Change, the art of the possible

Be clear about what you want to change and how you plan to make it happen, says David Herold.

Managing change is a challenge for all organisations, especially in today's climate. But for charities, implementing change presents particular difficulties.

While private sector organisations may examine a broad set of financial, strategic, structural and business options in the face of economic turmoil, many of these options are not open to charities, whose existence and mode of operation are likely to be defined by their mission.

So what are charity leaders to do? First, there is one thing their private sector counterparts will do that they will also have to do: examine the business imperatives and develop a basic change idea, or ideas, about what needs to be amended. Next, leaders need to do a careful situational analysis to determine whether these ideas can be implemented and how quickly, or whether another approach may be more productive.

This analysis must include four important questions: does the leadership possess the credibility needed to motivate others to adopt the change? Do staff possess the skills, motivation and commitment necessary for the transition? Are the organisation's culture and internal systems likely to support or hinder the effort? And what external conditions are likely to support or hinder the effort?

Leaders are then faced with three options. They can either proceed with the original change idea; reconsider the original change idea in terms of scope, timing, or feasibility based on the diagnosis (which may necessitate a search for a new change idea); or address the factors that were identified as hindering the effort.

When it comes to change, it's not how rational, objective or strategically appropriate your idea is. Rather, it is whether you can realistically move your organisation from point A to point B using your understanding of what is feasible, how quickly and with how much effort.

- David Herold is an emeritus professor at Georgia Institute of Technology and the author of Leading Change Management.

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