A Story of Change: The Benefits and Sacrifices That Accompany Change Management
I have worked in higher education for over 20 years and in that time, I have come to realize that, like it or not, I naturally gravitate to being an agent of change.
I began my career at a community college in California in the admissions office. At the time, I was fresh out of college and worked with many wonderful people that had children my age. This was the early 1990s so technology was new, if you can imagine. We had dot matrix printers and did a lot of things manually, like alphabetized paper and stamped section numbers on registration forms to make life easier for students. Since many of these tasks were manual, it gave me a lot of time to think of better ways to do things. Most of my ideas were shot down immediately but I learned a valuable lesson: If your idea is good, keep at it and eventually you will be able to get it done.
I later decided to move to Arizona and worked at another community college in a group called Information Processing Center. In this office, staff would submit handwritten letters that we would type up and print out on letterhead. We did all of this because we did not have technology at everyone’s desk so they could do their own. Later, everyone in the college were given Apples so they could begin to do much of this work themselves. Even with this easy-to-use technology, many staff resisted and still would give us handwritten items. I remember one staff member who used to handwrite names of potential faculty and we would then do a mail merge of the names and give them to her to mail out. The problem was that her writing was hard to decipher and since these were names, it was impossible to know if you got the spelling correct. As a result, we would go back and forth many times getting the names correct. I asked if she wanted to learn to type in the names herself to save us all time. She said no, she wanted to keep things as they were. The next time she gave us names, however, we got so many wrong, she decided she would try to type her own. I worked with her diligently and within a short period of time she was doing here own letters and was extremely thankful to us. From there I ended up moving to IT where change is inevitable, since technology changes all of the time.
There are many books you can read on change management and they will tell you about the J Curve of Change where things always get worse before they get better. You can learn about quick wins and communication and all of the things you should do to successfully manage change. If you have to implement change, you should read some of these books.
But there are also some things that I have learned the hard way I would love to share with you. The most important lesson is that if you do not have the support of your leadership, all the way up, true change will be extremely difficult. Change is hard, even for those that like it — and most people do not like it. For all changes, things get worse before they get better. When things get harder, there are those that will go above your head to stop the change and if your leadership is not willing to stay strong and stand their ground, change will be hard. Also, you will lose all credibility to implement change if your leader is telling people they do not have to worry about it. This does not mean change is impossible in these situations, but it will take much longer to implement changes in this climate and the changes may end up so subtle, no one will even realize a change has occurred. To implement change, start by convincing your leaders.
Another important lesson is to believe fully in the change you want to implement. Authenticity and transparency are key to any change and if you do not believe in the change, that will come through and will make it harder. You also need to be OK being vulnerable. I know that politics and power are always around us, but in my experience no one out there expects perfection — they just want to be a part of things. If you are honest with them about struggles you are having, they will support you if they know that you are simply trying to make things better. Also, I read once that change that is lasting makes people believe that the change was their own idea. I have seen this as well and this is where you need to believe in the change you are trying to implement so much that you are willing to leave your ego at the door.
Sometimes when trying to implement a change you can create enemies or bad feelings. In these cases, you might need to take yourself out of the mix so that the change can continue. It does not mean that you did something wrong, but rather that the change is working. Remember, the change itself is the most important thing. Because change causes disruption there will be emotions involved, but if you stay strong and do not let it stop you the change will persevere and can become part of your legacy. Change is not easy. You may have to sacrifice your time and popularity, as well as your career trajectory. If you do not believe in the change, these losses will not seem worth it—so make sure you believe in your change with all of your passion.
Each of us can change our world with a positive attitude and believing in what we are doing. The negativity that surrounds us can take over if we let it, but each of us have it within ourselves to find joy and goodness and that will spread throughout your team and institution.
“Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.” ― Ovid
Author Perspective: Administrator