Times of change and transition can be both difficult to deal with and exciting. Managers tasked with guiding and directing staff, implementing new projects, communicating openly with employees and partners, mediating feelings of uncertainty, and much more can easily become overwhelmed when considering an organizational change. In management, it is common to feel like you are becoming a reactor to unexpected challenges rather than having the time to plan for the future and be innovative.
When managing projects to provide services to victims, we often feel that we don’t have the time to create strategies for organizational change. It is important to consider the idea of change more in depth. Ask yourself, “Who will be impacted by the change?”, “How will it affect staff?”, How will I, as a manager, respond to the impact of organizational change on my staff?”. Preparing for change in your organization is crucial to responding effectively to any questions or needs from staff throughout the process.
Brager and Holloway (2002) suggest that there are five stages of planned organizational change:
- initial assessment
Assessing the Need for Change
As managers, we often do not believe that change within our programs happens in stages. We jump directly to thinking of how the change will function once it is institutionalized, assuming that the steps to institutionalization will be simple since the idea we have for change is so great. When we reach the final stage of the change process to find that staff or the community are not as excited about the change as we hoped, we can become defeated. Taking steps to ensure that we have fully explored how to make our idea a reality, can lead us to the strong end point we envision.
During my direct management tenure, I can recall sitting in my office thinking about how I could extend my program’s services to victims of crime without exhausting my staff and our resources. At times, as I sat there making a list of gaps in services within our program, I would stop writing the list in total frustration. I knew that my staff was already stretched thin and would not be open to any changes that would result in additional duties for them. I did not want to cause conflict or impact morale. I felt stuck.
Part of a program manager’s role is to assess problems within the organization and reflect on possible changes and the tactics needed to make the change. In the initial stages of planning organizational change, program managers must determine what forces are driving the need for change, such as high employee turnover, stress in the workplace, burnout, lack of program funds, etc. In addition to driving forces of change, there are also restraining forces for change within an organization – politics, lack of local government support and local inter-organization conflicts are all possible examples.
Gathering all the possible reasons that change is necessary can be difficult to accept and share because as managers we do not like to think that we may have been ineffective at some point in our service delivery. Rather than viewing the need for change as a demonstration of all the ways you did not do well, it is more beneficial to think of the process of change as positive and something that will help you improve services. Strength and leadership are based on our ability to accept when change needs to occur, even under our leadership, and that there’s always room for improvement.
The pre-initiation stage for planning organizational change calls for program managers to demonstrate their leadership and management skills by increasing awareness of the need for change within an organization. Using clear communication, teamwork, and adaptability during times of planned organizational change can help foster positive attitudes among employees. Including staff in the process of change will increase their likelihood of supporting the change and being willing to provide strategies that can assist managers in implementing change.
The initiation stage of change within an organization is primarily the acceptance of and adoption of the changes. Acceptance and adoption of change can occur in one of two ways: with “top down” or “bottom up” strategies (Simon-Morton, Green, Gottlieb, 1995, p.189). When upper management, tribal administration, or program directors make decisions and expect lower level staff to accept their choice without being asked for feedback, this is a “top down” strategy. When lower level staff are an active part of the decision-making process and have equal decision-making power when deciding on changes, this is a “bottom up” approach.
It is recommended to have a blend of both strategies. When decisions making excludes staff, this can create conflict and feelings of uncertainty. Several years ago, while managing a social services program, I tried to implement a child abuse response protocol without inviting my staff to participate. My decision caused a lot of tension between the staff and me. They directed unfavorable comments toward me because the change I created and enforced was based on my perception of what I thought the staff and community needed. I eventually rescinded the protocol and established a new one based on staff input – and it worked out well.
This experience taught me how important it is to involve staff, who are the forefront of the work, in the decision-making process. For the implementation process of program change to be effective, the following steps are required:
- Elicit staff participation.
- Train and coach for new staff roles (if applicable)
- Be empathetic to the problems of change.
- Reward and recognize performance.
- Communicate effectively.
- Commit to sufficient resources (without over-committing).
- Demonstrate and commit to management support and communication.
- Use cross-disciplinary teams, if necessary, to assist in a community action effort.
The final element of change within an organization is the institutional change. It assures that the new program or policy will become a part of routine operations within the organization and will survive beyond implementation. Institutionalization means that the change will move forward regardless of future changes in budget or staff turnover.
Stating that a change needs to occur and not creating a plan to make the change, can be harmful to programs and discouraging to staff. The chances are high that other agencies and organizations in the community have gone through the process of organizational change. These groups can be a resource and can offer their reflections on their process. Communicating your proposed changes with these groups can be beneficial to make sure you are using best practices and not creating changes that could complicate your professional connections in the community.
It is a new year, and with a new year comes change. If you, as a program manager, are planning to make an organizational change, consider a process to follow. For those who are new to management responsibilities, taking the time to complete each step in the process of change can make organizational changes more smooth for everyone. Remembering this quote from Denise Waitley will help as you start to create change, “You must welcome change as a rule, but not as your ruler.”