Change management is something of a business jargon buzzword, and a relatively new concept, which is to say it developed in the late 80s and early 90s. But, it is an important management tool for any organisation that undergoes change. And arts organisations change a lot.
The concept is simple enough, when transitioning an organisation from one state to another the outcomes are likely to be better if a structured approach is used; if the change process is managed. Change can be difficult, it can create conflict and distress, yet it may be necessary for the survival of an organisation. The aim of change management is to effectively implement necessary changes in a controlled way that minimizes any negative impacts.
Funnily enough however, when embarking on any change process the first thing to be mindful of is whether it’s needed at all.
Why is change necessary? What change is necessary? Margaret Hansford, founder of Partnership Solutions
, is a leading CEO and change management consultant and facilitator. ‘I think it’s really easy for all of us to jump to solutions,' she says. We see a problem, think of a solution and go for that.
‘Often it’s much harder to slow down and think through very carefully what’s going on, to pause the need for change.’ But it’s likely to be better to think through the options or possible solutions carefully and explore them in a systematic way.
‘The picture may well be much more complex than it at first appears, so a period of analysis and diagnosis is really important,’ she says. Sometimes of course, change can’t be avoided and comes from outside circumstances, such as loss of funding. Yet, even then it is vital to accumulate as much information as possible, from as many different points of view as possible, before embarking on a particular course of action.
Following that analysis and diagnosis, it is important to establish clear objectives that the changes should deliver and frame the objectives in terms of concrete outcomes. It might be a 40% increase in audiences or a decrease in borrowings or debt to a particular level in three years. It might be diversifying where an organisations funding is coming from. Whatever it is, focussing the change process on the final goal helps everyone involved understand where the change is going and get a sense of how they can help contribute to it.
Clear and transparent process
Which comes to the third thing to be mindful of when undertaking any major change in an organisation – having a clear and transparent process with a written plan.
‘At the beginning of any change process it’s really important for managers, I believe, to map out the process so people know where they’re going, what the goal is, what the steps are, how they can be involved and how they can contribute,’ says Hansford. ‘People are basically sensible and even if we get to the end of a process and say, ‘Well, I’m pretty happy. I didn’t agree with that bit but I know they listened to me,’ that’s all that most [people] want.’
Similarly, documenting the plan makes it clear what has to happen and who has to do what, by when. It reduces confusion and change is confusing enough anyway. A written plan provides something that everyone can refer to and can be very motivating.
Finally, involving everyone affected by the change is really important, says Hansford. And it’s especially so in the not-for-profit and arts sectors where many of those involved are highly creative and passionate people, who are often extremely committed to the original vision of an organisation and are reluctant to see that changed. Making sure everyone’s involved doesn’t mean everyone has to be included in every part of the change management cycle. ‘We don’t all have to agree on the first decision or the vision or the outcome but we can contribute meaningful about how we can get there.’
The arts and not-for-profit sector is often a far more collaborative workplace and requires more collaborative decision-making. ‘I think in the commercial world there’s more expectation that the managers and executive team will lead things and the staff will implement. It’s quite different [to the arts],’ says Hansford. This can be compounded by the uniquely collaborative structure of many arts organisations where there is a division or a sharing of responsibilities, such as between an artistic director and a general manager. Such arrangements can make an organisation stronger but can also take more work and there can be more challenges too.
Not-for-profit and arts organisations also need to be far more mindful of managing their many and varied stakeholders. It’s not just shareholders, but audiences: existing, potential and lapsed, donors and artists, admin staff, board members and government funding bodies. The interests and passions of all the stakeholders need to be considered as does how they can be involved in the change process so they have a sense of ownership in the result.
Change almost always brings conflict but that need not be a bad thing. ‘I think as a society we’re pretty conflict adverse,’ says Hansford and we often don’t know how to deal with it well. ‘Conflict can be constructive when it’s about ideas. So if you’re thinking A and I’m thinking B, that can be a very useful discussion to explore the different issues; and it can be in fact quite a creative discussion. But it can be very harmful if people are conflicted about individuals and personalize issues.’ Just because someone doesn’t agree with you, doesn’t make them a bad person. It can be very easy to personalize conflict when passions run high which is all the more reason to have a clear process. It can also be a why an organisation turns to an outside facilitator.
Bringing in an outsider
There can be circumstances where a cool, disinterested eye is exceptionally helpful. In the arts everyone involved is there for a reason, they’re not disinterested. That’s what makes the arts so lively, says Hansford but that’s not what you want when you’re working through a change process. ‘You actually need to have somebody who is not committed to one outcome or another, to be able to manage the process and to make sure that the process is fair, that everybody’s heard, that the ideas are considered carefully.’ A facilitator can help balance not only different perspectives but different ways of working and usually comes with considerable experience of change management processes.
Developing the skills
Not all circumstances will require a change management consultant and not all arts organisations could engage one anyway, which makes it very important for arts managers to be aware of and to develop their own change management skills. The web is cluttered with information and books on the subject, though Margaret Hansford recommends, John M Bryson’s Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organisations: A Guide to Strengthening and Sustaining Organisational Achievement,
(Jossey-Bass, San Fransisco, 1995.) as useful reading. Many books outline strategies for commercial for-profit organisations, however with some sensible tweaking most of the steps are basically the same. She also suggests formal or looking to short courses, such as those offered through the Australian Institute of Management
Change takes time, it takes flexibility, and it takes respect for everybody’s position. ‘I think change is successful when the people who are initiating it, or driving it, take that time to work with people and to understand the range of ideas and to harness those through a process,’ says Hansford. And clear objectives, clear transparent process and a written action plans are really fundamental.