Management and Leadership in Nonprofits


Change isn't bad...

Oct 06, 2016


…it's just different! I had this nugget of knowledge shared with me the other day. Actually, it's brilliant. What would happen if we all just looked at change from this perspective?

Even though I'm approaching an age where change is not supposed to be good, I've been fortunate to be able to take on some additional responsibilities at work that has changed and added to my role. My first reaction: Cool! This sounds like fun. What an opportunity. My next reaction: What the heck have I gotten myself in to! I have to change everything I do! Ugh.

For those who know me, well, my first reaction ("cool") is my general approach to change. I love to challenge myself with new things and new ways to do things. For most people, though, my second reaction is what they feel first. This was an eye opener for me and gave me an opportunity to understand the other side. Yes, change can be difficult.

One of my favorite change stories is the shift in the U.S. from rail travel to air travel. Looking back, it seems obvious—air travel is (usually) a faster way to get to your destination than the train. That, however, is not the question. The real change question here is how did we wind up with United, Trans World, Pan Am, and the other pioneering air carriers? After all, these start-ups really had nothing to go on. The railroads had everything—a passenger base used to travelling with them, a great network, and a mystique. Yet, over about a 30-year period, railroads were mostly out of the passenger rail business replaced by the upstart airlines.

I believe that if the railroads had been better at understanding their business they would have been buying airplanes and meeting the changing needs of their customers. Instead, they just thought they were in the railroad business and needed better trains. In reality, they were in the transportation business. Had they just understood that, today we'd probably be flying on Illinois Central Airlines (and other former railroads).

Here's the magic. Change, at least when it comes to business, isn’t really about what you need. It's about your ability to understand who you are and to perceive and understand what others need. Once this is achieved, the change becomes evident and is rewarded with success. I'm learning this with the current changes in my responsibilities at work. I can't simply take the things that have led to my past success and transition them to my new roles. I need to instead understand my own core value and how that aligns to the new roles. This will allow me to create the impact my organization needs.

As you look at your organization, I encourage you to look at what has made you a success and to truly understand the core impact you have. Once you understand this, you can understand that change isn't bad, it's just different. Happy travels.

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Wipfli Editorial Team

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