Swinging Lambs and Sacred Cows

In my last blog post I talked about the concept of “swinging lambs,” a practice used when a lamb is born with breathing problems where one grasps the lamb firmly and swings it aggressively in an arc several times in order that centrifugal force will expel the fluid in the lungs. The caution is to make sure you have a good grip on the lamb to avoid throwing it out of the barn. I also talked about the need to throw some “lambs” out of the barn, no matter how much we love them.

How to do we do that when the beloved lamb is a worn-out program that exists in our school? We all have those programs: meaningless award assemblies, labs or libraries that sit unused while taking up valuable space, or policies that no longer fit the task at hand and yet continue because “we’ve always done it that way.”

There are volumes of writings on making change in an organization, but today I’ll cite only one. In the Harvard Business Review article “Making Change Happen and Making It Stick,” authors Harshak, Aguirre, and Brown give us some concepts that can help us as we press forward for needed change in an environment resistant to change. They state, “Change is, at its core, a people process, and people are creatures of habit, hardwired to resist adopting new mind-sets, practices, and behaviors. To achieve and sustain transformational change, companies must embed these mind-sets, practices, and behaviors at every level, and that is very hard to do — but it has never been more important.”

Since we operate in an environment that is centered on the concept of community and operates as an association of families, this concept of change becomes difficult due to the myriad viewpoints that exist in our schools. Parents, teachers, administrators, donors, and the board may have differing views. Yes, we all care about the mission and the common goal, but every group may have a different concept of how to get there! The article goes on to point out some ways we can help change to happen in our organizations.

Understand and spell out the impact of the change on people.

This takes time, weighing the different viewpoints of all of the stakeholders involved. Sometimes, by mapping out the different stakeholders’ perspectives, you can identify common themes through which you can garner support on multiple fronts. Communicating (over-communicating actually) is the key to success!

Build an emotional and rational case for change.

We operate on both levels: some lean to the more emotional side, while others are data driven. You must build a case that reaches across the aisle and strongly carries the case from both the emotional and rational perspectives.

Mobilize your people to own and accelerate the change.

Start with your board and your staff as eager partners in this effort. I recently heard a wonderful devotional on the paralytic and the four friends who lowered him through the roof to be healed by Jesus (Mark 2). It took each of the friends to lift one corner of the mat in order to make this happen. Don’t do this alone; you can’t lift this whole mat on your own. Get your staff and board to pick up the corners with you.

The blunt truth is that most change initiatives are done “to” employees, not implemented “with” them or “by” them.

If you expect this to change the culture of your school, you need to engage the keepers of the culture to help them be early adopters and genuinely have a say in the matter. I have found that the best ideas come from the folks who will be responsible for implementing my plan.

Ensure that the entire leadership team is a role model for the change.

By entire, I mean entire! Once the decision is made to proceed in a direction, there is no room for those on the leadership team (including board members) to be anything less than enthusiastic supporters when in public. Close the door of my office and disagree all you want, but public dissension after the decision is crippling to any endeavor.

Embed the change in the fabric of the organization.

If you are able to start with small changes that everyone agrees on and gain small successes along the way, it will build momentum toward creating an attitude that is less fearful of change. Create a culture that is fearless to discuss the idea of constant improvement and dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Go, start examining the programmatic “lambs” in your flock, and start swinging!

– Joel Westa

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