Braille Monitor                                                    February 2008

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Leading and Managing Change in Public Vocational Rehabilitation

by Deana Graham

From Dan Frye: Dr. Deana Graham, program manager at the Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center, Division of Blind Services, Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, was the lead presenter on a panel that addressed the topic of effecting change in a center-based environment during the first plenary session of the Dare to Be Remarkable conference on Wednesday, December 5, 2007. She has distinguished herself as an expert on management change theory, and she took the opportunity to share her perspective and research on this critical issue with conference participants. The essence of the message that Dr. Graham delivered during the gathering is reflected in chapter five of the thirty-first Institute on Rehabilitation Issues (IRI), a chapter she authored which provides clear formulas and strategies for introducing change in public vocational rehabilitation programs. Dr. Graham’s reflections promise to be of considerable help to rehabilitation-center administrators and blind consumers who are interested in causing meaningful change to occur in local programs around the nation. No substantive amendments to Dr. Graham’s work have been made here; only changes to bring the writing and format into compliance with Braille Monitor standards have been made. Bibliographic references have been omitted. These may be obtained by acquiring a copy of the official publication. Finally, readers particularly interested in this topic may wish to read the entire IRI for broader context. Occasionally references are made in this excerpt that might be better appreciated with this additional information, but the main messages about change shine through nevertheless. We print below Dr. Graham’s chapter on change theory found in IRI XXXI:

Defining the Change Framework

Dr. Deana GrahamAs a leader you are often faced with change that is major in scope and designates a fundamental reorientation in the way your organization operates. This radical or transformational change requires a fast shift in mindset. Relationships change, both internally and externally, and systems change as the transformation process moves forward. Quick, significant outcomes are expected, and implementation of the new order is rapid, jolting, and often fatiguing.

The bad news is that making your organization what it should be and positioning it to create positive change in your community (not to mention changing the world) will probably involve transformational change. The good news is you already know where to start.

Transformational change begins with you. Renee Hanson, in Organizational Change: How to Survive and Thrive, states, “What organizational change ultimately requires is that people develop not just new skills and knowledge, but a whole new way of looking at things.” In the preceding exercises you envisioned a better future for yourself, your organization, your community, and your world. You have a whole new way of looking at things. Now you can take action to share that vision with others and work together toward making it a reality. As a Three-Dimensional Leader, you can begin building a framework for change.

Five basic elements are important to consider, regardless of the scope of the change. Successful change is dependent on how well you

Step One: Call to Action. Before you can even begin to deal with or lead major change, you must stop to ask and answer some tough questions. For example:

For the most part life is not made easier for leaders by major change. When radical, transformational change that is looming on the horizon has already begun as a result of outside forces or both internal and external factors are at work, the “why” questions are important ones to answer honestly and candidly.

Change occurs on multiple levels and is driven by multiple perspectives. The answers to the “why” questions are different based on perspective. The call to action must be designed to take into consideration as many perspectives as possible. It is important for you to understand your own perspective before you can effectively influence others to act.

As a leader at the top you must view change from a wide variety of perspectives, including its impact on the organization you lead. You may need to consider issues related to rapidly changing technology; national and state politics; funding; disability advocates; and changing local, state, and national regulations. You must always be cognizant of how to position your organization and use your influence to develop and sustain a positive, powerful vision for the future.

As a middle-management leader your issues relate to the internal operating systems of the organization, the partnership needed with your service community, and the impact you can have on the rights of people with disabilities. Your concerns may relate more directly to the quality of consumer services, meeting performance goals, communication challenges, and collaboration with internal customers and local external resources.

As a nonmanagement leader your questions may relate to yourself and your colleagues. How will the changes impact your ability to do your job and serve your consumers? How will the changes impact your status and influence? How will you work together with others in new relationships?

Regardless of the organizational level from which you lead, or which of the three dimensions you seek to influence, the call to action is a critical element in any framework for change. You must:

Step Two: Assess Attitudes. As the vision for change emerges, it is important to assess just where individuals are in their willingness to embrace the new ways of thinking, communicating, and behaving.

In order to move forward and proactively deal with the challenges of radical, transformational change, you must facilitate a confrontation with the undiscussables. These are issues that are critical to opening communications and building trust but have been too threatening to discuss in open dialogue. These issues become the proverbial elephant in the living room. Failure to deal with the undiscussables can make change at both the collective and personal level impossible.

How are the people impacted by the change reacting to the call to action? As a leader it is up to you to accurately determine who supports the change and at what level. In order to do that, you need to determine whether those impacted by the change are true believers, forced believers, or nonbelievers.

True believers, who are enrolled (fully behind the change) or committed (willing to actively enroll others), truly want the new reality promised by the vision. The committed person brings energy, passion, and excitement to the process. The committed person doesn’t play by the rules of the game. She is responsible for the game. If the rules of the game stand in the way of achieving the vision, she will find ways to change the rules.

Forced believers make up the majority of individuals impacted when radical, transformational changes begin to occur. These are folks who are riding the fence. They are not sure that the changes are positive on any level, but they are willing to reserve judgment, at least temporarily. Some forced believers exercise grudging compliance. They tend to dislike the changes and mistrust the true believers, but they are minimally cooperative in implementing changes, generally out of fear of retribution or job loss.

