Sunday, December 15, 2013

Change Management, Delivery Systems and Transparency

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on.........................."

Change.  It's in the air, it's all around us, it's an unavoidable mandate in today's climate.  We hear advice everywhere that individuals, companies, organizations, must be adaptive, flexible, nimble in their approach to what they do.   Training and education is lifelong.  Companies will morph from one incarnation to another.The future will see careers increasingly involve any number of moves.  Nothing is permanent, little can be counted on.  The whole world must be entrepreneurial.

Globalization and, in particular, the speed of technological innovation has posed a dizzying array of new challenges - not just for us, but for every sector.  The rise of mobile adaptability has impacted everything, and revolutionized how people interact with the world.  Knowledge itself has grown exponentially.  Business survival, let alone competitive advantage, belongs to those that adapt and can successfully change.  And the future very likely holds even greater change that we can even imagine today.

All these changes have made longer term strategic planning an anachronism.  It's hard to plan for a future that may look nothing like today.  Yet we can hardly afford to just be reactive to all the change around us.  At least not entirely.

The only constant then is change, and we are advised to be prepared.

But are we?  To what extent have we made real progress in understanding the dynamics of change as it affects us?  What models have we developed that might help us to manage change in our universe? What training do we offer that enables our leadership to deal with change?  What have we learned from other fields?  How do we go about change?  Are we changing, and are we changing fast enough?

Note:  There is no shortage of change models and step processes to guide one.  The key is to adapt the advice to our situations.

Change management theory - the attempt to develop structured approaches to ensure smooth and successful change transition is at least 30 years old.  The basic tenets aren't rocket science, but fully implementing change is not easy.
First, of course, there must be recognition of the necessity for evolving change within an organization. 
Second, there needs to be some basic understanding of what needs to be changed, and why. This involves understanding how the need for change serves mission, goals and objectives.   It ought to be specific.
Third, there needs to be internal / external communication as to the need for change and what change will entail.  Buy-in is critical. 
Fourth, comes the development of specific strategies for how to change specific things. This stage is definitionally experimental, and there is a risk of error in judgment.
Fifth, there needs to be training and preparation not only of the people who will execute the change, but those whom the change will impact. 
Sixth, there needs to be some measurement of change as it unfolds, and in terms of its success as measured against the mission, goals and objectives.
As change is, by its nature, fraught with risk, none of these steps are simple.  The problem with effectively managing change as a constant, is that there are no one-size-fits-all models we can use. Change is particular to the the situation and the organization.  Compounding the challenge is the reality that the changes we need or want to make are dictated, in part, by the wider changes over which we have little to no control.

People and organizations are likely "change" averse.  Change can be a frightening prospect.  And the bigger the change the more difficult to implement.  How then do we move to the new normal where change is not an occasional phenomenon, but rather a "way" of doing things.  There needs to be a culture which not only embraces change, but celebrates it as an embedded process; not a 'once-in-awhile' thing, but an "always" thing.  Imagine innovation as not a destination, but a journey. Imagine change as a process not as a tool, but as part of the mission itself.

And just how close to that are we?  What do we have to do to get there?  What lessons can be learned - and shared (despite change as a concept being customizable to varying and differing sets of circumstances?)

Let's take the 'delivery' system model as an example.  For us in the arts, one of the most obvious areas that demands we make changes is in how we deliver 'art'.  For a variety of reasons - changing patterns of people's lifestyles, the rise of technology enabled access, altering priorities for leisure time allocation of ever scarce resources, the economic reality of a dwindling middle class - the past model of how art is delivered and accessed has already changed; changes that come from outside our sphere rather than from within.   One might argue that we don't even yet full understand exactly how that change affects us, or the dynamics of how it operates; that those outside changes came in spite of us, while we were clinging to the status quo.

And while there is some activity on our part in trying to better improve how we deliver art so as to escape the bounds of being tied to an antiquated and dysfunctional delivery system, (for example, as in our greater exploitation of technology), what are our arts organizations that are still married to the bricks and mortar four wall approach to do?  What kind of change is possible?  That is a fundamental question.  Indeed, change in our delivery system may be the most important change we need to make.

Change need not always be direct.  Changing the four wall delivery system for say, a museum, might involve ways to curate and exhibit outside a bricks and mortar facility, but it also might involve methods to alter the perception of the museum's public as to the facility itself.  Change is, if anything, a multi dimensional phenomenon.  And again, therein lies the challenge.

Then too, there are differing degrees of change.  Some change is hardly change at all - but more of a "tweaking" of something - a cosmetic dressing up of what is old and tired.  That may or may not actually be 'change'.  Other change is systemic and fundamental and goes to the core of something.  Change will be an entirely different thing for different groups and individual organizations, at different times.  You hear lots of people say that they are committed to change, but what does that mean?  Does it mean more than that they understand there are things that aren't working, and they want to find something that does work?  Is it more than verbiage?  What specifically have they done to make changes?

Because change may well be an imperative, because real change likely impacts every facet and every constituent group of an organization, because change to be effective demands it permeate the fabric of the organization, and because change is risky, I would argue that the whole process - from the inception of the recognition of its necessity to the final implementation of concrete actions - benefits from a wide open transparency.  Transparency increases buy-in, opens the door to wider ideas, minimizes some of the risk, and pays dividends in according respect to the various publics of an organization.

If change is thought to be wholly an internal directive, something exclusively from an executive level decision making process, then it seems to me it is somewhat doomed from the outset.  The process itself demands involvement of every segment that may be impacted by the change.  Without that wide open invitation for everyone - staff, boards, supporters, patrons, volunteers, stakeholders, funders, the community - to be part of the whole of the change process, success may be axiomatically more difficult to attain.  And I believe the timeline window for us to "change" is narrowing day by day.

Change is happening all around us.  Change that will dictate circumstances to us of how we will be able to operate and function - whether we like it or not, accept it or not.  We know we need to make  changes, and at many points we are doing so. But at many other points we are not.  We need to consider the dynamics of change in a bigger sense, and specifically how we can get a handle on it for the benefit of the whole sector.  We need to develop some tools that can be helpful to all arts organizations, and share those tools with those that are struggling with how to make changes and deciding on which changes are right for them.  Increasingly, success seems to belong to the bold.

All change is somewhat of a guessing game, and like in other sectors, many of us will guess wrong.  Whatever we can do to increase the chances we can guess right and make meaningful change at minimal risk ought to be a priority.  Two things I would argue for is to first talk about change at every opportunity, and second, make transparency in the process the highest priority.  Change is not a solitary pursuit.

One last point:  As you approach the change process, remember that you have a right to change your mind.  It is a process.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.