Simplicity, Self-Confidence: An Interview with Jack Welch.” Harvard Business Review. No. 89513:110-120.
- Gowdy, Heather, Alex Hildebrand, David La Piana, and Melissa Mendes Campos. 2009. Convergence: How Five Trends will Reshape the Social Sector. La Piana Consulting.
- Moss Kanter, Rosabeth. 2012. “Ten Reasons People Resist Change.” Harvard Business Review: Change Management. Web. Accessed February 16, 2015. https://hbr.org/2012/09/ten-reasons-people-resist-chang/
- Renz, David O, ed. 2010. The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco, CA.
- Tregoe, Benjamin. 1983. “The Challenges of Strategic Management.” In Top Management Strategy. Benjamin B. Tregoe and John W. Zimmerman. New York: Simon and Schuster.