I shake my head a bit when I hear leaders discussing, at times almost frantically, the unprecedented change our industry is being faced with, and how it is jeopardizing the well-being of those they serve. I shake my head not because the topic is not important — it is — but because we have been having the same basic discussion for virtually my entire professional career and yet we continue to appear blindsided by it.
Over the years the specific topics and buzzwords have changed, but the plot line of “THEY” (referral/funding sources, oversight bodies, customers, legislators . . .) have (changed the rules of engagement, made a short-sighted decision that will never work, dismantled a critical safety net . . .) and now (those we serve are going to pay the price, our organization’s survival is threatened, our industry is fundamentally altered . . .) has remained the same.
Change is a constant. Do we always like it? Of course not. Does it make our life more difficult? Often times it does, at least in the short term. But if we know it is going to happen, why not prepare for it rather than be caught off guard and then have to scramble at the last minute? Peter Goldberg, former President/CEO of the Alliance for Children and Families used to talk about the need to “look around two corners.” Is it always clear what we are going to encounter down the road? No . . . but there are usually plenty of clues as to what is coming if we’re paying attention. It’s sort of like those “overnight successes” who have been working at it for 20 years. There are usually lots of indicators of impending change if we keep our eyes open and look for them.
Of course, seeing the need for change and actually pulling it off can be two very different things. The status quo is easier. It is less stressful when you know the rules and have a clear path to follow. Many staff will push back against change, especially during the gray stages of change when the details haven’t been worked out — in most cases not because they want to be difficult, but because they are committed to doing a good job, and they don’t know how to do that with a moving target.
So how do you maintain organizational stability and still lead strategically in an ever-changing environment? From my perspective, you build the foundation on what doesn’t change — your mission/vision/values, in our case our SMaC Recipe, and our strategic framework. These things anchor our staff and guide their actions. With that solid foundation in place, you make change related to all the other stuff the norm. In our organization, things are changing all the time — whether as a result of a performance improvement initiative, because of trends we see coming down the pike, or in response to feedback from those who turn to us for care. When you do something on a regular basis, it becomes less scary and sooner or later actually becomes part of the organizational culture.
Perspective makes all the difference in the world. Our staff knows they will make it through the ambiguity that comes with change because they’ve done it . . . a lot. There is a level of confidence that, even if we don’t know all the answers today, we’ll figure it out. And that confidence allows us (most of the time) to ride the wave of change rather than having it crash down on top of us.
Change it here to stay. Embrace it, and you can be too!