Maintaining Balance While Leading Change

Michael Smull---May 2021


Becoming a person centered organization requires changes in thinking, policy, practice, and structures. It is substantive change and how that change is managed matters. Substantive change, changes in how time is spent and what it is spent on, changes in performance expectations, causes dysfunction while those effected become competent in their new expectations. Change in the structures in which people do their work causes more dysfunction. Concern about losing and then regaining competence, uncertainty about roles and expectations creates resistance. The frequency of substantive change impacts the duration of dysfunction, morale, and performance.


Substantive change requires time to “digest”. The more the change impacts performance expectations the longer the time required. Those who are being told to change first need to understand what is being required, how it is different, and what impact it has on performance expectations. They then need time to implement and regain competence. Finally, they need recovery time. Climbing a learning curve takes not only time but energy. There needs to be an interval where people get to settle in. It also matters how the change is perceived by those who are required to change. Is the change seen as required but not needed or positive? Is there buy-in, is the change is seen as needed and beneficial? If there is only compliance pressure, resistance increases, and implementation will be affected. If there is positive pressure for change, resistance is lower. New competencies are achieved more quickly. With positive pressure, implementation is likely to meet the spirit as well as the letter.

Because substantive changes need to have time to be assimilated, enough time is needed between them for people to be comfortable with their new performance expectations before a new set of expectations are introduced. Even when those who are the change targets perceive the change as positive, if they have not had time to recover from the effort to regain competence, a new change will decrease moral and increase the time for effective implementation.

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