Tools to Help Staff and Members Navigate Change

We all know change is hard. But change is coming, whether you’re ready for it or not. Learn how one young professional has helped her members and colleagues better manage change.

There has been a lot of talk about change management in the association space and beyond. For example, the ASAE Foundation’s ForesightWorks research initiative discusses the need for association leaders to understand the external forces and trends that could make or break their organization’s future success and to use foresight to practice deliberate, evidence-based change management.

So, as a young professional, what can I add to this ongoing conversation? I’d like to share a few experiences I’ve had while working with our members at the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Change Leadership

In October 2017, I co-presented a session, “Leading Change,” at ASCE’s Annual Convention based on John Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change. We used two exercises to demonstrate the importance of mindset and communication when planning for and implementing change.

The first activity was an icebreaker based on the improv comedy technique “Yes, and,” where performers never reject a partner’s idea. Instead, they say, “Yes, and” to move an idea forward. In teams of two, participants had a conversation using “Yes, but” and then one using “Yes, and.” The exercise showed how “Yes, and” thinking can improve brainstorming and encourage idea-sharing by holding judgement, accepting ideas, and building on them. Next time you or your team are considering new strategies or trying to implement change, try to come from a “Yes, and” mindset. You may be surprised with how far it can take you.

The second activity was based on the popular “telephone game,” where a member receives a message and passes it down the line, only to hear a very distorted version at the end.  According to Kotter, one of the most common errors made during change initiatives is under-communicating the vision. This exercise not only highlighted the possibility of a change message getting altered as it passes from person to person but also demonstrated the importance of having a robust communications plan for change and to overcommunicate.

Change Readiness

In addition to presenting on change, a group I help support—ASCE’s Committee on Advancing the Profession (CAP)—recently led a change readiness and alignment workshop to determine priorities based on its current reality, which was defined by a preliminary SWOT analysis. Through a spectrum-line activity, we gauged the group’s openness and willingness to change by asking participants to “agree” or “disagree” with a series of statements. Participants positioned themselves along the spectrum line, indicating their position on each statement. This exercise got people to open up about their thoughts on change and whether there was a need for change.

One of the concerns we had about the process was members resisting it based on a fear of some committees being eliminated as a result. Because of this activity, a member expressed this exact concern. However, two other members then shared similar experiences of committees sunsetting and discussed how they were still engaged and active with CAP and ASCE, which eased concerns.

As the examples above show, there are many tools at our disposal to help members and staffers manage change. When planning for your next change initiative, consider incorporating some lesser-known activities that may lead them down a different path of thinking and will also make change efforts more enjoyable.

Most importantly, be intentional with what you are doing and why you are doing it. Be upfront with members and clear about how you will use the information collected. Finally, try to have fun in the process.

What kinds of change management activities have you led, or participated in, that were effective and perhaps even fun? Please share in the comments below.

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Susan Davis

By Susan Davis

Susan Davis is manager, professional activities, at the American Society of Civil Engineers in Reston, Virginia. MORE

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