Looking back on Change

Change is fundamental to leadership.  When you think about it, if you are trying to lead you are likely trying to inspire some kind of progress, movement or adoption of new ideas. Whether you are talking about a new process for how a student group recruits volunteers for a bake sale or trying to advocate for a new academic course in a department, you are trying to inspire some kind of change.

Since our divisional workshop from Michael Miller and based on other readings, I’ve been reflecting on some of my own attempts to foster change in early phases of my career.  Some of them certainly went well and I know I have some things to be proud of, but there were a few that I understand much better now after a bit more study of the change process.  The objective review of the change process itself really gave me some great insight into ways I might approach the next change management task I have before me and I’ve learned a great deal from an approach like the one developed by John Kotter in his book “Leading Change.”  An overview is here (http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newPPM_82.htm) with a few of my thoughts on his process.

Step 1: Create urgency

You may be really dedicated to the change that needs to happen, but what about the rest of your environment? Is there an overall sentiment that the organization will miss out on something important if you don’t advance change? Is there a compelling gap between your organization’s work and what competitors are doing? You already think it’s important, but creating the understanding that it’s urgent will be what inspires progress.

Step 2: Form a powerful coalition

This is your “small table” group that will give you the most fundamental emotional, intellectual and sweat equity buy-in to what you are trying to accomplish.  Develop a small core group from the most crucial set of stakeholders that you can.

Step 3: Create a vision for change

What will your future look like after your change is realized? Can you paint a picture for others in a concise way? Be sure to practice your description often and use your Influencing strengths to hone the best way to communicate this vision.

Step 4:  Communicate your vision for change

Remember that vision speech? Share it with everyone who will listen. Use colorful and descriptive language that will motivate others to learn more about what you are planning. Consider ways to address the natural anxiety about change that others may feel as well and reassure them of the positive benefits.

Step 5: Remove obstacles

As you’ve been talking about the change you have likely seen where your potential resistance or difficulties might lie. Evaluate your organization’s resources and structures and be sure that any potentially systemic barriers are addressed.  While you’re addressing the obstacles, be sure to also recognize your early supporters and those who are helping the change become a reality.

Step 6: Create short-term wins

While your desired future may be “big picture” in nature, find smaller ways you can demonstrate progress toward your end goal and smaller accomplishments that your coalition can celebrate. This is a time to focus on the easier, manageable affordable successes.

Step 7: Build on the change

Wait, you’re not quite there yet! It’s a little too early to celebrate because you are still testing and evaluating what you have built.  Keep assessing the impact of your work and try to bring in some new people as interest grows in your initiative.  The “fresh blood” will be good for your effort.

Step 8: Anchor your change in organizational culture

At this point in the process, people are probably tired of hearing you talk about this change.  Good.  Keep sharing your success stories and be sure to make your new efforts a part of orienting new staff to your department and “the way you do things.”  As a change agent, your last responsibility is to assure that your story continues to evolve!

I know after learning about this model, I can see where some of the changes I have tried to inspire over the course of my career have gotten stopped or derailed.  How about you? Does this ring true for you in your experience too?


-post submitted by Cindy Kane, Director of Student Involvement and Leadership

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