Innovation is not easy. Switching up working practices at associations that have existed for decades takes tenacity, especially if you have a relatively small sphere of influence. But we should never let complacency get in the way of progress. I believe you can influence change in your organization at any level if the environment is primed.
After over a decade as an association professional, I moved into the world of business coaching. Here I will offer some tips on how to take a realistic approach to effecting change at your organization, no matter what your position.
Consider first why you want to change your organization: is it a specific policy, procedural shift, or project you’re working on? Or is a certain level of control a professional need you must have met? What about your current situation isn’t working? When you have done some introspection to consider your reasons for wanting to act, read on.
Do your research
Observe your surroundings first. You are not operating in a vacuum: there are boards, members and the history of the organization to consider. Take notes during meetings and conversations to find out who you can align yourself with, and who has opposing viewpoints.
Remember to keep your ego in check, because no one is going to buy into tunnel vision. Walking into a boardroom and replacing “I” with “we”, without doing the back-end work of forming alliances, fools no one. Consider the needs and challenges of those around you. Ask more questions than you pose, and repeat back what you hear to get clarity. This helps for understanding the rationale behind the current situation.
Instead of getting carried away with your idea, focus on the details. Brainstorm with others to get consensus and collaboration, so people can speak up about issues pertaining to budget and resources, then move into the steps of execution like delegation and getting the membership on board. Keep an eye on the blind spots that might have landed you in trouble before.
Unfortunately, not all associations are utopian workplaces where everyone cooperates. In the past, I have worked in a toxic environment, ruled by a scarcity mentality, and programs, policies and procedures were defended on the basis that this is how we always do it. I arrived with the mentality that we should make our lives easier by not wasting time on excessive steps. I had to put my neck on the line to have my solutions taken seriously.
If you believe in your idea, you will have people come and meet you head on. People wrapped up in a toxic environment will try to convince you it’s the wrong path, or that you’re a troublemaker for disrupting the flow of things. If you’ve put in the work necessary to make your idea robust, grow a thick skin and persevere through the tribulations. Bring other people on board as much as you can to make success a win-win situation. Substantial, long-term change takes work, so what is it worth to you? Will there be any reward?
And if you cannot shift the direction of your workplace as you wish, find another area where you can effect change, like an external professional group. Your idea might need a different environment to flourish. Then you will have a model or case study to present to colleagues in future.
Keep the innovation process dynamic by checking in on progress along the way. In fast-paced environments, following a plan by rote won’t cut it. By having regular check-ins with colleagues, you will know when you might need to pause and shift gears, and you will be able to celebrate wins along the way to keep morale high. This recognition motivates people as a team and on an individual basis.
Trust your instincts
If you are approaching a new organization and trying to gauge the atmosphere, you will know in your gut if the staff are receptive to change. What first impressions do you get from conversations with HR, the website, and interviewers? Ask open-ended questions about how they nurture change in the organization. If they rely on buzzwords without giving concrete examples, alarm bells should go off. Or maybe they set up meetings to hear multiple opinions, providing a mechanism for voices to be heard across the hierarchy.
Trust your gut on the front end to save yourself regret six months down the line. Work is like dating: you’re going to know straight off if it’s a bad fit. Some of us think we should change ourselves to fit into a workplace, but being yourself is the only sustainable method. Don’t waste time in a situation where you can’t blossom.
Does this topic intrigue you? Lauren spoke on this subject at SURGE 2017, a free virtual summit we hosted over November 7-9th. Click here to access the replay of the session.