Managing the Strategic Risks That Come with Change

Change is inevitable in today’s market place.  If The Fedcap Group—or any other nonprofit—is to survive we must remain relevant and attuned to the evolving demands and the competitive environment.  I have learned that there are strategic risks leaders must address to ensure an ability to respond to a changing market.  This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but it hits the imperatives: 

Culture. It is imperative that leaders pay attention to the prevailing culture within the organization. We all know the phrase “culture eats vision for lunch”.   It is the truth.  Culture is really understood by spending time talking to people from throughout the organization.   Do not assume that you have a responsive culture because people are responsive to you as a leader.   Do not assume that you have an innovative culture just because people tend to be positive about change in a meeting.  As leaders, we have to work hard to develop a culture that embraces change as a way to improve the outcomes for those we serve.  We have to tie every decision, every new leadership position, every operational change, and every organizational improvement to this goal.   It has been my experience that the majority of staff will get behind an idea or a change effort—even if it is significant—if it is founded on improving the outcomes for those we serve.  

Talent.  While we may not start the change process with all of the right people at the table, it is imperative that as we move forward, we secure people with the needed skills and experience to execute and maintain a change initiative.  Recruiting and onboarding high-quality talent takes some time—so start now.   You will need both leaders and doers—and hopefully the same person does a lot of both. 

I look for people who are able to obtain buy-in from critical stakeholders, individuals who are able to dissect the effort and then structure the work to accomplish the tasks and who effectively create a sense of urgency.  

Technological Investments That Produce Data.  Lack of data is often a critical constraint to effectively undertaking organizational and programmatic change. Core legacy systems may not be able to provide timely and accurate information and analysis for business decision making. In other cases where organizations have grown inorganically through acquisitions, (such as The Fedcap Group) critical systems and data sets may not be seamlessly integrated to give comprehensive real-time insights on key business issues. Thus, often, core data and IT infrastructure have to be improved –and this often occurs AS process and operational changes are occurring.

Alignment in Priorities.  Effective response to the changing marketplace requires commitment, alignment and sponsorship from key corporate players.  Without the right level of commitment by all critical parties, change efforts can be delayed or become harder to execute. Misalignments do not always occur due to major disagreements or conflicts among stakeholders. Instead, they can occur because different key staff prioritize their work differently.  Thus, aligning the agency primary goals and change processes is required for organizational success. 

Clarity. Change efforts can also fail due to ambiguity about the end goal for the change.  When there is ambiguity of purpose—the project and system requirements may not be precisely specified. The programmers and developers of the system may provide their best interpretation of user requirements, but specific needs may be lost in the interpretation. This can lead to the development of systems that do not meet end user needs.

Getting Comfortable in the Unknown.  Prior experiences can be a very powerful constraining force. That ubiquitous phrase “this is the way we have always done it” is the death knell for effective change and response to an evolving marketplace.  It is imperative that staff at all levels become increasingly comfortable operating in the “gray”.   It’s natural to desire a clear direction and sense of control in our day to day work.  After all, the unknown can be intimidating.  But while it’s certainly comforting to have specific instructions provided at work, a constant need for clarity can limit the potential of any team. Changing habits can be hard and removing enablers of old habits is a critical talent shift if positive change and response is to occur.