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Notably Quoted

It’s good for an artist to try things. It’s good for an artist to be ridiculous.
Sheila Heti in How Should a Person Be?: A Novel from Life (p. 18)

Administration

Some Not-So-Random Thoughts About Change

Introduction

Change has come my direction in at least a couple of ways: either having it thrust upon me or recognizing myself the need for change and deliberately planning for it. Unplanned change may be a necessity when a crisis strikes. Examples of crises are natural disasters, as well as some “unnatural” ones (such as having a key employee or significant other unexpectedly leave). Planned change comes about when there is time to lay out a strategy for a transition from one state or condition to the next. 

In the next section I discuss the strategies and coping mechanisms I utilize when I find myself in the midst of a change process. As such, this comprises an abbreviated version of my “philosophy of change.” Following the discussion of my philosophical approach, I conclude with a specific example of a change process I facilitated on the state level in Oregon.

An Abbreviated Guide to Successfully Facilitating Change

I have participated in a variety of situations involving major change: starting a small business (with no business training!); implementing a new student support services program with a very tiny budget at a four-year campus; and assuming a new role with the university system central office to come up with a plan for the universities to work more effectively with the community colleges. These particular examples of change were not borne out of a sense of crisis, though they all involved “creating something out of nothing” and necessitated that I serve as a change agent in these various environments.

Given the many transitions I have experienced and/or facilitated, I believe in the statement: change is difficult. Planned or unplanned, change upsets our lives. And, who needs that? Aren’t we all a bit more satisfied with status quo, even when the status quo isn’t all that terrific? At least we know where we stand and what the rules are. But even a change process can have rules, or at least guidelines. What follows are ways that I have for facilitating and/or coping with change. Mostly these principles apply to administering planned change, but many of these are also applicable for tending to unplanned change as well.

Provide leadership and vision. Because change is typically so unsettling, having solid leadership to manage it is essential. A leader who exudes confidence, is able to articulate the need for and direction of change, and can provide a vision for the future, is the individual who can make change a manageable, less frightening experience for all involved.

Plan ahead. If you know where you are and where you want to be, then it’s possible to plan. A detailed (and written) plan is going to assist everyone in the change process because it can reduce the anxiety level by laying out a pathway for the change ahead.

Anticipate obstacles and expect the unexpected. The path of change is often littered with barriers, of course, even in the presence of a good plan. A good strategy when in the midst of change is to expect the unexpected: there are bound to be many unanticipated problems to solve along the way. How does one handle the unexpected when, well, it’s so unexpected? There is obviously no one answer for that question. Perhaps it is simply best to realize that no plan is perfect and that using our own personal coping mechanisms are what we need to rely on during times of high stress.

Focus on teamwork. When groups and organizations are engaged in a change process, things typically go smoothest if a team approach is used. The concept of “team,” in my experience, has various interpretations. My use of the word team connotes a sense of involvement and investment by everyone in the organization, and, to the extent possible, a role to be played by everyone individually in order to make the change process a successful and non-threatening one. In my opinion, the responsibility for establishing a team approach lies squarely with the organization’s leadership: everyone must be invited to participate and be utilized to their fullest potential. Also in the domain of effective leaders is the responsibility of establishing clear expectations of team members and outlining individuals’ roles.

Model and facilitate good communication. The absolutely central concept to facilitating successful change, to providing leadership and vision, and to promoting a team approach, is communication. In any organization, communication breakdowns and rumors can subvert the change process by providing inaccurate, incomplete, and/or totally fabricated “information” to the participants in the change process. Change is facilitated in the most-healthy way by keeping everyone in the loop, listening to the ideas (and frustrations!) of team members, and respecting the thoughts and feelings of everyone.

Keep breathing. Literally, change can take your breath away. There is a lot of anxiety and tension associated with change. I always need to remind myself, and those around me, to “keep breathing. Relax. Things will all work out.”

One Example of Facilitated Change

When I was employed by the Chancellor’s Office of the Oregon University System, I led the process that resulted in the first new statewide transfer degree in fifteen years: the Associate of Science/Oregon Transfer degree in Business (AS/OT-Bus, adopted by the Oregon State Board of Education in April 2003). The only other statewide transfer degree that existed before then in Oregon was the Associate of Arts/Oregon Transfer degree (AA/OT, which came in to existence as the result of legislation in 1987). In facilitating this process:

  • I worked with a cross-sector group (the Joint Boards Articulation Commission) to propose the concept for this degree in late 2000.
  • From 2001 to 2003 I provided the leadership for the grass-roots movement that culminated in the establishment of this degree.
  • I articulated a vision for the anticipated product.
  • I laid out and implemented a plan to involve everyone that would need to have a voice in developing a new statewide degree.
  • I communicated regularly with all the groups participating in the degree-development process. In so doing, I focused on trying to make the degree the work of a “team of teams.”
  • I led countless group discussions and modeled good communication. I kept everyone in the loop.
  • I kept breathing, and reminded everyone else to do the same, over an over again, as the political process evolved toward the final agreement of what the degree should look like.

In the end, we had created another viable pathway for community college students to pursue that would ease their transfer to a business program at one of Oregon’s public universities.

Conclusion

Facilitating change is, perhaps, one of the most difficult assignments a leader (academic or otherwise) can undertake. To the extent possible, I believe that change is most adequately handled when it is approached deliberately and with sensitivity. The most effective individual to facilitate a change process, I believe, is a leader with the most highly-developed communication skills.

TechnoMonk’s Musings?

How is it I come to call myself the TechnoMonk? Well, my old friend and lover, Katrina, used that term for me earlier this year while we were seated in this very room, at this very computer. Noting that I have a rather Spartan approach to home furnishings, she also observed that I haven’t spared any particular expense when it comes to camera, computer, and sound equipment. The term “TechnoMonk” just seemed to slip out of her at one point, and I’ve embraced the term ever since.

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