Change is the only constant.
The nonprofit world seems to be in a hesitant state of maintenance, a vast veil of denial that holds it back from true progress. We seem to be an industry steeped and mired in tradition, often for no other reason than "we've always done it that way". As a change agent in my chosen career it can often be maddening to explain to people the obvious, that not only are we behind, but we avoid change at a clear and obvious detriment to ourselves and the causes we serve.
When I first started my career I was a big proponent of rocking the boat and ripping the bandaid off type of change management. They work, they really do, they will just get you more comfortable with the guest chairs in HR and senior leadership offices than anyone really needs... HR always goes for the soothing fabric, by the way.
So over the past few years I have replaced the shock and awe technique with one I call shaking the snow globe. What that means is that much like a snow globe, All of the buildings stay the same but the environment around it changes. This theory of change management is much less scary to those who abhor change the way many nonprofits do. Here are some of my guidelines for how to effect change in a daily, sustainable way that provides a much more successful result.
Find your cheerleaders: this is important when your idea is new to an organization, buy in is crucial, fortunately you don't need it from everyone. Find some key influencers, find those who are of a similar mindset and have them help you do the tricky work of presenting an idea. With a chorus of well placed yeses, it goes over much more smoothly.
The truth hurts: this one is true more often than not. When you point out the obvious there are several reactions, defensiveness, stupor, hurt feelings and rage. You have to be prepared for all of these, and prepared to let the dust settle before moving forward. It's perfectly acceptable to tell the truth all of the time, I've learned it's in the art of the delivery. Some people need a wake up via cold water on the face, others need to hit the snooze button a few times before they're vertical. Either way, the truth will come, can you be patient enough for the epiphanies?
Feedback and evidence is vital to success... Especially if the feedback comes from donors: get your rubber duckies in a row before you present upward. Remember evidence and benchmarking is vital to success.
Also... Empirical evidence doesn't hurt, see this study on why giving donors items actually discourages from giving more! WOW! Finally someone has proven my theory that donors dislike tchotchkes as much as I do. Remember this the next time someone asks you for the latest in paperweights or ugly neck ties! Do your homework and have the facts easily at hand. For senior leadership, make some pretty charts and graphs.
Don't argue with crazy: seriously. Understand that with some folks you have to bless and release or as they say in the South, "bless your heart". Some people will never be on board with a new idea, even if it helps them, and that's ok, we're gonna have to let that go. Arguing with crazy makes you look bad, and no one wants to pick on the kid that just can't help it. Now if the crazy is at the top of the food chain...
Don't accept no from a person who could never have given you a yes anyway... This is a great tip for those of you who call customer service. When the only answer is no, try to find someone who CAN give you a yes. Is IT telling you that automating something is impossible? Have you asked your peer institutions? Have you asked the software company? Sometimes a no comes from ignorance of the possibilities and sometimes it comes from a that's above my pay grade mentality, and sometimes it comes from folks who just don't know what's possible or probable. That's when I kindly say, "Supervisor" into the phone... Lol
If you try and fail, that's better than settling for we've always done it that way: failing upward is an art form. How can you practice the art if you don't try? After banging your head against the desk for a while you'll realize that it hurts. So other than a concussion what occurs, hopefully the realization that you own the responsibility to make it better, to effect change, to help others see the way. As a culture nonprofit is behind and always playing catch up, how do we rectify this without change? We can't. Calculated risk taking should be more encouraged and appreciated, but it starts with every one of us.
What will you do today to help embrace change?
I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback, as I'm completely open to change... Lol Cheers, Lynne