Recently I have been reading through applications for our upcoming American Express Leadership Academy, a development programme for high potential not for profit leaders in the UK and it has provided me with an amazing insight into the potential and talent within the sector in the UK.
These are some amazing people, passionate about their roles and driven by a determination to make an impact in their chosen fields, whether that is in the creative arts, combating substance misuse, providing cancer support or those wanting to see real change in the mental health arena. There is a world of difference between these not-for-profit organisations, but the one similarity it seems from reading through the applications is the requirement we all have to manage change at various times.
In order to manage change effectively, it is important to understand why we resist change in the first place. We are all dealing with similar issues, whether they are coming from internal or external sources, changes in workforce, inefficient practices, reduction in resource, advances in technology or changes in the market in which we operate. We all have a picture of change that we struggle to overcome and to meet these challenges, change is inevitable - so why do we resist it?
Why do we resist change?
To understand why we resist change there is firstly a need to understand the psychological reaction to change. All too often change management is associated with structure and process, but in my experience I have found it is important to recognise the emotional and mental considerations of the people who are driving the platform.
Recognising behaviours such as denial, anger, confusion, stress, crisis, acceptance and new confidence can often allow you to anticipate and overcome objections, getting you ahead of the curve.
Fear is a key component of human nature, it is vital that we take this into account. Generally, we humans strive for routine and shy away from the unknown. Routine is our comfort blanket and makes us feel secure. It is crucial therefore that we help people to understand the risks of standing still before we jump ahead. What is the vision? Why does this need to happen? And how are we going to get there?
Change also inevitably asks us to take on more responsibilities outside of our original expertise; it challenges us to step into unfamiliar territory. We need to provide outlets for staff to breakdown this fear of the unknown, how do you give them the opportunity to test the new skills and competencies that are required of them?
Negative reaction to change can be effectively managed but it is important to start having those key conversations as early as possible in order to build the communicative process; never lose sight of the emotive response to change; and to try to put yourself in situations that test your capacity to lead change - not just manage it.
Are we approaching change in the right way?
Often, managing change is not a question of the nature of the change itself, but a question of "are we doing it in the right way" - and we have to always look back to the bigger picture.
I was speaking to a colleague recently who has been having these conversations at a local and national level within the UK, and there is a need within organisations to be wary of 'mission creep'. Whether chasing funding or new services, it is easy to lose sight of your mission or core purpose. It's important to stick to what's unique about your organisation and what you offer. Of course become more entrepreneurial and commercial but don't lose sight of your mission.
Don't be afraid to think the unthinkable e.g. around merging with another charity, partnering or shared services. The answer is not always internal. Don't let the competitive environment make you too insular. Talk to other organisations/CEOs etc otherwise you might miss opportunities and insights.
And finally, as you move forward, make sure you do not 'rubbish the past' - even if you think it was terrible. For your team, the practices and achievements of the past may mean a lot more to them than you think. Good change evolves out of the past so be wary of simply making a 'clean break'.
There is a definite need now more than ever to share best practice - not to be insular - but to celebrate success and go out of your way to thank people, and to share how we are going to get there. It is not the time to get preoccupied with change management, after all what we need now is change leadership!