Change, although difficult, is inherent in nature. We see it as summer turns into fall and the leaves change color. We see it when children grow-up into adults. Even scientific breakthroughs, technological advances, the progression of human rights, and culinary masterpieces are products of change. Change is required when the status quo is no longer feasible, and often comes whether we want it to or not. But if change is natural, why is it so difficult? Why do organizations and communities experience stagnation, often at the expense of their members, when life is dynamic? La Piana Consulting suggests that we are afraid of change because it creates a sort of urgency within us, “People don’t know what to do. People are thinking ‘how do I not mess up?’” (Convergence pg. 23-25). It is easy for people to become comfortable and complacent in their routine, and change often carries a negative undertone.
Being proactive, rather than reactive, can dilute some of the distress we often experience in regards to change. As La Piana Consulting explains, we must become futurists, tuning ourselves into shifts in our environment, and developing innovative responses and approaches (Convergence pg. 4). Community and organization leaders can use their position as an opportunity to shape how their members respond to change. Below I propose five practices for leaders to use to alleviate the challenges of change and shape their members into futurists.
1. Articulate a Vision. People want to know what change means. The concept of change evokes a sense of probability, while a vision brings possibility. An inspirational vision allows individuals to think differently about themselves and how to react to the future (Cameron pg. 9) For example, Nelson Mandela’s articulated vision of an integrated South Africa helped to create a peaceful transition of power and helped individuals think differently about how they may live together, in a once segregated country.
2. Identify External Threats. When survival is threatened by the status quo, change can be more readily accepted (Cameron pg. 8). For example, the threat of an invasion or attack by a foreign enemy may make members of a country more open to policy changes regarding immigration, security, and national defense, even if those changes infringe upon some of their own freedoms.
3. Identify Opportunities. Most changes are not immediately rewarding as they disrupt current standards and practices. When people get comfortable in their routine change is typically considered a burden. The goal is to identify opportunities for those whom the change disrupts. For example, introducing a new technology into the workplace can be frustrating to those who need to learn how to use it. If you position the technological change as a learning opportunity to expand the employees’ skillset, they will look at the change in more positive way. They will see it as a gain, rather than a loss. (Cameron, pg. 8).
4. Compare Current Performance with Standards. Creating dissatisfaction with the status quo can foster excitement for upcoming changes (Cameron pg. 6). For example, illustrating inefficiencies within a company alongside of its vision and/proposed structural changes can excite individuals and help them understand that change is needed to succeed.
5. Create a New Language. The words we use weigh heavily on others. By choosing words carefully, a leader can "interpret reality for their organization" (Cameron, pg. 7). For example, using the word ‘innovation’ in the place of ‘change’ may entice individuals to be more forward thinking and proactive rather than reactionary about change.
Change is often an overlooked opportunity. These five practices will assist leaders in transforming their members into futurists who readily embrace change. Communities and organizations are dynamic, the status quo can’t thrive indefinitely. When we remember that change is natural and creates possibilities for us, we become more comfortable with the probabilities it brings.
Cameron, Kim. “Transformational Leadership.” Developing Management Skills. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.
Gowdy, Heather; Hildebrand, Alex; La Piana, David; Mendes Campos, Melissa. "Convergence." How Five Trends Will Reshape the Social Sector. La Piana Consulting. 2009.
Tregoe, Benjamin B. “The Challenges of Strategic Management.” Top Management Strategy: What It Is and How to Make it Work. 1983.