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4 strategies for guiding people through change

5 min read


This post is sponsored by ISTE.

Convincing others to accept and share your vision while providing the tools to self-navigate the process of change can be daunting. But take a moment to consider the following:

People already know how to change. They do it every day. They encounter a detour on the road to work and have to take a different route. They go to the grocery store and discover that their favorite cereal has been moved or discontinued. Somehow they still arrive at work and find breakfast food. They know their vision and navigate the change to find a solution.

Of course, we are acutely aware that organizational change is not as simple as driving to work or shopping for breakfast cereal. So how does a leader make sustainable change in an organization? William Bridges states in his book Managing Transitions, Change is situational. Transition is psychological. Getting people through the transition is essential if the change is actually to work as planned. When a change happens without people going through a transition, it is just a rearrangement of the chairs.

Creating transitional change within an organization should be at the top of every leader’s priority list. Healthy organizations experience constant change, and leadership must help others share in the vision so they can self-navigate.

Here are a few strategies that have helped us implement change within organizations:

  1. Work at the macro level and trust other members of the organization to support the micro level. Effective leaders understand where the stakeholders are within the adoption cycle. They are able to provide formal and informal data on how the organization is growing and changing. They capitalize on the strengths of other leaders within the organization by collaborating with them and supporting their efforts. Leadership also anticipates and provides a space for people to grieve the past and process/embrace the new.
  1. Communicate and listen often, honestly and in as many formats as possible. Once a vision is developed with stakeholders and accepted by leadership, it must be communicated clearly. Share it often and in multiple formats, which includes using established community marketing channels, student voices and visual images of the anticipated successes resulting from the change. Leaders use what they know about learning styles and individual strengths to vary their approach so that everyone has the opportunity to learn. This should include face-to-face conversations, social media, meetings, community events, and more.
  1. Develop and support a hierarchy of trust within the organization. Effective leaders place coaches strategically within the organization to develop, model and implement the vision. This includes early adopters, late adopters and those who are working to understand. Coaches can help develop trust at the micro level and create energy for the vision by celebrating with others both big and small accomplishments. They can also mitigate fear and ignite individuals’ strength to go forward, toward the vision. Create trust among leadership, coaches and individuals so that the vision can continue to move forward. Put structure in place to provide space for communication, motivation and evaluation.
  1. Use assessment tools and results to communicate honest results, both positive and negative. Listen and adjust the vision or implementation, sometimes stopping to build trust or go back through a phase that was missed. Celebrations of success should occur throughout the organization as the vision grows, changes and is implemented. Coaches should guide late adopters and laggards as they begin to recognize that the vision is moving forward and that they will need to accept the change as the new normal. Both leaders and coaches should help innovators and early adopters stay focused on the vision so they don’t disrupt it by moving on to the next new idea. Along the way, strategically develop, gather and assess evidence of successful change. Allow new leaders to arise within the organization as a result of this new adoption. Watch as fear turns to excitement when all paths converge toward the same goal. Listen without judgment to the casual conversations that spring up about how the change is impacting the organization.

Leaders are at their most effective when they are guiding individuals who can self-navigate, just like they do when the detour happens on the way to work. This is why you should empower all individuals in your organization to problem-solve within the new initiative. The final measure of success is the building of sustainable structures where personnel can change while the vision and culture remain. It is at that moment that you realize you haven’t just rearranged the chairs but you have transformed the organization.

Learn more about guiding your organization through sustainable change at our session at ISTE 2015, the world’s most comprehensive educational technology event. Register now to get access to three powerful keynotes and more than 1,000 sessions and learning environments.

Annette Smith earned her Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy analysis from University of Wisconsin-Madison and is the director of instructional technology at Kara Gann holds a M.Ed. in administration and is the strategic account manager at Schoology. They both served on the ISTE Board of Directors, earned Presidential Service Awards and ISTE Making IT Happen awards, and have over 60 years of combined educational experience. They co-own Smith and Gann Educational Consulting.