Are you ready for some change?

Analyzing change models helps you beat the odds and succeed

An old joke still making the rounds goes, “How many g.m.’s does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: “CHANGE!?”

We all laugh at the joke because we know it’s true; public broadcasting doesn’t exactly embrace change. But it’s a rueful laugh because we know we must change to survive and thrive.

In public broadcasting, we talk a lot about the need for change but very little about change itself. It may surprise you to learn that more than 70 percent of change initiatives fail.

Now, as the system starts work on CPB’s Major Giving Initiative, it’s a good time to explore the dynamics of change. With better understanding we have a better chance of achieving successful and lasting change.

Change ain’t what it used to be

Change itself is changing. The pace of change is accelerating and it’s more complex.

Once upon a time, an organization would notice a change in its environment, think about it, respond, and then have time to live a while with the “new normal’’ until the next change came along. Now change doesn’t wait for us to work through one challenge before it thrusts the next one at us. It often feels as if one change after another is piling up around us. No wonder the world feels so chaotic. No wonder we’re stressed. No wonder conflict in our organizations is on the rise.

Change is increasingly complex because our world is far more interconnected today than in times past. As a result, it’s impossible to predict fully the consequences of any change we initiate. There are too many unknowns and we have only limited control over the few we do know about. With such a high level of uncertainty, it’s a wonder we attempt any change at all.

Change models help us simplify and understand change by focusing on one aspect of the situation. They clarify our view by approaching change from different angles.

When we find models that helps us understand a situation, we can use them separately or together to create a road map to navigate through the conflicts that often accompany change. Here are three simple models that clarify the dynamics of change.

BULLET What, how and (don’t forget) who. Change expert Linda Ackerman Anderson says any successful change plan must address three elements: content (what is changing), process (how the change will be made) and people (who is involved or affected).

What represents the focus of our change, for example, the addition of major giving to station development portfolios. We naturally spend most of our time on this element, exploring an exciting strategy or innovation.

Eventually we need to turn our attention to how we will implement the change — zeroing in on meetings, budgets, timelines and staff assignments. Robert Altman and the Major Giving Initiative team have invested a lot of thought about how CPB will support the initiative across the public TV system, assisting stations as they implement this new fundraising strategy.

But we rarely put as much thinking into the who of change — understanding how change affects people and how we must win their support for change. We often assume that people will jump on board when they see the goodness of an idea and then are dismayed when we find that people not only fail to support the project but actively try to kill it! Failure to involve the people affected by change in a meaningful way is the key reason 70 percent of change efforts fail.

In the case of the Major Giving Initiative, Altman and his team may have defied the odds. They recognized early on that winning supporters will be crucial to their success. They crafted ways to involve those most affected by the initiative, upping the odds of success for everyone involved.

BULLET Baby steps or giant strides? Our second model recognizes that some initiatives involve such profound changes that we must pay extra attention to generating support for them.

Imagine a continuum of change initiatives. At one end, the change is incremental: We take baby steps, attempting changes entirely within the realm of what is known. These changes strengthen what already exists. They are understood by those affected and don’t feel risky. As a result, the potential for resistance is low. We can all think of incremental changes we’ve experienced. The TV world did not shudder when it moved from mono to stereo audio, for example.

Transformational change lives at the other extreme of the continuum. We take giant steps because the status quo no longer produces desired results. When changes seem risky, resistance is more likely.

Don’t be surprised if you can’t think of many transformational changes in our system’s history. With the high risk of radical change, we undertake it only when we’ve run out of other options.

By analyzing the depth of planned change, you can anticipate its potential to generate resistance and work to generate support through participation, focusing as much of your attention on the “who’’ as the “what’’ of change.

Keep in mind that a change can look incremental to people in one part of the organization and transformational to those in another. As stations gear up to solicit major gifts, for instance, you can imagine that broadcast engineers might see it as just another fundraising program. But for the development staffers charged with building the relationships and asking for the big gifts, it could spell a radical change in their roles and the skills they’ll need to succeed.

BULLET Doing the wrong things well. A third change model, described by B-school professors J. Stewart Black and Hal B. Gregersen, gives clues about how we can help others (and ourselves) let go of old ways.

Organizations become successful by doing the right thing well, making incremental improvements each and every year to serve their markets better. But, because the world changes continually, what was the right thing yesterday may be the wrong thing today. When we fail to recognize that circumstances have changed, we tend to work harder doing the wrong thing well, with ever-worsening results.

Even when we become aware of the need for change, we may not be able to identify the new right thing, or we may fear failure doing the new right thing, so we just stay where we are, doing the wrong thing well.

Think again about major giving. Net revenue from individual giving is declining, as we’ve known for some time. Many stations responded by extending pledge drives, but this incremental change wasn’t enough to stem the downward trend. Studies identified major giving as a strategy that might turn things around, but it took repeated presentations of compelling data to persuade stations that major giving is the new right thing.

So, how do we help people agree to let go of the old right thing and move toward the new one? First, use compelling data to build the case for change and create consensus around the new right thing. Commit the resources, training and learning time so that people can succeed at doing the new right thing. Most importantly, create a safe setting for people to learn the new right thing, a blame-free environment for experimenting and making mistakes.

When we take care to create a clear path through the learning phase to success at the new right thing, we engage and motivate people who are being asked to undertake the risk of change.

These three models represent the tip of the iceberg; there are dozens of ways to slice and dice change. The trick is to find the models that speak to your challenge and then use them to build the strongest possible plan to navigate change.

Public broadcasting veteran Cindy Browne consults on strategic partnering, change and organizational renewal.

Key concepts in the article are drawn from these books:
Linda Ackerman Anderson, Beyond Change Management (Jossey-Bass).
J. Stewart Black and Hall B. Gregersen, Leading Strategic Change: Breaking Through the Brain Barrier (Prentiss Hall).

Web page posted Sept. 8, 2008
Copyright 2004 by Current Publishing Committee


Transforming public TV: human traits are the major barriers, by Cindy Browne


Other articles published Feb. 23, 2004:

Twelve not-so-obvious things you can do to make change happen, by David Othmer

How you can find resources now to shape the future you want, by Dale Emerson


If you want change, you must deal with fears thereof, by Cindy Browne

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public TV and radio in the United States