My agency does a fair amount of training for other professionals. It is from that vantage point that I would like to offer a bit of advice for leaders who are investing in increasing their organizational capacity. First, congratulations for recognizing the critical importance of supporting both your staff members’ professional development and continuous improvement for your organization. That kind of commitment is critical for high-performing organizations. So please, stop undermining your efforts!
How exactly is it that leaders are undermining their efforts? Far too many leaders send their staff to training with the best intentions, and then the staff members — armed with new ideas and information — come back from the training excited and ready to hit the ground running . . . only to quickly hit a brick wall. No one is intentionally trying to thwart their efforts (or at least I hope not), however that is what often happens when no one has taken the time to consider an organization’s readiness to benefit from the new ideas/change effort/best practice information.
Organizational systems are designed to maintain the status quo . . . and that’s a good thing. In most cases consistency and predictability are what we want. However, when you are intentionally trying to infuse something new into a system, and do nothing to alter that system, if the system is working well the result is that the new idea/approach will likely be, if not shut down, certainly diluted in its impact. In effect, the effectiveness of your current systems is undermining your efforts toward change.
There is a way around this dilemma. One effective strategy can be to pilot the new approach — pulling it out from the current systems that are designed to support another way of doing things — to test its effectiveness. If you find that you want to incorporate the new learning on a larger scale, then you can make the appropriate changes to the systems. A similar but slightly larger scale strategy is to try the new way of doing things in a single department or program. Let a small group of staff members work out the bugs in the new system (yes, even the best plan will probably need tweaking to be most effective in your environment) before you try to roll it out agency wide. The most challenging path (but still better than doing nothing at all) is to try to change systems within the entire organization to accommodate a new approach. In most cases, starting small is the best strategy. Gaining little victories, adjusting as necessary, and then expanding the effort makes it easier to convince skeptics that the change is a good idea.
Organizational resources are precious commodities and as leaders we want to make sure we are getting the biggest bang for our buck. The best way to make sure you aren’t undermining your efforts — take a moment to make sure your organization is ready!