It's hard to watch people experience pain you know they could prevent.
I’ve given some thought to how the leaders in two non-profit organizations are managing their way through large-scale change. Both organizations are growing. Both are involved in large site expansion programs. Both have high levels of activity and rely on hundreds of volunteers to accomplish their goals.
Over the past several months, Organization A has seen several key staff people leave or move into different roles with little explanation given for the departures and changes. To an outside observer—and to some more directly involved—while there is general agreement about what each department is supposed to do, there is no cohesive vision or plan that glues all the activity together. During this change process, individuals leading this respected organization have communicated very little with the people trying to carry out the group’s purpose and goals.
Organization B is going through the upheaval and discomfort of expansion and growth as well. But in this organization, there is a deliberate, well-planned, clearly articulated change management process going on. The leadership of this organization regularly communicates what is happening, the challenges each step will bring, and how the organization will work through each stage of the growth process. There is a clear, easily-defined vision and everything the organization does is linked with that mission and purpose.
Apparently, Organization A doesn’t understand that all problems are the result of change, but not all change has to create problems. Even positive changes like growth and expansion can cause problems—major problems—unless deliberate steps are taken to anticipate and plan for those problems. Ohio State Professor Paul C. Nutt’s research has found that one of the most significant ways to increase the likelihood that a change will be implemented successfully is by communicating with and engaging the people involved in a change before the decision or change takes place.
During a time of organizational change you cannot over-communicate with the people involved—especially if those people are volunteers and not tied to the organization on a daily basis. If the leaders in an organization do not tell people what is going on—the people will make up their own story based on what they observe. Once that happens, it is very difficult to dislodge a false reality and convince people to believe and embrace the truth about the situation. People will tend to hold tightly to their perceptions of reality because of the often unconscious distrust of the organizations’ leadership that takes root during the silence.
Whatever changes you’re introducing in your organization—even if the changes are positive and wanted—take time to anticipate and plan for the problems your changes will create. Help everyone involved understand the potential problems, realize how they will impact your organization, and take steps to prevent problems from occurring by anticipating and planning for them. And throughout the change process—communicate, communicate, communicate. Often resistance to and delays in implementing new initiatives are directly related to not soliciting input from those involved with the facts, criteria, and reasons for a decision.