No Time For Change?

Posted by on Feb 12, 2013 in Change, Leadership, Nonprofits

Change Coming To Offc

We know Change is coming. So why are we caught off guard when it shows up? Maybe we’re too busy to think about it. Or maybe we expect Change to stay away until we’re ready for it.

We cruise along with our heads down, hustling to complete that ever-bloated To Do list, until we’re smacked in the head by Change.

Pain, Pain, Go Away

Change–whether good or bad–draws us out of our comfort zones. It rips away our cozy routines, and it creates more work. Sometimes it brings painful choices. And sometimes Change brings loss.

Marriage, for example, is Change. When I got married, I gained the love of my life, but lost the ability to see my parents every day. They were now many miles away. And I left a job I loved and became another DC-area job hunter. We engineered that Change, but it still brought joy and pain, loss and gain.

In an organization, of course, Change is far less romantic. (At least it was where I worked.) But organizational Change still brings joy and pain. And being human, we’d rather avoid pain whenever we can. So we steadfastly ignore the fact that Change may visit us, bringing his unpleasant little minions with him.

Then, when we least expect it, Change smacks us in the head, knocks us off our feet, and rocks our cozy, predictable worlds. And we simply can’t ignore Change any longer.

A Fond Farewell To Procrastination

I’m not telling you anything you don’t know already. If you’re over the age of 10, Change has come to visit you at some point in the past. What I AM doing is giving you a reality check and, hopefully, a swift kick in the will. Before it’s too late.

After years of working with nonprofits, I know how busy you are. You don’t need another thing added to your agenda. But as an organizational development professional, I’ve been on the receiving end of emergency calls from nonprofits who failed to prepare for Change until it struck. They didn’t have time, either.

But now, the organization was in crisis and had no choice but to deal with Change. They had to make time to deal with it. And, trust me, when this happens, you face both the pain that comes with Change AND the pain of being unprepared for it.

Still Think There’s No Time?

Nobody can predict and prepare for every possible form of Change, but we can minimize the discomfort and disruption that comes with certain predictable events. I know you’ve heard stories about nonprofits who found themselves up to their necks in Change and its consequences. If you’ve been reluctant to interrupt your routine to plan for Change, let those lessons propel you out of complacency!

Don’t wait. Take action. Now. Your stakeholders are depending on you.

Prepare your organization for Change by planning for events like the ones listed here. Gather your board and staff leaders and start the conversation right away:

  • The exit or absence of key leaders and staff
  • The exit or absence of key board members
  • Loss of a single major funding source
  • The need for organizational layoffs
  • Negative press or organizational scandal

Don’t Wait For Headlines

Did your heart skip a beat when you read that list? Those things are unpleasant to think about. It was even unpleasant for me to write them! But ignoring these things now can lead to even more trouble later. In some cases, your organization’s survival might be at risk.

So talk about how these situations might play out in your organization and how your board, staff, clients, and stakeholders might be affected. Create written plans that can help you minimize the damage, take advantage of any opportunities that arise, and resolve matters as quickly as you can. Then train your board and staff to implement your plan should the need arise.

If you’ve followed headlines in the nonprofit sector over the past few years, you know Change can show up without warning. And while planning won’t stop Change, it can help your organization face the challenge with more intelligence and grace. And by managing Change well, you might just win even more support to your cause.

So far, these big Changes have happened to OTHER nonprofits; so ignoring Change has felt safe. But won’t you rest much easier at night knowing that if the unthinkable should happen, you have written contingency plans and well-prepared leaders who can rush into action right away?

Isn’t that peace of mind worth adding preparation for Change to your To Do list? I sincerely hope so.


I welcome your feedback!

What efforts have you made to prepare your organization for change, and what advice would you give to other nonprofits? Please share your thoughts below, and feel free to email this article to your colleagues to share this wake-up call.

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