5 Tips to Navigate Change at Your Organization
Winston Churchill once said “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”
Sometimes we nonprofits seem to move at a glacial pace. In comparison to our private sector counterparts, we’re more risk-averse. We usually need a formula made up of committee consensus, stakeholder feedback, tarot card readings, and star alignment before we commit to a decision.
And when we do finally make that decision, managing the change can be challenging and complicated.
And yet, nonprofits deal with change all the time. We respond to our community, planning our strategies based on their needs. We might see changes when get funding to run a program and hire a bunch of staff. Two years later we lose that funding and have to restructure and change again. Sometimes we identify new priorities mid-way through our fiscal year, or we make everyday decisions like implementing a vacation policy, or modifying program criteria.
All this change comes with challenges, and thoughtful management throughout any transition is important for a whole slew of reasons including retaining your best staff. But we all know that change is emotional, and more often than not, is met with resistance. With a few key strategies, you can get buy-in from your employees and volunteers – any anyone else affected by the change.
1. Lead from the top… and the bottom
Employees and volunteers will naturally question changes and feel unsettled by it. It’s important that those that they look to for leadership are 100% on board with the change and can provide support and direction. If you have a management team, they should all be on the same page, committed to the change and to helping employees through the transition.
It’s also important that employees feel as though they’ve had say in what’s taking place. One of the main reasons employees resist change is because they were left out of the decision-making process. Empower your staff to provide input into the plans and strategies you’re rolling out. If possible, involve them at the early stages to create buy-in.
2. Explain the why
Hang out with any toddler and you’ll soon discover that the most frequently asked question is “why?” And this isn’t without reason. Understanding the “why” of a change helps employees navigate it better, and gives them the context they need to understand their role in the change. Even if you’re just implementing a small policy, it’s important to outline the thinking behind it and the vision for the future so that your staff understand that you’re not just making changes for the sake of change.
3. Ditch the messaging and treat employees like people
There’s really nothing worse than hearing whispered rumours of impending doom around the watercooler. It puts everyone on edge and drive morale into the ground. As organizations we’re inclined to craft “messaging” when we’re managing change, but as a leader it’s important to remember that you’re dealing with people. Communicating frequently and sensitively about upcoming changes will help smooth the transition. Be open to questions, and answer as much as you can honestly. When something is confidential, say so and explain why. And remember to check in frequently before, during and after the change takes place.
Above all, don’t try to play off negative changes as positive ones. There will be times when you do have to restructure a team, or prioritize funding one program over another. These aren’t always positive changes, and it’s important to acknowledge the nervousness, fear and anxiety that will come with them.
4. One-on-one time
Dealing with change can be akin to the grieving process for some. There are lots of feelings involved: anger, denial, sadness. Moving toward acceptance of change requires some one-on-one time, especially for those on your team who are a bit more introverted, or insecure. One-size-fits-all communication won’t work here so make it a priority to have individual meetings with everyone on your team. Talk about what’s coming up, and really listen to what they’re scared of, what they’re excited about, and what their hopes are. This will not only give you the opportunity to help settle their concerns, but it’ll also give you a better sense of what motivates your team.
5. Know when to cut off resistance
If there are members of your team whose resistance you can predict, figure out how to get their buy-in first. Value their feedback and ask for their help in making the change. As you roll out the change, pay attention to those resisting nip it in the bud. By having a conversation with resisters, you may be able to get to the root of their anxiety and allay their fears. It’s important to do this early. Resistance can spread and become a bigger problem down the road affecting your plans, and impacting overall morale. You need to ask yourself when “enough is enough” and have those hard conversations with staff who are resisting the change.