Summer has become synonymous with highly anticipated superhero movie releases. While superhero epics seem like the Greek mythology of our time, with towering men and women possessing deity-like capabilities that they use to save the world, there is something human in their approach that social sector champions can use in our own change management efforts. Whether we are trying to pivot to a new business model or make the tough transition from a bureaucratic to democratic culture, change is difficult on all employees. While it sometimes feels like we need superhero strength to weather change, we mortals are resilient and can thrive by channeling our inner superheroes throughout the process.
We are big fans of John Kotter’s book, Leading Change, which breaks the seemingly colossal goal of change into actionable tasks that, with effort and planning, can be implemented in social sector organizations. His roadmap to change, as outlined in the graphic below, incorporates many of the best practices we share with our clients.
click image to enlarge
Call Your Troops to Action
True for superheroes and social sector warriors alike, we need to gear up for changes in our organizations. In preparing our teams for tough sacrifices and new ways of working, we need to create a sense of urgency around why change is needed. Whether you are Iron Man demonstrating the threat of weapons in enemy hands or a nonprofit CEO facing regularly declining financials or the threat of irrelevancy in the market, social sector leaders need to show their teams that the threats are real and shed light on the consequences of inaction. After a credible threat has been acknowledged, leaders should build a team of like-minded champions to lead the charge and develop a vision and strategy for a thriving future.
For any change effort to succeed, social sector leaders need to be fearless in spreading their vision of the future, empowering employees to take action and building momentum for success through short-term wins. In order to change, your employees need to have a clear picture of the steps they need to take, and systems within the organization need to support their action. For example, if silos or bureaucracy need to be broken in order to facilitate quick communication and decision-making, leaders need to change those systems to equip their staff. Lost momentum is one of the biggest traps to avoid when making change – without benchmarking progress along the way, employees can become disillusioned when all the hard work and sacrifice seem to be going nowhere. By setting teams up for short-term wins, communicating how the new changes created those wins and recognizing those who helped in the effort, leadership builds momentum for more change.
Infiltrate the Organization
The last step of the change effort is to infiltrate your organization by embedding key values and behaviors into the culture. Superheroes like Thor do this by keeping the company of Asgardians who share the vision of peace and expelling those who don’t. For social sector leaders, infiltration means bringing on staff who share the vision for the future, taking on new projects that further support the change effort and increasing participation to more staff. By engaging employees in the process and creating a cohesive culture, leaders can further their change effort. By building in expectations about employees’ behavior into the fabric of the organization, change begins to perpetuate and sustain itself.
Change is difficult for everyone in social sector organizations, but when leaders take heroic steps to call employees to action, take charge and infiltrate, it is manageable and doable. We invite you to share your experiences with change and hope you will stay tuned next week for our blog on the socio-ecologic model.