Guest Column: Dealing With Institutional Change

Guest Column: Dealing With Institutional Change

By Linda HeffernanHuman Resources
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Change can be paradoxical: We either embrace it and find it energizing, or we resist it and find it draining. Many of us associate change with fear and loss. At the University, change is our current state of being – the Transformation, MOSAIC, more students, the budget cut; there is enough going on to give all of us a lot of practice in how to engage with change more prosperously.

In support of transformational efforts, Human Resources has established a unit to support University change efforts through merger-related consultation and education, strategic planning, organizational consulting, leadership coaching and change-related education to those implementing change and those affected by it. As the director for Change Initiatives, I am eager to establish new efforts to support our clients. I want to help them successfully achieve their strategic, organizational priorities and, by doing so, increase the capacity and agility of the institution to meet its strategic goals so that we are prepared for an ever-changing future.

Why do I want to work exclusively with people in environments that are changing? I embrace change; sometimes I instigate it. I think change is an opportunity to see the world through new lenses – an opportunity to ask interesting and probing questions about ourselves. Where do we want to go, why we do what we do and what else is possible? Sure, sometimes I have resisted a proposed change, so I know what happens on that end of the continuum as well.

When people resist change, often that resistance comes from a lack of information, understanding or opportunity to participate. In my role, I help leaders develop and articulate the values of the organization so that the members can find personal connection, develop good communication plans so members know what is happening and why, and identify areas where work processes can be improved so that members have meaningful work.

Presently, I am working with clients developing strategies to accomplish organizational change, strategic planning and new performance management systems to sustain new expectations and results. University department leadership can tap into the following services now in place:

  • Organizational planning consulting
  • Leadership coaching
  • Merger-related planning, teamwork development and negotiation tools consulting
  • Strategic planning consulting
  • Work flow and process redesign identification and consulting
  • Enhanced individual and organizational performance consulting
  • Change-related education

I am currently developing a new supervisor orientation for the spring so that organizational changes will be sustained by good management practices. When supervisors model the culture through their own behaviors and decisions, the organization transforms from words to action and from action to results.

The research and literature on change in organizations are robust. There are different approaches posed by thoughtful people about how to sustain improvements in performance. My experience in organizations informs my perspective that leaders must pay attention to culture AND structure to affect the change they seek during periods of organizational change and to sustain it afterwards. When the old culture persists, new changes to structure are undermined; when old structure persists, new behaviors are sabotaged.

One of the ways I work with leaders is to help them create an environment of self-selection where members of the organization can decide, for themselves, if the new organization fits their own hopes, dreams and desires. I invite leaders to create opportunity for people to make dignified and personally appropriate choices about whether the new organization is compatible with their personal values. No one should be restricted to only one story about his or her work and contribution to an organization; finding the right fit makes all the difference to professional success and personal happiness.

When I work with University leaders, I ask them to establish clear vision and mission as well as strategic priorities because doing so gives people a map that they can use regularly to distinguish between competing requests and expectations. We have many models around the University to help us see why having a goal and a rigorous plan to achieve it is so powerful. We see great advances in research and knowledge every day and those advances come from a vision and the structured effort to accomplish it. Organizations benefit from leaders who espouse a vibrant and compelling vision; the vision helps people know where to direct their attention and what it will take to continue to be successful in the changed organization. People struggle when their journey is not clear, when the destination is not well-articulated. Transparency in organizational decision making and planning is one of the most powerful concepts to drive organizational change.

The University is a spectacular place to work. The changes we are undergoing can create stress and concern and they can create opportunity and success. I invite University leaders to a conversation about how we can work together to understand the effects of change and to improve the prospects of change in the organization.

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