“She generally gave herself very good advice (though she very seldom followed it), and sometimes she scolded herself so severely as to bring tears into her eyes”

Occasionally staff have asked me: “How do you know what is going to happen? You seem to have a knack for understanding where we need to be”.  I try to strategize and act on the best advice I can get …and yes, I sometimes scold myself for not following very good advice.

There is a constant demand for Boards and CEO’s to interpret the world, take best advice and act on it.  In the social/health sector of charitable agencies it is a turbulent time with many contradictory messages. In mental health the old institutional/ medical model has been challenged by the new business and client centred paradigms.  The outstanding question is: If we see a promising approach to building better Toyotas, and it seems to work for knee replacements, then why can’t it also work for mental health treatment and care? Many agencies have responded to this question with an increased emphasis on efficiency, quality improvement and continuous change.

Change management requires conviction that without changing, your organization may not exist in the future. Identifying where you want to be, and what change is required to get you to that goal requires an openness to ideas around you, and a willingness to consider what is possible.

“I could tell you my adventures—beginning from this morning,’ said Alice a little timidly: ‘but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

Alice was dealing with her existential reality.  Her experiences, perception of others and perception of self were evolving. Like your organic self, , your organization is constantly regenerating and changing.  Being more focused on her values may have prevented Alice’s  existential crisis. Your organization’s values, mission and vision, in general, do not change.  Look to them to provide you with the stability and security to take charge of changes and move forward.

Here are 5 key questions to help guide your organizational change decision-making process:

1) How are you different?  To properly plan your service direction you must be able to see the big picture, at a system level, and understand how your agency fits within that system. In mental health and addictions that task has been made considerably easier by the work of the Niagara Mental Health and Addictions Charter. However, it goes deeper than just knowing where you fit within the system; you also need to know how your role is different from that of other organizations in the system. In business this is called the competitive advantage, and it’s not too different in human services.  To stand out, you need a clear identity. If you can’t distinguish yourself from others, how will your funders and supporters ever be able to?  Ask yourself: “Can I describe my agency in an elevator speech that distinguishes me from all the others?

2)  Are you letting the how override the what? It is important to draw on promising practices and new ideas that could inform your organization’s work. For example, process efficiencies identified at Toyota sparked change across a multitude of other sectors. However, when considering new ideas and what is ‘possible’, many organizations fall into a trap of quickly dismissing an idea because of all the reasons why it won’t work. It is important to think of the consequences and impact, but not to the detriment of the idea itself. For example, the boards of CMHA Niagara and Pathstone Mental Health had recently decided that it was work exploring the integration of the two agencies. This led to many meetings and questions regarding potential challenges, but never to the detriment of the initial idea. The organizations have stayed anchored in the idea that clients could potentially benefit from greater integration of the two agencies.

3) What are the consequences?  After you have gained some preliminary understanding of what is possible for your organization, it is important to thoroughly examine risk. This is a two-sided process; it includes assessing the risk of making the change and the risk of not making the change. This is commonly referred to as ‘the burning platform’ – you have to figure out how to save your organization, or risk dying in the blaze. In the example of the possible integration of Pathstone and CMHA, ‘burning platform issues’ include: funder initiatives demanding a better system of transitioning children to adult mental health services; an increased demand for decision support at the agency level; an environment of mergers and amalgamations; and ongoing pressures for efficiency and cost cutting.

4) How do I change my culture? Let’s assume that you have made the decision to change some program, service or even your entire organization’s trajectory. One of the messy tasks that remains is convincing your staff and stakeholders that a new way of providing service is required. The article Corporate Culture an Important Part of Change Management, delineates the need to first understand your existing organizational culture and overarching values. The subsequent article How to Change Your Organization’s Culture outlines how really tough this is. In my personal experience when CMHA South Niagara and CMHA St Catharines were newly amalgamated (later to become CMHA Niagara), the process of developing a new culture took over 2 years.

5) When do I change? A fairly easy question to answer is, “How is your organization performing right now?” A more difficult question, and perhaps the more important one to answer is, “How will your organization be performing in five years?” Deciding when and how to change is no easy process and the analogy of the boiling frog rings true. If placed immediately into boiling water, the frog jumps out, but if placed in cold water and the temperature is gradually increased, …well…obviously, the ending is not a happy one.

In my final blog, Following the Plan: What Do We Need to Do?  I will look at some practical strategies for measuring the temperature of your water.

George Kurzawa
Executive Director
Canadian Mental Health Association, Niagara Branch

Previous Blogs in this Series:

For additional information and support please visit the Niagara Community Foundation’s Centre of Excellence in Non Profit Governance

Use the icons below to Share!