Monday, February 16, 2015

The Challenge to Change, as Told by David Bowie, Bob Dylan, and the Cast of High School Musical

If you wanna be cool
Follow one simple rule
Don't mess with the flow, no no
Stick to the status quo
-Disney’s High School Musical, Stick to the Status Quo

As so eloquently captured by these lyrics, human beings love predictability. We crave routine and structure in our daily lives. We embrace what we know, and try our best to avoid unfamiliar territory. We are homeostasis junkies, and we like it that way.

The same holds true for the organizations we work with and the communities we live in. When faced with the opportunity to try something different, organizations can be overwhelmed by the mere process required to discuss making a change, nonetheless to implement it. As a result, humans, communities, and  organizations alike often stick to the status quo and cease to evolve.

If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

But why is change so difficult? Why do so many organizations “sink like stone,” like the song forewarns? First, implementing a change takes hard work. Like a salmon swimming upstream, catalysts of change must be motivated, determined, and unafraid of failure. Those lacking any of these three characteristics will be hard pressed to succeed when meeting new challenges. Second, changes always produces loss. Those afraid of losing what is familiar- whether it be programming, responsibilities, resources, or even relationships with those around them- will have difficulty recognizing the benefits of change and will be hesitant to move towards it.

Turn and face the strange
-David Bowie, Changes

In order to overcome these barriers and “face the ch-ch-changes,” an organization must foster a readiness to change in key stakeholders.1 First, leaders in the organization must be able to help stakeholders identify important standards that are not being met, and how the proposed change could help satisfy these standards.1 This provides a rationale behind change, instead of change for its own sake.2 Next, leaders can help stakeholders identify external threats that may hinder the organization if the change is not implemented, as well as recognize the benefits and rewards that can come along with new opportunities .1 Furthermore, leaders can help stakeholders recognize that while making a change in the organization may create a sense of loss, the benefits of the change far outweigh what had been previously gained.

In addition to creating change readiness within an organization before a transformation occurs, leaders need to continue to support stakeholders after the change has been implemented. In order to do this, management and board members need to allow time for employees and volunteers to adapt to the changes, recognizing the ongoing need for adjustments and learning.2 Additionally, leaders can set a consistent example while staying positive, choosing to focus on the benefits of the change instead of the inconveniences.2 Leaders can acknowledge and reward change as they see staff, donors, and volunteers making an effort to get on board.2 This reinforces change in a positive way, making it more appealing for stakeholders to move away from the status quo. Last, leaders can continually ask for feedback from stakeholders and act on the feedback provided.2 This level of transparency in an organization makes the change process inclusive, giving stakeholders a sense of ownership in the process and a reason to support organizational change.

Although the lyric “change” might strike fear into the heart of many, proper framing of the transformation by good leaders can make the process more manageable. By following the outlined techniques, leaders can create and manage organizational change in a way that leverages the abilities of their stakeholders instead of alienating them.

1 Cameron, K. S. (1991). Transformational leadership. In Developing management skills (pp. 1-26). New York, NY: Harper-Collins. 2 Calvert, D. (2012, December 16). Why Is It So Difficult to Implement Change? Retrieved February 14, 2015, from