Whether you are trying to make change within yourself, your organization, or your community there are two critical success factors that must be addressed if you are going to achieve what you set out to achieve. The first is whether or not people feel the change is important. The second is whether or not people are ready for the change.
The importance of making a change is ultimately a personal decision, driven by our own values and beliefs, whether we are open to new information and methods, how we process information, and whether or not we are engaged in other ways of doing things we deem to be more important than the new proposed change. The importance of making change is not easily persuaded by logical arguments. In fact, the importance of change is felt at an emotional level. Take smokers for example. Some of the smartest people I know are smokers. It isn’t that they don’t understand the link between smoking and health. It is that it is not important enough for them to change their behaviour. Deep inside, the importance of change comes down to whether the gains of making the change are important enough to overcome the pains of making the change.
How ready a person, organization, or community is to make change is not easy to measure, per se, yet critical for the change to actually occur. We sometimes thing one more committee or one more study will make people more ready. Like importance, readiness comes down to a personal, emotional response to change. Am I ready to let go of the status quo when I am uncertain of the future? Even when I am sure the end result will have benefits, am I willing to go through stretches of ambiguity, frustration, and confusion to get to that place?
I would suggest that we need more conversations about how people feel, in addition to the conversations about data, evidence, and practice. I would suggest we need to create environments where people are free to express their emotions without fear of reprise. I think we need less coercion and a greater emotional appreciation of personal goals and values.
I would also suggest that when people raise excuses about why change is not possible we drive the conversation back to importance and readiness, even on an emotional level. Take for example resources. Many communities or organizations will say that they cannot change because they lack resources. But the issue is rarely one of resources and almost always one of resourcefulness. If the change is important and they are ready, they will find ways to use existing resources differently and problem solve to fill the gaps in resources that are necessary for doing the right thing.
Lastly for this blog, I would remind you that we should never underestimate an organizations desire for self preservation. Regardless of whether people within the organization can agree that change in the community is important and that the community is ready for change, they will go to great lengths to make sure their organization continues, even if they are not aligned to the new way of doing business. It is a classic case of the “yes, buts” – yes, we agree that change is necessary, but we don’t believe that we should have to change. This means we likely need to spend time ensuring all organizations are engaged with the importance of the big picture, and are ready to put their organization into the fray to be part of that change, rather than seeing themselves as immune to change and insisting others change around them.