How to make change without turning off the volunteers? That was a question posed at the recent annual meeting of the Western New York Association of Historical Agencies in Buffalo.
Since we humans generally tend to be change-averse creatures, I think that's a good starting point when considering how to approach change within organizations. Whether it's changing the paint color or the exhibits, the annual fundraising event or the number of standing committees, recognize from the outset that some folks will be down-right unhappy (and others merely perturbed).
It's imperative to embrace those affected by a change with the process of decision-making and/or solution-finding. Why? Well, obviously, the more ownership a person feels in a decision, the more that person will support it. And ownership is about having some sense of control. Many people opt out when they feel they have no control over decisions, over change that is affecting them.
Easier said than done, however. Any decision involving stakeholder input will take longer to reach, simply because of the logistics of getting that input (not to mention in what new directions that input could take the process). Knowing what change decisions require what kind of and how much stakeholder input is a leadership attribute worth developing.
Board and staff leaders have a responsibility to develop a change process that includes the folks most affected by it. And to do so fairly soon in the process. While final decisions generally rest with leadership, the fact that others have had opportunities to participate in the process -- and are kept informed about the process -- are critical ingredients to keeping most everyone on board with the outcome.
That brings me to the notion of keeping people informed. Certainly, there's such a thing as too much of it (just read my previous posts), but not enough of it is equally harmful. Remember, nature abhors a vacuum. Folks will make up information if there's no real information (or not enough of it) available. When no one is talking, that's when the rumor mill fires up.
Chances are you'll always lose someone to change. The folks who can't get on board with a change are not going to be happy staying anyway, so it's best to let them find a new relationship with your organization or find another organization.
Avoiding change for fear of losing volunteers or staff should not be the sole criteria. Change is first and foremost about making better, stronger organizations.
Photo: Editorializing on change