Managing continuity and change

Best of 2014, first published on April 14, 2014
Understanding how paradox or polarities work in organizational life is critical to effectively leading change. One paradox that I’m especially fond of is “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”  Put another way, a leader must actively manage BOTH change and continuity in order to be effective with any change effort. Here is a blog post from April that highlights how this paradox or polarity works. –Anita Rios

“If there is any one “secret” to an enduring great company, it is the ability to manage continuity and change—a discipline that must be consciously practiced, even by the most visionary of companies.” –Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in Built to Last

Sometimes in setting strategy for change efforts, it is easy to forget about what we need to do to actively manage continuity in our colleges and universities. In their classic 2004 publication of Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Collins and Porras, identified great companies as those who had the ability to “preserve the core” by staying true to their core values and core purpose, and at the same time “stimulate progress” through cultural and operating practices and setting specific goals and strategies.

But how do we actively manage continuity, while leading change? Collins and Porras suggest that instead of asking ourselves “How should we change?,” we should be asking “What do we stand for and why do we exist?” and then feel free to change everything else.

035Last Friday, I was able to witness a university community that has clearly answered the question, “What do we stand for?” Throughout the inauguration ceremony for Dr. Connie Gores, the ninth president of Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU), I heard story after story from alumni, students, faculty, and staff about the value and impact that SMSU has had on transforming lives. Born on the prairie, as a result of people who envisioned the possibilities of having a college in southwest Minnesota, SMSU has a clear identity and core purpose that was easily understood and communicated and provided a sense of pride for the community. In her inauguration speech, Dr. Gores honored the people and the accomplishments of the past by highlighting what SMSU is best known for and how it will continue to maintain continuity. At the same time, she positioned the institution for future progress through increased collaboration among institutions and partnerships with business, by focusing on possibilities. The inspirational theme for the inauguration: The People. The Prairie. The Possibilities., clearly captured this important balance of preserving the core and stimulating progress.

Here are a couple questions to consider when actively managing both continuity and change. After clarifying your core values and purpose, ask your team:

  1. How do our operating practices align with and support our core values and purpose?
  2. What new methods, new strategies, new directions would propel us forward?

What have you done to actively manage both continuity and change in your institution?

Anita Rios

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