Managing Change

November 4, 2016

I recently worked with an organization that was making changes to its employee manual. The changes included altering the vacation and sick day policy, ultimately combining the two under Paid Time Off (PTO). At first there was resistance to this idea because employees believed that they would lose vacation time. But through thoughtful, open, and collaborative dialogue from leadership, employees were able to see the benefits of this change and not only support it, but fully buy into it.

Change in the nonprofit workplace can come in many different forms. It might come because external changes in the political landscape, economy, or community call into question the relevance of programming and services. Or internal changes such as role or structure adjustments might impact staff morale or cohesion.

None of these changes, or any others, has to spell disaster for an organization. It is how change is implemented that is essential to how successful an organization is when adapting to a new reality. Change management is the formal name for this process, and it is essential to help relevant stakeholders come to terms with, and most importantly adapt to, disruptions (change) in their environment.

The challenge for a leader managing change is to be able to foster commitment and buy in by allaying any fears that cause resistance and reduce commitment. Change management hinges on two things:

  1. Communicating openly and thoughtfully. When leadership makes a decision to change something in an organization, resistance can take hold. Resistance comes in part from a fear of the unknown, something that is influenced by the way the changes are communicated to employees. If a leader managing change can be thoughtful about how they deliver the news of change, employee dissatisfaction and negative effect on culture can be avoided.
  2. Acknowledging the crucial distinction between compliance and commitment. Leadership can demand compliance to changes through positional authority; commitment is not so easily attained. Gaining buy in from employees when instigating change is essential in facilitating successful change. This can be achieved in a number of ways. Asking employees for their input or opinion on proposed changes, communicating a well-articulated vision that drives the change, and making clear the benefits of the change are just a few.

In the case of my client and the changes to their employee manual, leadership was clear when explaining the positives that would come from this; that the changes to their benefits gave employees more flexibility to how and when they could use their PTO, including security if they were to fall ill for a prolonged period of time. There was collaboration between management and employees at regular intervals through the process, and employees were given the opportunity to provide input on suggested new policies. As a result organizational disruption was minimized and all staff understood and agreed that the new changes would bring positive benefits.

Leading change can seem a daunting task in any organization, but with thoughtful communication and room for collaboration, the process can be a positive one.

By Associate Consultant, Oseloka Idigbe

En Español »