No one likes the “pit of their stomach feeling” when they are lost. Feeling lost and uncertain can be incredibly uncomfortable. These feelings can often occur when organizations encounter change. Many times change at work leaves us with these same feelings of being lost and confused. Being lost at work can feel like being trapped in a large maze that you can’t get out of. No one wants to have these feelings, especially with their work.
While organizational change is essential for short-term competitiveness and long-term survival, it does pose daunting managerial challenges for the leader (Luscher & Lewis, 2008). According to Kanter, Stien, and Jick (1992), managing change has become one of the most important responsibilities for the organizational leader.
Today, organizations are continuously engaged in some form of change, yet many major change projects rarely succeed in their efforts (Taylor-Bianco & Schemerhorn, 2006). In order for change implementation to happen successfully, leaders need to drive change forward while also managing the expectations and emotions of their team.
Change can cause ambiguity and uncertainty, which in turn can cause fear, negativity, and even hostility within the organization.
As a leader, it is our job to show others through the ambiguous maze by helping our teams “make sense” of change.
“Sense making” is an effort by the leader to create orderly and coherent understandings that enable change (Luscher & Lewis, 2008). Team members in fact “make sense” of why a change is taking place.
Think about this for a moment. When we have clear expectations and directions in front of us we tend to feel anchored and have a great sense of stability and security. This is because we have an idea of where we should be going and we have something to follow. In other words, we can “make sense” of the change and the new direction we’re heading. By making the ambiguous clear through helping team members “make sense” of change, organizations can conquer the negativity that is sometimes seen alongside widespread change.
I think we as leaders can make the most sense of change when we align a few important elements together.
What I mean is, we need to align PURPOSE, with MISSION/VISION, and the organization’s PLANS in order for CHANGE to happen successfully. This has to be done in a relevant way that “makes sense” for our teams. During periods of change, people need to be reminded of the PURPOSE for the organization, they need to picture the idealized future they are trying to get to by a clear VISION, and understand how their daily job responsibilities contribute to the PLANS that are made, which will ultimately enable the CHANGE to take place.
PURPOSE + VISION + PLANS = CHANGE
It’s the leader’s role to lead the way through change, but embodying a clear and timeless PURPOSE, communicating an inspirational VISION, and artfully guiding the PLAN for their team.
Remember, when people are empowered, released, and have a sense of vision and leadership that inspires, people will flourish (Houston, 2008).
With your help, people can make it through the maze!
Houston, B., 2008. For This I was Born: Aligning Your Vision to God’s Cause. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Kanter, R. M., Stein, B. A., & Jick, T. D. 1992. The challenge of organizational change: How companies experience and leaders guide it. New York: Free Press.
Luscher, L. S., Lewis, M. W., 2008. Organizational Change and Managerial Sensemaking: Working Through Paradox. Academic of Management Journal, 51; 221-240.
Taylor-Bianco, A., & Schermerhorn, J. 2006. Self-regulation, strategic leadership and paradox in organizational change. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 19: 457–470.
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Many view change as a scary undertaking. For some, venturing into new, unknown, undiscovered territory could be a horrific concept. Frankly speaking, many people in business, higher education, and professional circles are perfectly comfortable with the “same-ole-same-ole”. They hate the idea of change. Yikes!!!
Embodying effective change is a necessity that all leaders need to grasp. Today, our global world changes at an incredibly rapid pace. Organizations can quickly go from competitive to obsolete, almost immediately. Change is one consistent behavior as a leader that we all need to adopt if our organizations are to grow.
Reluctance to change can especially be the case within higher education. It is true, sometimes we in higher education move at a glacier pace. Imagine that!
When I first started serving as a higher education administrator, I was given some excellent words of wisdom regarding change that have served me well these past 10 years.
“Inch-by-Inch and it’s a Sinch”.
This simple saying communicates a wonderful and powerful concept of how to move small change into large charge. Slowly, surely, and consistently over time small change can lead to large charge.
If you want an effective way to drive large charge, it needs to start with a cluster of small ideas, which over time come together to shape large, impactful change. I have found that this is an approach that has worked well when encouraging change for higher education.
There are a few reasons why I believe this to be the case:
- Small charge is less scary than massive, large change. Therefore, it is easier for people within your organization to adopt.
- Small change allows for you to “test case” to be sure you are driving “effective change” in the right direction.
- Small, incremental change allows you line up an army of champions, influencers, and key decision makers to support large change. As a leader, if you are driving big change, you are cannot do it alone. You are going to need an army to advocate and support the change you are driving.
- Large change is much harder to plan for and execute. Accomplishing small change victories over a consistent period of time will add up to long-term, big change. Plus, it is much easier for you to do. (Remember, how do you eat a whale? One small bite at a time).
Remember, change is a good thing when it improves your organization and makes a better impact for those you serve!
“Inch-by-Inch and it’s a Sinch”.
I love how we get the opportunity to change, and to change often! If you embody this type of thinking, then the best is truly yet to come!
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