Engineering Change

Ready, Set, Go…Make Your Vision a Reality

     This article is about how to make your vision a reality. Last week in 3 Steps Toward Achieving Your Wildest Dreams we talked about the role visioning plays in achieving nonprofit sustainability. This week we address how to prepare your organization for the changes that will happen as a result of you fulfilling your vision.

     You’ve dreamt about your nonprofit becoming sustainable. You’ve envisioned getting more done with less time and effort. You’ve thought about taking that long-delayed vacation and spending the time you want with family and friends. You know what you want your life to be. Now, you’re developing a plan to make it happen. Remember, whether you think it can or cannot be done, you’re right. Believe your dreams can come true.

Engage in Planning

     The first step to making your dreams a reality is to plan out the steps you are going to take to meet your goals. Written plans are the most effective because they are tangible documents people can refer to again and again. You cannot plan for every contingency. But you can prepare to deal with them before they happen by knowing where you are headed.

     You start by formulating a strategic plan. And by strategic plan, I don’t mean get everyone together, have a retreat, and put what results on a shelf. No.

     Your strategic plan is a change management plan. It outlines how you are going to get from where your organization is now to the state you want it to be in. Your strategic plan outlines your agency’s path forward. You visit you’re your strategic plan often.

      If you share it and it is a working document, it keeps people all on the same page. Even during times of tumultuous change. Because your strategic plan serves as an anchor.

     And, if you’ve done the strategic planning process correctly, your board and staff have already bought into its goals. Whatever change you’re going to implement should help you reach the goals stated in the strategic plan. That way, people will see the change as necessary. It will be easier for them to understand why change is happening. They may still not like changing from the way things are, but at least they will recognize why it must be so.

Make Change Happen

     There are basically two approaches you can take when you decide to implement change: the incremental approach or the radical approach. Both approaches have their own pluses and minuses. Which approach you use will depend on your situation and the level of crisis your organization is facing.

The Incremental Approach

     The incremental approach is defined as small changes executed over a long period of time. You transform the agency one small step at a time. It requires a long-term vision, persistence, determination, and lots of patience.

     One of the benefits to slowly implementing change is that you have time to get people on board and prepare them for the change. You have time to work with your team, giving them the long-term goals and letting them come up with more short-term objectives and a plan for achieving them, including an implementation timeline, action plan, assignment of responsibilities, resources they need to successfully complete their work, how those resources will be obtained, and an evaluation plan. You, of course, will help them obtain the resources they require and be available to them as needed.

     Using the incremental approach also means you have time to evaluate and reflect on progress. As each milestone is reached, you have time to collect performance data, analyze results, give feedback, and celebrate success. The incremental approach also gives you time to run the numbers, determine the costs of the change, and build up dedicated reserves for the project.

     The main drawback to using the incremental approach is that it can be frustrating. It takes time to see significant results. During that time, people may become weary and give up on or just lose sight of the longer-term goal. It’s a lot of work on your part to keep your people excited about the change over significant periods of time and focused on the prize—the benefits.

The Radical Approach

     In contrast to the incremental approach, the radical approach is quick and drastic. It immediately removes what is and replaces it with something new. You see the radical approach most often when an agency is in trouble—when a crisis threatens the organization’s existence. If they want to survive, the agency must act now.

     In these circumstances, board members tend to have a do-or-die mindset. They may not agree on what exactly needs to be done, but they are open to strong leadership and swift action. Which gives you a lot of control over what will be done how quickly.

     The staff, though, is a different story. They may be blissfully unaware of how bad things really are. As a result, they don’t understand why the changes are necessary at the pace they are happening. Therefore, there is a lot of discontent. Which is passed through to the volunteers and clients. You end up in a short, bloody battle where you probably lose people. And things probably get worse before they get better.

The payoff is the organization lives on. And the upheaval doesn’t last long.

     The main drawback to the radical approach is that it is so disruptive. And usually not everyone survives. Either people are restructured out of a job, or they leave in frustration. There may be hard feelings.

Prepare Your Team

     When you are engineering change, tell your people what is coming and how to prepare for it. And when the change happens, let them know what to expect both in terms of processes and emotions. Reassure them they are up to the task. Give them encouragement along the way. When you complete the change, congratulate people on making the change happen and point out the benefits they are realizing. And help them continue in the new way of doing things.


Wrapping It Up

     The first step in moving your agency from its present state to a desired future state is to vision a new reality and write it down. Get everyone on the same page. Then start implementing the change, preparing your team for what lies ahead.  Give them the tools they need to successfully navigate the change in terms of organizational processes and procedures and how to deal with common reactions to change.

Next Steps

     Specific changes vary from nonprofit to nonprofit. We will talk in more detail about how your agency can move toward changing for the better, specifically regarding fundraising, marketing, staff motivation, and board relations, at my Nonprofit Star Quest live virtual summit to be held March 7-9. Register today for free at

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