Higher Ed, North Carolina, Public Health

Change is hard!

September 8, 2014

Change–happening faster, with shorter intervals

Web cycles: The first time I led the redesign of an organizational website, the process seemed monumental. At the end, we breathed a sigh of relief and thought it would be quite a while before we made any more changes. That interval was shorter than we all expected. Recently, when we led a cycle of website change and innovation at the School, we talked openly about making additional changes and fixing things that might have been disrupted. We also said then that the cycle to the next change period would be 18 months or less. If we were a private company and had greater resources, 12 months probably would be the outer limit.

This is not change for change’s sake. Standards evolve, tastes change, and attention fades when people see the same thing over and over.

Planning cycles: Strategic planning cycles also have gotten shorter. That’s one of the reasons we took a more unconventional approach with our SPH2020 process. (See our new flipbook, with an update about our progress.) We made SPH2020 an iterative, living process, building from early community discussions about what we wanted and expected the school to be in 2020. Leaders change, and when they do, there’s an assumption that the big plans should change. Reality is a lot more complicated, and people need time to implement plans.

Organization refresh: Organizations are organisms that need oxygen, fresh air and fresh looks. Just because we always did something a particular way doesn’t mean we always should keep doing it that way. Nor does it mean that we should change just to change. We should keep asking questions: What kind of school do we want to be in 2020? What kinds of forces are impinging upon us? What drivers of change are affecting us? How is the University (and its expectations of us) changing – including changes in the UNC system, regulatory environment, technology and the world around us? What core values and principles should endure and guide change? What are the potential negative and positive consequences of change? In a Big Think blog, Lisa Bodell talks about why companies resist change.

The “change is hard” mantra is at odds with our desire for organizations, including schools, to be nimble, to respond to change in an agile way. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “nimble” as quick and light in movement or action.

We are human, after all, and it’s not surprising that our feelings about these issues often are visceral, conflicted and fearful. Change happens even if we do nothing. We can own it and drive it or let it pull us along. Barbara

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The views expressed in this blog are Barbara Rimer’s alone and do not represent the views and policies of The University of North Carolina or the Gillings School.