Overcoming the obstacle of change.

Those of us who are involved in shepherding organizations have to realize that change is psychological and that perfectly healthy human beings resist change.

Robert Evans is a clinical and organizational psychologist whose work is focused on change and resistance to it in schools and organizations, and on the challenges of leading innovation. He explains the psychological meaning of change as feelings of:

  1. loss
  2. confusion
  3. incompetence
  4. conflict

Evans tells us that while change is experienced in different ways by people, it almost always leads to feelings of loss, and people grieve the loss because it interrupts the patterns and rhythms of their lives.

Change often leads to feelings of confusion, and compels people to say, “Can’t we just do things the way we’ve always done them?” Change also leads to feelings of incompetence, and in order to avoid feeling incompetent, people will buckle down with what they know, rather than being open to what they don’t know. This is particularly acute in schools, because teaching is such a public profession, and teachers, naturally, don’t want everyone to come in and tell them what they’re doing wrong.

For leaders of change, it’s almost important to know and to remind ourselves that when change is in the air, it tends to provoke conflict – because we use change to bring up long-held grievances. So often, it’s not the change itself that people are arguing about, but whatever deep simmering resentment they’ve been feeling. They are being resistant because ten years ago somebody else got the prime parking space. Resistance as an emotion is not inherently bad, it is actually a healthy, normal response.

So how can we create circumstances powerful enough to overcome this natural resistance to change? Consider this Theory of Change, first offered by Dick Beckhard:

Vision x Dissatisfaction x First Steps > Resistance to Change

It is important to recognize that VISION, no matter how big it is or amazing it is, it will never be great enough to overcome RESISTANCE TO CHANGE. In addition to vision, you need dissatisfaction with the status quo, and you need to have clear first steps. When you have enough dissatisfaction, a strong vision and clear first steps then and only then will you be able to overcome the expected resistance to change.

What does this have to do with assessment?

Assessment sharpens the Vision; when you ask, “What does success look like? What is most important to measure?” you are sharpening the vision in the equation. You are finding more and precise words for what this vision would look like if you were to achieve it.

Assessment also increases Dissatisfaction – people start to ask, “Why would we keep doing this level of work when we could do better?” A rubric is an especially useful tool for increasing dissatisfaction – because it helps you compare your current level of work with the exemplary standard.

Effective assessment is a First Step. Just asking, “Do you think we measure what matters?” leads to clear first steps. It leads to, “Let’s do some assessment exercises. Let’s do a SWOT exercise. Where are we in our lifecycle?” Inevitably, not only are “first steps” established, but also “next steps.”

So, effective thinking about assessment makes change more likely. Effective assessment decreases Resistance to Change, because it involves people in the process of planning backwards from things that matter most to them.

In my years of working with organizations and observing resistance to change, I havecome to believe that there is one missing element to this formula: Leadership. The boss needs to understand and value assessment and needs to lead the way to implementing effective assessment in your organization. However, you must also understand that leadership exists all throughout organizations, and that a leader who continues to pose the assessment question from whatever position in the organization is leading everyone in the right direction – maybe not as quickly as he would like, but he is taking his co-workers in the right direction.

Are we there yet? Almost. Let’s take one last look at what we mean by assessment.

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How To Navigate This Workshop

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If you are familiar with this workshop, and you are looking to refresh your memory, we think the following steps about the Rubric, which is the tool at the heart of this workshop, might be most useful to you: