In a perpetually changing world, marketing communications offices must continually evaluate their approaches to stay competitive. As we look toward a “new normal” in the wake of the pandemic, for many of us this is ideal time to reorganize, restructure or re-evaluate our service models. These are daunting tasks, to be sure. Universities are complex and often subject to arcane rules or cumbersome policies that make these efforts more difficult. John Doe University will have unique challenges that ABCD University doesn’t face -- and vice versa. One constant we all will be forced to tackle, however, is resistance to change.
Resistance to change is pathological. You can find tens of thousands of articles that hypothesize on reasons, but a common thread is that people resist change largely because they don’t understand a shared vision or they are afraid of losing something they perceive to be of value. There is good news for leaders trying to change. A well-known formula exists, namely the Beckhard-Harris change equation: D x V x S > R
The method aims to overcome the psychological costs of change that keep us chained to the past, by focusing on three things.
- Dissatisfaction with the way things are now
- A positive vision of the future
- Concrete steps to make the vision a reality
The first factor in this equation is dissatisfaction. The individuals in your organization must have a high level of dissatisfaction with the current model to be able to acknowledge that change is needed. A listening tour allows you to surface any frustrations that currently exist. People love to complain when given the chance -- so give them one in service to your larger goal. Meet with people both one on one as well as in small groups. Some great questions to ask are: What are the gaps between what exists today and the ideal scenario? What is on your wish list for the organization? What have you wanted to change but cannot get the buy-in or momentum on? What is happening now that you like? What is happening now that causes challenges or frustrations? What activities are wasteful or have low ROI? What practices create obstacles or create inefficiencies? What holds back progress? These questions will expose dissatisfaction -- the first step in our formula.
The next step is to share your vision for how life will be better after the change. Establish an end goal that is both attractive and attainable. Acknowledge that the process of getting to that point will be hard and that there will be roadblocks and challenges along the way, however, at the end of the journey -- whether it takes six months, a year or even longer -- work life will be better. Frustrations will be lessened, inefficiencies will be busted and waste will be eliminated. You are looking to spark a desire for the end goal. This will make people more receptive and eager to move ahead.
The last phase is to lay out the concrete steps that will take you from today to that vision. Start by identifying where you are today (and be honest). There are certainly things happening that are good. It is important to recognize those. But there are also things that can be improved -- sometimes significantly. For my team, I have laid out nine areas that need improvement and identified five steps for each to get from a transactional model to an innovative, high-performing model. In some of those nine areas, we are already several steps down the path. It’s important to acknowledge that to avoid demoralizing the team. It’s just as important to identify forthcoming milestones on the path to your vision. And don’t forget a plan to celebrate each of those milestones. Change is hard work. Moving the needle even slightly is worthy of praise and recognition.
When navigating change, it is very easy to get drawn into drama and negativity. As leaders and change agents, we need to be active destroyers of negative energy. When others are negative, model encouraging behaviors -- both in what you say and in what you do. Loose, relaxed body language and an even and controlled voice will make the positivity of your words more effective. Resist the urge to melt into negativity and to fight back against hateful comments. Let your behavior reflect what you want the team to emulate. Kindness matters. Optimism is infectious. If you can be the kind of person that people want to follow, your chances of successfully executing change grow tenfold.
As you assess your organization’s position going into the post-COVID era, change is all but inevitable. Incorporating a change management plan into your strategy will be critical to the ultimate success of your efforts. Keeping in mind the Beckhard-Harris change equation and remaining focused on being a positive, influential leader will make the process simpler and more rewarding for both you and your team.
Jaime Hunt is vice president and chief communications and marketing officer at Miami University of Ohio.