“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Sound familiar? Actually, this statement reflects a paradox or polarity that all leaders must embrace at some point when leading change.
As I’ve worked with leaders, I’ve learned that ALL change efforts can be managed better when they are fully understood as part of a polarity. For instance, knowing the benefits and limitations of change and stability can help you better understand people’s points of view and reactions to change efforts. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “People resist change.” While this is often an accurate point of view, it is not a complete one. Often what people are resisting are the downsides of too much change that result in confusion and chaos. Their point of view may also be reinforced by an appreciation of the upsides of stability, which can include continuity and organizational memory. Leaders need to continually manage the benefits of both change and stability, while limiting the negative impacts of each.
This week, I was in a meeting with a colleague, who encouraged our Competency committee to build our efforts from the good work that has already been done over the last few years, rather than starting from scratch. We were tasked with identifying competencies for Chief Human Resource Officers within MnSCU. Her point was a good one. She said that it would demonstrate to our HR colleagues that we valued the work that had gone on before and that we were developing it further. To me, this approach of managing the benefits of change and stability equates to: “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” There is no need in change efforts to change everything. And it is important for people to know that their previous contributions have been valued.
Along those same lines, I have to credit our Vice Chancellor for Human Resources. When he started his new appointment, he was charged with crafting a new workplan for Human Resources systemwide. Rather than ignoring previous work that had taken place around creating a mission and broad goals, he honored that work and engaged his leadership team to build upon it and rework it where necessary. It gave him instant credibility in his new leadership role and greater support for the new workplan as it evolved.
Have you experienced the change/stability polarity in your workplace? If so, how?
For more information on managing polarities, see Barry Johnson’s book on Polarity Management.
You can also participate in a Managing Polarities seminar through our Talent Management unit.
Successful leaders are vigilant and pay attention to factors, large and small, that will have an impact on their people and themselves. It is almost impossible to not be aware of the key issues that exist in higher education that will be driving change over the next year. Yet as leaders it is also important to be continually scanning the entire environment and using that information to help you lead your people during change.
In conjunction with leadership consultant Sarah Bridges, we have created a Situational Awareness Worksheet that can be used to help you conduct an “environmental scan” to identify external factors that will need to be a part of your overall change leadership strategy. One factor when leading change is an awareness of the workplace culture. Each institution and each work team has its own culture but a recent article from the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychologists provides a Top 10 List Workplace Trends for 2014 that can be used as a starting point when you scan your environment.
Trend #6, Integrating Technology into the Workplace, is one that will be very important in my work leading change over the next year. I have discovered that new technology often feels like a threat and that reaction can derail change efforts. What I view as a tech enhancement and a positive change is viewed as a condemnation of past practice and stops collaboration and change! Including that knowledge into the change plan ensures that it is not overlooked and the concerns addresses.
What trends will be most important for you as you lead change in 2014?
This morning my mailbox included a very long list of weather-related school closings. In addition, there was a note from one institution saying classes are canceled, but the campus is open for business. It said that faculty members should contact students about making up missed class sessions and individual event organizers should decide whether or not to hold their planned activities.
If I were a leader on that campus, there goes my day. Most things I had planned would be changed, and I’d need to provide advice and support for a whole different set of problems.
I’ve seen several competency lists recently that talk about the need for leaders to be flexible and able to tolerate ambiguity. It may not be weather (although that seems to be happening a lot lately), but many things can happen that require changes and course corrections. Like the faculty members who are busy identifying key points from today’s courses and figuring out how to deliver them, leaders need to be able to do the same with their core priorities.
What unexpected changes have you faced as a leader, and how did you deal with them?
Dee Anne Bonebright
In Todd’s last post, he talked about the Leadership Pipeline and the idea that, as leaders, we need to give up part of our leadership past as we move into new levels with new challenges. Sometimes, the very thing that makes a leader successful at one level can be career-limiting at the next. I can think of several examples of executive leaders who were not able to give up the detail work, causing frustration for the subordinates whose job it was and preventing the leader from paying attention to big-picture issues.
This got me wondering if the same thing is true for organizations. Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck were industry leaders in mail-order shopping. But somehow they were not able to leverage their customer service expertise and data tracking systems in a new electronic market. Maybe they were not quick enough to figure out what they needed to give up in order to focus on what their new leadership roles could look like.
As we’ve learned from Charting the Future, MnSCU is facing a new marketplace. As a leader of higher education within Minnesota, we have been successful in preparing the past generation of Minnesota’s workforce. We have the chance to maintain that leadership as a system that is responsive and collaborative. What do we need to give up in order to remain successful in our new role?
Dee Anne Bonebright
Change is exciting. Who can argue with new ideas, innovation, continued success, and the mission of higher education to deliver knowledge and learning to our students? Certainly not me! As Anita reminded us, Dare to Dream. We have a compelling future in front of us and it is exciting. Yet, deep down, something about the future and change seems to evoke hesitancy, debate and even the dreaded word, resistance. In fact, leaders often struggle with their own development because of this hesitancy and the challenge they face acknowledging it.
Ram Charan, in the Leadership Pipeline, describes the hesitancy as a part of the transition that leaders face as they develop and change to meet new challenges and new expectations. Each transition presents you with an exciting future and new possibilities as a leader but it also demands that you give up a piece of your past leadership role. You must lose a part of yourself to develop as a leader that can succeed in the turbulent higher education environment we face today.
Specifically, leadership transitions require changes in:
- your time horizon
- your priorities
- your relationships
- your leadership skills or style
Successful leaders take on larger and more complex priorities, and a greater time frame, but to do that need to give up priorities, change relationships, delegate tasks and stop doing things that they are very skilled at doing and value. These losses lead to hesitancy and not acknowledging and accepting the required losses can derail the development leaders need to change and succeed.
How will your role need to grow to help you lead your team through change? What will you need to give up to succeed?
To celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day today, I reread his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. It’s a powerful speech that outlines a compelling future of freedom for all people. King paints a clear picture of that future, especially in the last paragraph of his speech, where he said:
“And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’ “
King’s speech reminded me that each of us, as leaders, are responsible to paint a picture of a shared, preferred future for those we lead when we ask them to follow in any change effort, big or small.
Here are some questions that might help you paint that picture for others you lead:
- What is the current problem we are facing?
- What are the consequences of that problem?
- What does the desired future look like?
- Why should anyone care and join forces with us to change it?
In King’s speech he does an amazing job of creating a compelling picture of both the need for change and what that might look like. As I reread his speech, I also noticed that he didn’t give people a step-by-step guide or process to achieve that change, but he did encourage and empower others to join in the work of change. That’s a powerful example of great change leadership.
Seeking inspiration for today’s blog, I looked up “change” in Google images. Here are some of the things I found and a few random thoughts they sparked for me.
Change is a process. I recently heard Chancellor Rosenstone speak about Charting the Future. It reminded me that organizational change as an ongoing effort. We won’t be able to flip a switch, become more collaborative, and then settle back and say “well, that’s done.”
Change is messy. This mind map is from a site on climate change, but it could be a picture of any major change. The process is never linear and clean. There are always interconnected activities, multiple paths, and more work to be done.
Change is a community effort. Peter Block is an organization development leader who focuses on collaboration and change. He argues that the building block of any change is the small group. It’s not what’s happening somewhere else that makes change happen. It’s what each of us does together with our colleagues in our own work locations.
What images or sayings come to mind when you think about change? Here is a fun webpage called “38 Awesome Quotes on Change.” Check it out and let me know which one is your favorite.
–Dee Anne Bonebright