Valid email addresses are required to post comments. If your comment is not posted, I will send you an email with an explanation.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Instant Change? Unprepared For Change? Why Do We Change? (and other questions)

Change is a constant. There's no avoiding the phenomena. In fact, our history is the story-line of accumulative changes in politics, social adaptations, technological advances, and economic turbulence. Change is occurring at such a rapid rate that the term exponential often accompanies the word in anything you read on the subject. Change happens much more quickly than we accommodate it and integrate it into our daily lives and routines. That is, change prevails whether we like it or not, whether we are prepared for it or not. Success and survival often depend on our ability to adapt.

Few people enjoy change - except babies with dirty diapers! It has been said that people don't resist change - they resist being changes. There is a significant point within that last statement taht warrants serious attention prior to invoking change of any sort.

Here's some comic relief to share with you to offer a perspective on the speed of change.

Change is not as fast as some people imagine:

Yakoff Smirnoff is a Russian comedian who emigrated to the U.S. where he has appeared in countless shows featuring his wry observations on American society. Here's one story he's presented that provides insight on change.

Smirnoff welcomed a Russian friend to America and took him around to show him the sights. While visiting a supermarket he wanted to show the tremendous amount of different items available. "Look at this" Smirnoff pointed out, "powdered eggs, just add water and you have eggs." "Wow!" exclaimed his friend. Walking down the next aisle. "Look here, powdered orange juice, just add water and you have orange juice!" "Fantastic" said his friend. Then, as they went down the next aisle the friend screamed "Holy cow!!" America, what a country! What will they think of next?" Smirnoff looked over at his friend and realized the man had picked up some baby powder.

As a new superintendent anxious to prove myself it can be tempting to initiate change as an imposing signature on the district. It's true that there are points and programs that may require alterations to either improve or to comply with new state mandates or local policies. There is inherent pressure to reaffirm the school board's decision to hire the new superintendent. You want to demonstrate that you're worth the investment, that you are the right person to lead the system, and that you know what you're doing. There's a great sense of responsibility and duty. Yet, too much change, too soon, can undermine your efforts and dilute credibility.

On the other hand, if you're not continuously monitoring the performance of the organization and checking for opportunities to improve effectiveness or efficiency, you can encounter an entirely different set of problems that produce the same fate as changing too fast. 

Here's an explanation I read in one of the many interesting books written by Robert Waterman. He uses a recipe to boil a frog as the means of advising one of the perils of not responding fast enough to the need for change.

If you want to boil a frog you must start with a pot of water the same temperature as the pond it came from. If you begin with water too cold or too hot, it will prompt the frog to leap out of the container. However, if the water's the same temperature as the pond then you can ever so slowly turn the heat up in small increments and the frog will not detect the difference. If you're patient enough you'll end up with frog legs for an appetizer!

That's what happens to school districts that are blind to subtle changes in the economy, the political terrain, the values and beliefs in the community, or the pace and scope of technology. You end up "dead" because you didn't perceive the need or the opportunity to change until it was too late.

So, a balance between too fast and too slow is necessary. The system is always wrestling with the dynamic interaction - change, whether its externally imposed or internally initiated, whether it's viewed as positive or negative, disrupts the organization's equilibrium. Their is turmoil while the system adjusts and integrates new habits, policies, strategies... until equilibrium is restored --- and then you start all over again. It can feel like you're on a treadmill without an off button.

The key is perhaps in managing change. It is a process, not an event. How do you manage change? You can begin by vigilantly studying the environment for signs of change on the horizon, maintaining firm core values of the school system that endure regardless of what else changes in the organization. Nurture a resilient and flexible organization that allows for accommodating change as a viable and constructive force. Don't view change as an enemy but respect it as a factor contributing to your success or your demise. Examine opportunities to integrate changes. But, most importantly, make sure you understand why you're doing what you're doing. The story below is an example of sustaining a routine or practice well beyond the existence or memory of whomever started it.
One Easter, years ago, I observed my wife and young daughter preparing a special dinner. This was one of those great experiences whereby one generation passes along the traditions that collectively form the thread of a family to the next generation. My wife had cut off a sizeable portion of each side of the ham prior to baking it. This left a fairly small ham in a rather huge pan. That provoked the curiosity of my daughter, who asked her mom why she did this. I was sure that the explanation would reveal a special recipe or technique handed down through the family. But, my wife wasn't really sure of the reason herself except that her mom had demonstrated the same method when she was little. However, she was certain that it always produced a delicious ham. Upon my urging she called her own mom for specific reasoning. My mother-in-law was similarly dumbfounded and simply replied that her mother had always experienced success with the same method. Finally, fueled my growing interest a call was placed to my wife's grandmother to find out why everyone cut off the ends of the ham. Grandma simply replied "I only had a small pan so I had to cut off the ends to make it fit."

This is why many organizations resist change, "It's the way we've always done it."

You'll need to change at some point - just make sure you anticipate it, prepare for it, adjust to it, and understand why you're changing and what benefits may be derived from the experience. 

No comments:

Post a Comment