Management from the Road: Change Is Gonna Come

Over the holiday (and thanks to good weather), I had the opportunity to travel on some of the back roads of the northeast. I came across a relic that is sure to show up in the history books: a gas station without a convenience store, doughnut shop or “pay at the pump” service.

Before you ask, no, it was not in operation. But you already knew that.

A gas station that has not made the leap to automate and expand its service would not be competitive in the current market. It’s too easy to go across the street to that other station. Still, I can imagine the chatter in the parking lot that might have led to the business’s demise:

“If they don’t have to come inside to pay us, why do they need us? Bye-bye job.”

“Sell food? We’ve never done that before!”

“It will never work.”

Over the years, I’ve heard many stories of important organizational change that was met with sabotage. Employees fighting change so strongly that it failed, including such unfortunate events as tanked mergers, thousands of dollars invested in unused software and mass resignations. In navigating the turbulent waters of nonprofit funding, organizations must be willing and able to do things differently, including using new resources. In fact, an organization’s ability to adapt to internal and external changes is an enduring competitive advantage.

Unfortunately, whether big game changers or slight modifications, change doesn’t come easy for many of us. Employees often resist change, even when it might seem obvious to others that the change will be beneficial. We resist when we don’t see the truth of its benefit, when we think the change will harm us in some way or deprive us of something we have or want.

In order to facilitate change, leaders must take an active role, publicly supporting the change and working with their employees to accept and incorporate the change in their work. Based on Kurt Lewin’s Change Theory, here are some steps you can take:

  • Share your vision when announcing the change. When faced with change we do not want, we are innately distrustful. You must be transparent about your objectives.
  • Communicate why the change is important for the organization and why it is important for them. Convey urgency. Listen to their objections and address each one, repeating the critical nature of the change.
  • Ask for their help. The more you involve folks in the process, the more likely it is they will be invested in it. Those who are quickly engaged can help champion the change. Moreover, recognize that your staff likely know something you do not about obstacles, challenges and the who, what, where, when and how of what you are trying to accomplish.
  • Create an environment that requires a change in work practices or behavior. For instance, remove access to the old software if you are implementing a new one. Set clear expectations. Provide training and workshops. Set short-term goals so that you can celebrate early successes.
  • Make sure your policies and procedures support the change.
  • Assume that the change will take a while to stick, no matter evidence to the contrary. Keep communicating, sharing information, and rewarding those who are meeting expectations.

Given the choice to change or not, most people would rather not. However, in order for business (nonprofit or otherwise) to stay competitive, we must remain able to adapt. To quote Sam Cooke, “Change is gonna come.”

Submitted by Robyn-Jay Bage


One thought on “Management from the Road: Change Is Gonna Come

  1. Robyn,
    Great post.
    Leaders must be change agents. Leaders have a responsibility to navigate the organization through change. As you pointed out, they cannot do it alone. Often they have project managers to lead the effort. When they appoint this individual to lead the effort, they must support every effort, to include making themselves look “funny” or “foolish.” I know, I’ve done it more than once.
    Leaders who make a difference in organization, who change an organization, are not afraid of being mocked, laughed at, etc. When my department began a process of implementing Share-Point, which meant we needed to eliminate hundred of thousands of files, which meant we needed to determine which files must be kept, which meant the entire organization (from my position as Director to the first line office assistant) had to focus on the effort, we had a young woman, age 26, lead the effort. She needed to excite the organization. I was on vacation and got an email telling me to arrive for our departmental meeting in gym attire and boxing gloves. They decided that a “Rocky” theme would work.
    I had two choices. Play along, knowing people would laugh at me or remain dignified. My experience told me to play along. Why? Those who work for leaders willing to play the fool, willing to be laughed at, willing to take the pie in the face, gain more respect, and more loyalty to follow the direction, even if they disagree, than those who remain proper. Why? They get the opportunity to see leaders as real people. And, people follow real leaders able to laugh at themselves and support staff trying to change the workplace.
    In short, to change, leaders must make it fun. Leaders must support the staff charged with doing it. Leaders must be real.
    Lewin’s Change points are good, but as one who’s been there, make change fun; make sure the change is relevant; make sure change agents are supported; and as a leader, be the first to adopt the change.


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