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Change is the Word

August 16th, 2010

Change! Change! Change! Everyone is talking about change. Everywhere you look change is happening. The fact that we are continually changing seems to be the only thing that is not changing. In fact, many times we are changing so rapidly that we are right in the middle of adapting to a change when the next change is staring us square in the face. So how do we deal with all this change? Or, if you are the person wanting to make change, how do you create the best opportunity for that change to be successful?

In his book, Leading Change, John Kotter, describes an eight step process for ensuring a successful organizational change. As I share these eight steps, think about a recent change that your organization has just gone through or is in the middle of at the present time. Reflect upon how that change happened or is happening. And consider what needed to happen to make it more effective or what should be happening to make it more effective.

John Kotter’s Eight Step Process of Successful Change:

  • Set the Stage
  1. Create a sense of Urgency—Many times people need help in seeing why the change is even needed. Once they see the need they may need assistance in understanding why people need to act immediately.
  2. Pull Together the Guiding Team—There needs to be a powerful group that comes together to guide the change. The rest of the staff need to know who these individuals are and that they were selected for their leadership skills, credibility, communication ability, authority to act, ability to be analytical, and truly understand the sense of urgency.
  • Decide What to Do
  1. Develop the Change Vision and Strategy—Identify and articulate how the future will be different from the past and what you need to do to make the future become a reality.
  • Make it Happen
  1. Communicate for Understanding and Buy In—Share the vision with as many people as possible and work to get acceptance of that vision and strategy.
  2. Empower Others to Act—Help others identify and remove the barriers so that they can take the actions needed to make the vision real to them.
  3. Produce Short-Term Wins— Create and/or identify obvious successes. As soon as they are identified, share those successes with others.
  4. Don’t Let Up—Keep the pressure on to take the actions needed to make the vision real. We know from research and observation that when the pressure to change is eliminated, humans will revert to the old way of doing business.
  • Make It Stick
  1. Create a New Culture—Keep reinforcing the new ways of behaving until they have replaced the old behaviors and traditions. The new reality must become the new status quo before the change can be considered successful.

When I think of the reorganization that ISU Extension initiated last fall, and we are still in the mist of today, I can see the steps being implemented. I believe we made the needed change, the need to reduce the Extension budget to meet resources, an urgent matter when it was announced that the CEED and the AEED positions would be eliminated. Few could deny the urgency of that action. And the action was made and shared by a “guiding team” of Extension Leadership. The “guiding team’ then went about the process of communicating with the counties the vision and strategy for the future. Several task forces were created to begin identifying and removing barriers of how to make the new system work. And the program directors began asking staff to identify and share with other staff quick wins.

And then we had another change happen before we could reinforce steps 7 and 8. The Vice President for Extension and Outreach left ISU to take another position in another state. I felt the sense of urgency subside and some of the old ways may be creeping back into our way of doing business. Perhaps the most crucial aspect of the re-organizational change is yet to be experienced, the reinforcement needed to make the vision a reality.

Perhaps the Extension Annual Conference will revive the sense of urgency and reinforce that the change is still needed. The communication of where Extension is headed and the breakout sessions should help staff rethink the barriers and the new actions they need to implement. Renewed focus on the new direction and the system needed to make it a reality will help in the creation of a new Extension culture. Without a new sense of urgency and the continued pressure to change, Extension may not make it to that new vision and it may struggle for years to come.

As you think of the re-organization of Extension, or any other change you are experiencing, consider the eight steps and ask yourself where you need to direct your energy to help make the change a reality. What do I need to do to be accountable for the change?

Until the next time, enjoy the fact that it has stopped raining for now and the sun is shining.

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