Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Make Change Possible

As the adage goes, change is hard. Whether it’s changing a bad habit like biting your nails or changing careers, individuals often meet change with resistance, uncertainty, and/or fear. Change becomes even more difficult when it involves many individuals, or in an organization.  Change is difficult to bring about in organizations for two general reasons:

  1. Organizations may lack the ability to know when change is needed.
  2. Organizations may lack the mechanisms to make change happen. 
Lack of Capacity to Identify a Need for Change
“Without an acknowledged need to change, individuals and organizations tend to remain the same” (Cameron, 6). A lack of diversity in the organization may contribute to the inability to acknowledge a need for change. Often, when people work together for a long time, they begin to see the world in a similar way and mutually reinforce norms and expectations (Cameron). In my experience, nonprofits tend to promote from within, oftentimes failing to provide leadership training as staff move up the ranks. As a result, new managers lack the training to think strategically (Tregoe). People get comfortable with the way the organization functions and fail to re-evaluate the organization’s implicitly held beliefs (Cameron; Tregoe).

Lack of a performance measurement system can also impede an organization’s ability to recognize a need for change. Without a system to measure and monitor financials and operational measures, an organization may be blind to internal and external threats and opportunities that necessitate change (Kaplan). The organization has no mechanism to know change is needed for it to grow, survive, or stay relevant.

Lack of Mechanisms for Change
An organization may know it should change, but may not have processes or mechanisms to make change. This may occur because the organizational culture does not promote a “readiness for change” (Cameron). Employees may not have opportunities to share suggestions or may feel change-making falls outside their job description. If a change process does exist, ideas may be implemented and then fizzle out, signaling a problem with the planning-for-change process. Perhaps the “change” did not address the root issue, or people did not buy-in to the change. Change requires “a new way of thinking, not just an incremental adjustment to current behavior” (Cameron). Without the proper mechanisms in place, the process of change collapses and change does not occur.

Tips for Making Change Possible
Strategic planning can be an opportunity to make change possible. For instance organizations can begin to acknowledge the need for change as they discuss strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities (Cameron). Additionally, organizations can measure performance against benchmarks (i.e. similar organizations) “to create dissatisfaction” with the status quo and encourage change (Cameron). Designing a performance management system to monitor financial and operational performance can also advance an organization’s readiness for change (Cameron).

Making change possible may also require diversifying the organization. Bringing in new people often brings new ideas, fresh perspectives, and diverse experiences (Cameron). Organizations may hire new staff, hold focus groups to involve all stakeholders, invite new visitors, attend learning events, or visit other sites to diversify (Tregoe). Organizations can also develop their workforce to promote a shift towards a culture of change. “Every person can learn the skills of transformational leadership” (Cameron, 3). Organizations who promote from within must provide professional development opportunities to train staff to think strategically (Tregoe). All staff must be given opportunities to think about change, share their ideas, experiment, and give feedback (Tregoe). Successes should be celebrated and failures considered a learning experience to promote a culture of change among all levels of staff. Communication is necessary to ingrain new ideas into organizational change so information does not leave when the individual does.

Cameron, Kim. “Transformational Leadership.” Developing Management Skills. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.

Kaplan, Robert S., and David P. Norton. "The balanced scorecard: measures that drive performance." Harvard business review 83.7 (2005): 172.

Tregoe, Benjamin B. “The Challenges of Strategic Management.” Top Management Strategy: What It Is and How to Make it Work. 1983.