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Cynder Sinclair: Four Cs to Steer Your Nonprofit Through the White Water of Change

Are changes churning with greater frequency all around you? Do you find yourself trying to gain control over all these rapid-fire shifts? How can you effectively lead your nonprofit organization through such turbulence?

It’s not easy. It takes intention. And you can do it — by applying these four Cs.

Create a Culture of Change

Peter Vaill used the metaphor of white water to describe organizational change in 1996. In his book, Learning As a Way of Being, he claims the idea of a smooth-running organization is intrinsically invalid. Change constantly churns around us like white water, rocking our boat and making us feel off balance. Effective leaders, he says, acknowledge the omnipresence of change and plan for it.

Often the fear of change is what actually makes us feel out of control. Creating a culture of change within your organization will diminish the fear factor, giving you a greater sense of equilibrium. Develop a mindset of embracing change and treat it as a rock star to propel your organization to a new level of greatness. Reward employees, volunteers and board members who scan the horizon to find impending change that can lead to new opportunities. Celebrate their ingenuity. Chase the white water of change.

Once everyone in your organization gets accustomed to living in the midst of turbulence — and delighting in it — they will be less fearful and more successful than ever. Innovation will become your group’s mainstay and achievement your trademark. As the leader, be disciplined as you continuously refocus everyone’s attention on the treasures hidden in change.

Communicate Near and Far

For change to result in such positive outcomes everyone must buy into the vision. That takes communication at every level of the organization — staff, volunteers, board members, donors and other stakeholders. As the leader, you will look for and create opportunities to tell others about your unique approach to change. Invite their participation. You will convey the rationale and plan behind each change opportunity you pursue.

As Jim Collins advises, look out the window to continuously give others the credit for good ideas rather than looking in the mirror to pat yourself on the back. People like change when they feel it’s being done by them but not when they feel it’s being done to them. Look for ways to help others feel in control.

Remember that communication is more than just data transfer. Show people something that addresses their anxieties and evokes faith in the vision.

Calculate with Intention

Once you have laid the foundation for a culture of change and communicated this vision to stakeholders you can focus on one specific organizational change. To successfully execute such a change, you must build an able team. As Collins advises, get the right people on the bus. You will want to choose team members who contribute a diversity of ideas, perspectives and credibility within the organization. Building an effective team requires mutual trust and respect as well as a clear sense of direction. All team members must understand the rationale for the proposed change, the expected outcome and the benchmarks along the way. Each member will bring his or her own expertise to the team’s work, embracing each other’s differences.

The team will work together to establish a vision for the change, a case for engagement, and a strategic and tactical plan for execution. Accountabilities, timelines and measurement will be clarified. As the team progresses in their work, they will communicate consistently with all stakeholders to eliminate any surprises along the way.

Intentionality is key to success. The team members can’t take their eyes off the goal. They must stay engaged until completion. Then it’s time to celebrate your success. Applauding your accomplishments further enhances the culture of continuous change.

Carry On with Clarity

Now that you have won and celebrated your victories, it’s time for increased diligence. Teams can let their guard down, organizations can revert to old ways of reacting to fear, leaders can lose their focus on the prize that change brings.

Have you ever walked into a room of unruly kids, calmed them down, only to have them create more chaos as soon as you leave the room? Organizations can display similar behavior. It takes vigilance to maintain your positive momentum.

How do we maintain our focus on finding opportunity in change? It’s not usually as linear a process as the four Cs might indicate — in fact, successful change is often untidy. We keep a change in place by helping to create a new, supportive and sufficiently strong organizational culture. Yet culture alone isn’t enough — culture truly changes only when a new way of operating has been shown to succeed. Successful change can be fragile. To grow and mature, our approach to change must send roots deep into the organization’s culture. Thus, our unceasing dance with change flows continuously between new challenges and new behaviors, creating a more resilient culture.

Planning Your Change Management

For change to be your friend, you need a plan that intentionally incorporates many aspects of change management. You will want to tailor the various approaches to change management to fit your organization’s situation. Click on this link to find a treasure trove of resources on this important topic.

— Dr. Cynder Sinclair is a consultant to nonprofits and founder and CEO of Nonprofit Kinect. She has been successfully leading nonprofits for 30 years and holds a doctorate in organizational management. To read her blog, click here. To read her previous articles, click here. She can be contacted at 805.689.2137 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The opinions expressed are her own.

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