Leading and managing change in a world of complexity, there is simply no road map, recipe or formula for success. Alli Polin is right when she says, “Honestly, everyone, even the most seemingly confident person, is figuring it out as they go. You’re not alone.”
The Virginia in the title of this blog is a reference to 8 year-old Virginia O’Hanlon who wrote a letter to the New York Sun in 1897 and the editorial response is a classic explaining that yes, there is a Santa Claus: https://www.newseum.org/exhibits/online/yes-virginia/
Janet Ford and Rick Walters, in their publication “Managing Dynamic Change” (https://www.expressworks.com/), make this important point: “Accept that you won’t have an exact plan to start; establish a base plan and iterate the plan as you learn with the team.” Update and adjust your timeline frequently, adapting it to changing conditions, new information and additional resources. Clay Shirky talks about different time signatures and how short-term is good for surprises and lousy for continuity while long-term is good for continuity and lousy for surprises. In other words, different time signatures are required for different purposes and, short and long-term work better when they work together. Here’s Clay talking to The Democracy Forum in 2014, a 9-minute video worth watching:
As a professional change agent for institutions and individuals for 50+ years, here are a few lessons learned about what works and what doesn’t along with why.
- It’s best to have those affected by change involved and invested in the planning. Top down change without stakeholder buy-in will inevitably have more challenges for acceptance and implementation.
- Change is constant, whether in small or large increments and having some kind of master plan that is comprehensive, multi-dimensional and flexible is a useful reference and guide. Might be a little like a chart for sailing.
- The most favorable atmosphere and environment for change is one where change is expected, even desired and is an integral part of the culture.
- We know that it’s important to pay attention to the rate and amount of change because too much, too fast produces stress and ultimately dysfunction.
- Change is not necessarily easy or without some struggles and wrestling with conflicting ideas and opinions, and that’s OK.
- A thorough assessment of needs, potential obstacles and inventory of resources will facilitate a more trouble-free process.
- A team that has clearly defined roles and responsibilities is a strength and it’s important to realize those can change over time.
- Once a change is implemented the work is not finished. It’s important to get some feedback and updates to see how it’s all going and what may need further attention or adjustment.
- Individual change and institutional change have some similarities and they also have some rather large differences. Both may need additional resources and support.
- Remember to take time and create an occasion for celebrating change, reinforcing both the process and the outcome. Gratitude is contagious.
Writing about change and talking about change is very different from being actively involved in change whether personal, professional or organizational.
That said, reading what others have done, having some meaningful conversations and considering options are how it all gets going, whether designing something new or changing something old.
As a perpetual, lifelong learner, I continue to enjoy the process of change, both my own and assisting others in learning and growing, moving forward. It may be an organization that needs to remain viable and sustainable or it could be individuals who want to grow, either where they are or by considering a transition to another opportunity. This takes us right back to the issue of a timeline, a critical component in this on-going process of change. As my tagline says: “Change is inevitable. Plan carefully.”