Another category of forced believers is the formally compliant group. They remain reasonably neutral about the new vision and changes but are always careful to obey the letter of the transformations, if not the spirit. They want to be perceived to be on board. They generally have a surface-level understanding of what is happening, but their heart is not yet in the new game.

Finally, the forced-believer category includes those who are doing their best to genuinely comply. They have some level of understanding and even agreement with the new state and are struggling to add passion and excitement to their belief. They are the best candidates to become true believers early in the process.

Nonbelievers are an inevitable part of all change processes. Individuals who take a stand in this category are either apathetic or noncompliant. Those who are apathetic were probably not very productive in the old order of things and will likely present similar problems in the new order. Their issue is less about change than job performance. Noncompliant members of the organization are those who have strongly held disagreements with the new direction of things. They may have been satisfied with the way things were done and remain firmly unconvinced that changes need to be made.

Every participant in the change process requires your support and encouragement. As a change leader you must manage the white space. The white space is the gap between what people do and say and what they think and feel. The larger the gap between action and belief, the more dysfunction the individual, and ultimately the process, are likely to experience. The goal at this juncture in the change process must be to provide forced and nonbelievers with as much information, support, and guidance regarding nonnegotiable aspects as needed to transition them to the ranks of the true believers. Ultimately individuals who are unable to embrace at least forced-believer status will leave the organization, voluntarily or otherwise.

True believers require significant amounts of encouragement and support as well, especially from the leader whose vision they embrace and whose call to action they support. As the new environment emerges, they are in the minority and outside the mainstream of standard systems. These are the transformational leaders who are willing to die for the cause and provide the energy and persistence all change processes require to be successful.

You Are Not Alone

Change is a process that relies heavily on overcoming inertia. As a change leader, once you have successfully negotiated steps one and two above, the good news is that you are well on your way to facilitating radical, transformational change. The other part of the good news is that you are not alone.

Step 3: Form a Powerful Coalition. As the change process gets underway, you need to identify the true believers. This is called “diagonal slicing.” Those who strongly support the changes embodied in the vision will be found at all levels impacted by the change process. They will have diverse work responsibilities, levels of power, informal authority, and motivations.

They will communicate within their work groups their thoughts and support for the new ideas and changes. At some point they will become a critical mass. There will be enough true believers to begin implementation of significant changes, provide training to other participants, and explain the changes to external constituents. Experimentation will occur and insight will be gained which will continue to improve services and create success. Nothing breeds success like success.

While true believers become a driving force for change, very powerful coalitions may be formed with others who share commitment to similar long-term outcomes. There may be dissenting voices among coalition members and a healthy diversity of perspectives. There may be opposition to some of the strategies planned to reach the change goal. However, if the coalition is aligned toward the long-term change, differences create opportunities for problem solving and alternatives that may be greater than those devised by true believers alone.

Step Four: Expand Commitment and Empower Others to Act. The change process is well underway. The entire dynamic of change is feeling and acting a bit chaotic. Transitions are occurring at different rates and levels. Overall productivity may be temporarily lower. Realignments are taking place, resulting in significant communication and management challenges.

You may very well feel regretful for having taken on the challenge of change at all. The prevailing insight tends to be, “If I had known it would be this difficult, I never would have started.” Transformational leadership is risky business and clearly not for the faint-hearted. This is the time to remind yourself that change in all three dimensions is necessary to the survival of organizations, community services, and opportunities for people with disabilities.

This is a time to expand the numbers of those who are true believers and expect others to move from grudging compliance to at least formal compliance and so on up the scale. You should expect true believers to spend a significant amount of their time teaching others about the new state. Experimentation continues, and useful insights lead to confirmation of valid ways of thinking, improved practices, new relationships, and value-added outcomes for people with disabilities.

Empowering others to act is a key element in any successful change strategy. Participants in the change who have the authority to make choices and the support to take risks will provide the innovative and creative ideas needed to move through the chaotic transition phase and into the new emerging state. Empowered true believers develop and create new systems and models that will provide small, successful wins, which can become the foundational building blocks for new structures within the organization.

Encouragement and avenues for sharing success stories must become a priority. Even small successes reinforce new ideas and behaviors and promote learning and professional growth. Overall confidence increases, and the number of people willing to give the new way a try grows. Participants have new experiences and develop new ideas and concepts, which result in new perspectives. Roles are redefined to match the new, emergent order of things. New roles encourage new patterns of action, and the cycle of empowerment begins anew.

Step Five: Consolidation, Mastery and Normalization. Eventually chaos subsides and life returns to a more manageable level of activity. The new reality is better able to meet the emerging needs of the internal and external environments. Values have shifted to encompass the current state. New technologies and systems have been mastered, informal organizational structures have reformed and consolidated, and all is back to a somewhat different normal.

Normalization, which is a necessary part of the cycle, can become a dead end. For transformational change to continue, the transformational cycle must be complete. The change process will continue when there is ongoing evaluation, reinvention, and realignment by 3-D leaders.

As a change leader in any of the three dimensions, you must be aware of pitfalls that often doom the best-intentioned changes: stagnation, illusion, panic, and exhaustion.

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