by julia.hanigsberg | May 24th, 2011

I confess: managing change fascinates me. How do we collectively get from here to there?

Change, is inevitable: the river of time and transformation just keeps on flowing along.

Since becoming VP Administration & Finance last year, I’ve spent lots of time meeting all the people who work in my portfolio – the dedicated professionals who serve our students, faculty, and each other with energy and intelligence every day. One of the best things about getting to know my colleagues has been their habit of asking me really hard questions, ones that prompt me to reflect on how I do my job and about how I, personally and professionally, could change in order to do things differently or better.

Overcoming barriers to change

Recently, one of my colleagues asked me, “How do you deal with people who erect irrational roadblocks.” Fantastic question – all about managing change.

Here’s the answer I gave: When individuals resist change, one of two things are usually at play: (1) they don’t understand the goal or (2) they are afraid of something. (Third possibility: they just don’t want to.)

So, what can I do?

Well, I try my best to ensure I’m very clear on #1: what are we trying to do, and why? Sometimes, I don’t have the best means to achieve the objective and therefore the conversation allows me to ask for advice.

Tackling #2 is harder. Sometimes, a person might fear they’ll be blamed if a project fails (maybe that fear is justified, which means I’ve got to figure out a solution). Sometimes, a person worries about losing influence or control if a change succeeds.

In every case, though, the change-management key message is the same: You have to bring people’s fears to the surface, consider whether there’s a way to mitigate them, and/or acknowledge genuine risks and then provide the supports required to cope with them.

Change clichés

All the usual clichés about change apply. But they’re clichés, in part, because they hold true in so many circumstances. Here are the ones I keep in my desk drawer:

  • Big ships turn slowly.
  • Resistance will occur.
  • Change is hard work.
  • Change is easier together.
  • Celebrate – especially the small stuff.

You and change

So, now tell me, how would you answer the question?

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