That is the question, really. I don’t have a particular desire to change all things around me. However, I have my instincts and ideas about where things go and how do we prepare for them. Here is a list of conditions that make an organizational change difficult.
- Change is offensive. Championing change is always perceived as a criticism of other people. Many people invest their time and names in particular ways of doing things. Suggesting to do it differently is almost inevitably an indirect criticism of others. You imply that either they did not do a good enough job when they developed the current system. Or that they somehow missed the need to change. Suggesting a change shifts the focus on the conversation from good things onto things that need to be improved – by very definition, to bad things.
- Change is risky. It involves a comparison between two very different things: one is a tried and proven, real thing. It may not be perfect, but we know for sure it works, and does not cause disaster. The other is ephemeral, imagined. It may or may not be better, but for sure carries a lot more risk with it – simply because it has not been tried before. The way human imagination works is this: it is very easy for us to imagine dozens of situation where the proposed new thing is not going to work. People can sit for hours and come up with new and new scenarios of how a new rule could be abused, loopholes found, and how it all can be ruined. That’s what we’re built to do: before leaping off a cliff, our mind predicts what could go wrong. There were people without this kind of imagination, but they all died out millions of years ago.
- Change is work, and no one likes to add something to one’s work load, unless it is necessary. While people may agree in principle that this and that need to change eventually, it is a very different kind of thing to say something needs to change now. What’s the urgency? It may be the case that just doing regular every day work well is more important that throwing time and resources at trying something new. Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke, right? (I like another one, If we can’t fix it, it ain’t broke). But however you cast it, change is work, and work needs to be justified differently than abstract ideas.
These are just the three top problems; more can be added. Yet no one was able to fool the need for change. It comes in either small voluntary increments from inside, or as hard, abrupt and painful changes from without. The small steps may look very large and very painful at the time, but it is a matter of perspective. When we neglect to change, stories like this one in Ohio happen. And such blunt and destructive changes could have been prevented. We do not need radical changes – just a message that things gradually improve. Professions that have learned to innovate and self-regulate, thrive. Those that only learned to defend their rights, but offer neither innovation nor self-regulation, get vilified and marginalized. Not changing is not really an option; it never has been.
I believe that if we add peer feedback mechanism to our evaluation system. It would be a great PR message, and it is actually very useful for culture building. The benefits are obvious to me, while the cost is relatively minor. The School already has very good faculty communities; we actually have very few conflicts, and a lot of support. The next logical thing would be to extend those traditions deeper into professional collaboration. It’s building on strength to gain more strength. It is a long-term project, results of which will only become apparent 2-3 years later. Learning about each other’s business takes a while; learning to trust one’s colleagues on professional matters is also not easy. But neither it is very hard; it has been done before. Here is another list:
- Change does not have to be offensive. It is not about you personally.
- Not changing is even riskier. Control your urge to see the worst-case scenarios.
- All good things in life are more work. Take it one step at a time.