Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Managing Change in Associations – Part 1

I asked one of my mentors -- Barry Schapiro (bio below) to guest blog on association leadership.  Barry and I have known each other for more than 20 years.  Part 2 will be up tomorrow.

Associations and other nonprofits, just as much as profit making entities, have to cope with and manage changes in their environments. It’s not about being trendy – it’s necessary for survival. There are many forces in our environment that require us to make changes in how we operate. These include – just to name a few -- technology, regulation, economic conditions, customer demands and competition. 

To ensure that members and staff accept and implement necessary changes requires that leaders create and maintain a working environment that supports change. Here are three ways leaders can do this. 
  1. communicate early and often. People resist change when they don’t know what’s going on. Be prepared to share the “why” of change, as well as the “what” and the “when.” The more information people have, and the sooner they have it, the less they’ll be surprised. Don’t kid yourself – no one really likes surprises at work. When you say “Guess what?” to people at work, they’re not expecting a birthday cake. The earlier and more complete the communication, the fewer rumors you’ll have to overcome.
  2. sell the change. Tell people what’s in it for them. Describe the benefits – both to them personally, and to the organization as a whole. If possible, provide evidence for the benefits by citing the experience of other organizations that have undergone similar changes. You will likely discover that there is confusion and misunderstanding about the effects of the change, in which case you’ll need to redouble your communication efforts.
  3. give people some control over how the changes are implemented. As a leader, you’re responsible for the “big picture.” It’s important to allow the people who will be most directly affected by the changes to implement them in their own way, as long as the main goals are achieved and the required timelines are adhered to. 
Despite your best efforts some will resist the change on general principles. Some will resist change that is clearly positive. .

Be prepared to discuss their resistance openly and honestly and to make some concessions that don’t materially interfere with the goals of the change. It’s a way of helping these people to feel more empowered, which goes a long way to reducing resistance. On the other hand, if, despite your best efforts, you can’t bring some people on board, you’ll probably have to give them the opportunity to “pursue other interests” outside your organization.

To be an effective leader, you need a broad array of skills. One of these skills is the ability to introduce and manage change in your organization. The good news is that you don’t have to do it all alone. Your board and staff can be your allies, and they should be put to work appropriately. Above all, remember that organizations are made of people, who have personal needs that must be met in order to accomplish the practical needs of the organization. Too touchy-feely for you? Let’s talk some more in part 2 of this series. Coming soon to a computer screen near you! 

NOTE: Barry Schapiro MSW, ACSW, is the Practice Leader for Leadership and Professional Development at Workforce Solutions Group, a unit of St. Louis Community College. You can get in touch with Barry at bschapiro@stlcc.edu. Barry’s regular blog on leadership topics appears at http://workforcesolutions.stlcc.edu/leadership-for-life/


  1. To have a plan and an understanding of how people react to change is invaluable. Thanks, Barry, for providing some great information.One thing we know for sure, change is generally always looming somewhere on our horizon!

  2. Thanks Kathie.

    I'll share your comments with Barry.

    Part 2 runs Thursday!