For many small- and mid-size non-profit organizations change can mean two things:
- We are going to spend a lot of time thinking, talking, writing about, discussing and planning for change, but we will go years without implementing change, or
- We will go straight for it, without engaging key stakeholders in the process and implementation – creating resentment and withdrawal from previously engaged and supportive individuals including donors, supporters, advocates and staff.
The reasons this happens are numerous and complicated – and are covered in our blog post Why Change Isn’t Happening. For now, let us focus on what it means to lead change and actually get it implemented!
To successfully implement new policies, focus areas, priorities, and services, we have to first engage our stakeholders and then we must plan. Anytime we think we have it all figured out, we will most assuredly fail. Success may be dependent on having the right idea, the right strategy and the right timing, but it is also dependent on having the PEOPLE committed to it — and both willing and able to implement it.
This means including them early and often in the process. At Reach Our Goals we typically engage employees, donors, supporters and stakeholders as soon as the need is identified. Even if the process has already started, using an appreciative inquiry process or open space technology retreat can not only achieve the necessary buy-in to the change, but almost always provides previously unknown information and ideas that will make the end result better, increasing the chances of success.
Buy why? Won’t this just make it messier?
While these inclusive, participatory processes involve more people, more time and more energy, they accomplish two objectives. They:
- ensure your plan is in-line with the people you are working with and
- make the implementation of your changes substantially easier.
Being inclusive in the process allows information you may not be aware of to enter into the planning process. It brings in differing perspectives, experience-based points-of-view and a diversity of thought. We have seen many organizations start with a draft, go through an inclusionary process, and end with a plan that accomplished the goals they set out with in a very different manner that excited everyone in the organization.
There is no universal solution in the work of non-profits. Let’s face it: the work is hard, never-ending, and can keep us up at night with worry. But when we focus on the process of planning for change – ensuring we include all of our stakeholders in a manner that draws from all of our resources – we can develop plans that achieve our goals in a manner consistent with an organization’s core values.
There is a time to engage and a time to lead. Certainly, after a plan evolves from the process, the responsibility of the board and key staff will be to hash out the final details and shepherd the process. You can see our posts on leading change implementation for some details on key considerations for that stage. But as we enter the process of planning for change, be it through a strategic planning process or a change in leadership plan or something different altogether, the leadership should focus on inclusivity and listening. Only then are we able to build strength through change.