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That's Just the Way We've Done it Around Here

MAKING CHANGE IS TOUGH.  EVEN THE TINIEST OF CHANGES CAN OFTEN MEET THE LARGEST OF HURDLES. I recall meeting some serious resistance when I suggested that a nominating committee take an inventory of board member skills and attributes in an effort to help it think more holistically about filling existing gaps.  I thought that was a pretty easy one, but some members of the nominating committee didn't think it was a good idea at all and refused to participate.  

Or the time an organization decided not to seek external input for its planning because it didn't want to raise stakeholder expectations beyond what it felt it could deliver.  Or the many times the hard won work of a strategic planning process fell by the wayside as organizational attention was lured away by yet another new, shiny object.  

All of my examples of change have the potential to raise fear, mistrust, or anxiety about any new approach or philosophy.  And that's the typical reaction of many (myself included from time to time) to change. And that's OK, because most of the time those reactions can be anticipated and largely mitigated with deliberate forethought and effort.

What I just don't get are those nonprofit organizations that see inertia as the safe harbor or the all-they-can-muster.  The mantra of the inert -- it's the way we've always done it or if it ain't broke, don't fix it -- implies satisfaction with the status quo whether or not the status quo is terrific, satisfactory or just barely adequate.  That's what frustrates me the most, I suppose -- the stubborn lack of recognition that there is almost always room to improve and to grow.  At the very least, consider the potential!

Those of you in inert nonprofits know that you have to do twice the heavy lifting to make even the smallest change.  Even though I'm generally not an advocate of change for change sake, there are certainly reasons to do just that.  The inert organization may be one of those reasons, if for nothing more than to break the defeating cycle of that's just the way we've done it around here.

Start small and choose something to change that you know will have a positive impact right from the start.  Maybe it's the way people are greeted at the door or the way they're greeted on the phone.  Maybe it's a different choice of refreshments for a meeting or the paint color of the break room.  Maybe it's a breather in a board meeting to talk about an issue that's larger than the institution itself.

Remember, you're not just making operational change, you're trying to ultimately move the needle on people's perceptions of change.  Two different, but closely and often emotionally connected, things.

Got inertia?  Tell us what you might do to get unstuck.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Great post! In the same vein, we offer this helpful reminder, which we feel should be posted in every office in every museum.

https://peabodyslament.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/a-helpful-reminder/

Thanks,

T.H. Gray, Director-Curator
American Hysterical Society

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