Change Management: Bring on the Tea!

by Charlene Sorensen
Services to Libraries, University of Saskatchewan

I like to think I’m okay with change. The introduction of new and more efficient technical services processes – I’m there. The library needs to put some journals into storage to make room for more student-oriented space – I’ll gladly work on that. Coffee makes my heart race – bring on the tea.

These three changes actually have something crucial in common that allowed me to embrace them – I clearly understood WHY the change was necessary.

I recently learned quite a lot about change during a change management certification course. The methodology was robust and there were many tools available to participants to help us bring about effective change. The most interesting aspect to me was that the methodology focuses on the people side of change. This of course makes perfect sense in hindsight – in order to streamline a workflow, update an IT system, or implement a new service – each person involved needs to change something.

I have had varying degrees of success in trying to effect change in my area of the library over the years. I am hoping to put some new skills into practice in order to have my change efforts produce more successes than failures. Reflecting on this course and some of the work I see in my future, I have decided to focus on a few elements from my learning. I have summarized my thoughts into five areas that I think provide a decent starting point for bringing about more effective change:

There is a human need to know “why”
I think there no worse feeling than being asked to do something differently without knowing the reason behind it. Think about the last time this happened to you. Were you a “good soldier” and participate somewhat grudgingly? Or perhaps you even resisted the change, talking with your colleagues about how little administration actually understands your work? The next time you have some control over how a project (large or small) is implemented, try to be clear about why the change is important and the benefit people will gain by participating. This is a crucial first step to any successful change.

Change management is not a one-size-fits-all approach
Each person you work with will have different skills, knowledge, background, ability, adaptability, resilience, and attitude towards change. So when you are communicating about a change effort and why it is important (see above), remember to talk with people one-on-one to discover their concerns. You won’t know if your message is understood if you just send it by email or share it at group meetings.

Evidence isn’t enough to convince people
You know those times when something just seems so darn logical, or you even have the data in your hands to prove it, but still that change in policy or procedure just doesn’t catch on? At the risk of sounding repetitive, even the most logical change will have a hard time getting implemented unless people understand “why”. It is great to have evidence, but it will not be effective on its own. The awareness of the need for change and the risks of not changing really need to be communicated clearly.

Resistance is normal
Even if you do your best to communicate the need for change and talk with people individually about the change, there may still be resistance. The good news is that resistance is normal. At some point everyone will go through some questioning of the process and this may drain your energy and wonder if this whole thing was really such a great idea anyway… but don’t give up! Your leadership and persistence will bring people along, and for most the resistance will be a brief phase.

Not everyone will get on the bus
Despite your best efforts to implement a change at your institution, some people may continue to resist the change. I encourage you to not be side-tracked by the few people that actively resist your change efforts. In the long run, not one wants to be left behind, so continue your good communication and leaderly efforts and show everyone what a successful change looks like. There is a chance that the people actively resisting the change have not seen change happen in a positive way in the past. Your persistence and follow-through will provide a good foundation for more successful change in the future.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.