Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tips on Change

In the first entries in 'Tips on Change' I'll describe the eight strategies for change that are built into New Earth Village's  SOAR approach to community development. These strategies were developed by Harvard Business School professor John Kotter based on extensive research of American corporations that achieved transformational change. See his easy-to-read book 'Heart of Change.' Here is the first of those strategies....

Strategy 1. Increase urgency
You may be thinking "Increase urgency! You've got to be kidding. If there if one thing we have in spades around here it's a sense of urgency. We're desperate for change." The truth is, lots of organizations are mired in muck and would dearly like to be in a better place, but they are held back by complacency. People have accepted 'what is' as normal. They don't like it, but they accept it - perhaps because they've lost hope or perhaps because familiarity has reduced the direness of the situation in people's minds. The need for change is pressing, but the desire to make change has slipped away.

If apathy exists in your organization, your job as leader is to increase the sense of urgency - remind your people in graphic, compelling ways that change must happen and it must start now. What do I mean by graphic ways? Consider the story of Chief Art Kessler and the people of Alta Lake in Northern Ontario.

Alta Lake is a community of 835 people. Conditions in the community were grave - high unemployment, poverty, extensive drug and alcohol addiction, limited education. Chief Kessler understood that unless change began soon, his people would not survive. But people were beyond caring, beyond hope. Kessler knew he'd have to do something dramatic to jar his people out of complacency and engage them in change. Here's what he did.

Chief Kessler bought 15 inexpensive digital cameras and invited 15 interested youth from age 10 to 20 to photograph their world as they experienced it. Kessler, a hobby photographer, held six sessions over three weeks showing the kids how to use the cameras and how to compose powerful images. Then, for two months Alta Lake youth captured glimpses of their life. At the end of the two months Chief Kessler and the 15 young photographers chose 150 of their best shots which showed Alta Lake at its best and at its worst.

Chief Kessler then invited the community to view the slides. Curiosity filled the hall. People were expecting to be entertained, but they were in for a surprise. The images they saw were both haunting and inspiring, and while the images came and went, Kessler spoke quietly of his fears for his people, of what he saw for the future of Alta Lake if they carried on as they were. He also spoke of the strengths he saw in these images, and of the possibilities for Alta Lake if they all worked together.

At the end Kessler introduced the 20 photographers. They received a long standing ovation. It was a powerful experience. Some were crying. The rest were quiet.  Then Chief Kessler invited any who were willing to commit to one year of personal and/or community development to stand. Eighty-three people stood. It was a watershed moment for the Alta Lake First Nation. They have never looked back. In that first year, they created a community vision, established an AA chapter, eliminated on-reserve drug trafficking, started a learning centre, a co-op daycare and a healthy foods co-op.

Hope, seeing possibilities, a hunger for change is essential to get change off the ground. Even five committed people who hold a passion for change are enough to start a movement. A sense of urgency is essential. How will you increase the sense of urgency in your community?

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