Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Myth that…”Change has to be hard”

Change may be difficult but it doesn’t have to be destructive if key staff understands change management principles and strategies.

This fall I’m watching several friends and colleagues endure changes within their department that unfortunately and unnecessarily are being handled poorly.  It’s beyond me that in institutions today, administrators and managers, who may or may not be leaders, embark on implementing significant changes without a basic understanding of the science of change!

In this case, the department director, (I am purposefully not using the term leader) is taking over for the previous director/leader who had elevated the services of the office to a level which was emulated and modeled- after by large numbers of peers across the country.  The effectiveness of this office brought upon it numerous awards and the director deservedly was recognized nationally. Unfortunately, this new management is undoing much of the department’s success and credibility, seemingly driven by ill-conceived and poorly constructed motivations.

A simple review of the literature illustrates proven techniques and strategies that seem basic during the process of implementing change.  Some of these include the following:

* Successful change management equals thoughtful planning and sensitive implementation;

*Consultation and education are needed at all levels of the change process;

*Employees, stakeholders and constituents should be encouraged and given the opportunity to educate management regarding what works or doesn’t work;

*Stakeholders are less likely to resist change if they feel they have an authentic voice that is valued throughout the process—change must involve people, not be imposed upon people;

*Change will represent a loss for some and an opportunity for others, effective leadership needs to recognize and be sensitive to both.

Unfortunately, traditional change management tactics rely more on animal training than understanding human psychology.  The carrot and stick are less effective than what truly motivates people—personal interest in their work, a supportive environment and fulfilling relationships with co-workers.  Bonuses, promotions and reprimands are real but yield temporary results and motivation.  Even Freud argued that all we really need is to love and be loved, and to feel productive and engaged in meaningful work!

People will support what they help create!  During times of change, the new culture that will result cannot be minimized.  Staff, constituents and customers will feel marginalized and disrespected if they do not believe they are valued.  When this is lost, it is extremely difficult, and impossible in some cases, to regain.  A true leader needs to be viewed as a “settling influence” during the uneasiness change can bring about. 

The significant difference between someone elevated to a higher position through a hierarchical process and a true influencer is the willingness and ability to listen first, show respect, build trust and then lead with proven knowledge of the task at hand.  A smart and effective leader knows how to build alliances so as to move the institution toward its mission rather than create unwieldy tasks, processes and policies simply to announce, “I’m in charge!”

Aesop captured this truism in his fable, “The North Wind and the Sun.”  The north wind and the sun decided to have a contest to determine who could make the traveler remove his cloak.  The harder the north wind blew, the more the traveler clutched his coat about him.  The sun shone brightly upon the man, gradually increasing the temperature, until he unbuttoned the coat and eventually removed it, enjoying the warmth the sun provided.  Moral:  Persuasion is more effective than Force.

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