Creating Organizational Change: Staff Engagement

Change is hard. As we covered last week, we cannot just make program changes – we have to change the processes and procedures as well. None of those changes will make any difference if our staff don’t see the value of the new way of doing things.

You can, in some limited ways over a specific period of time, make someone do something. However, you will spend a lot of time monitoring them and enforcing change, and the quality of their work will suffer dramatically. In this scenario, everyone works harder for an inferior output. Plus, everyone feels put out at the end of the day.

It is much more efficient in the short term and the long term (and more in the spirit of wraparound) to spend a little extra time getting everyone on board with the change. Our staff don’t go into social work and mental health for the glory or the riches – they do it because they genuinely care about kids and families. If you can show them that your proposed change increases outcomes (ideally while decreasing some part of their own work over time), they will be excited. If you cannot say that the change increases outcomes or efficiency, then why are you doing it?

Engaging staff to a change isn’t just about getting them excited for the new way of doing things – it is also about overcoming their fear of change. What is there to fear? That the new way won’t work, or that they specifically won’t be able to do it. That it is going to be really hard, or require a lot more time. That their families/partnering agencies/whomever won’t want to make the change.

Org Change Barriers

We can deal with each of these, but only if we recognize the source. Fear of failure should be meet with scaffolding, skills building, intensive training, and ongoing support. Give your staff permission to fail sometimes little while they are learning. If possible, take a little pressure off them by reducing their caseload or holding off adding new families until they feel comfortable.

A concern that the new way won’t work is a different issue. Extensive coaching won’t help. What will help is research, specific examples or case studies, testimonies from families and staff who have experienced the new way, and other “proofs” of efficacy.

Regardless of what specifically your staff are worried about, it is a good idea to spend a little time explaining how the new practice will be the same or less work, or how you have reduced their workload to make up for the extra. No one will be excited about a process that requires more work without creating time for it. You should also help them understand what is in it for each of their partnering agencies so that they can get their team on board.

Fear of change can take a lot of forms. Resistance to the change. Checking out mental from meetings about it, or responding angrily. Public acceptance mixed with privately continuing in the old ways. Any of these can severely inhibit your change process – including impacting new staff as they come on board.

Real change can only happen with staff participation. Take the time to get them on board – it will be more than worth it.

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