Anyone can change something. It takes a visionary idea and humble approach to evolve. Organizations crave leaders that evolve their practices and often scoff at those obsessed with change.
If there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that, no matter how much I read or write position descriptions, the statement “the successful candidate must like everything about the position” never seems to pop up. There’s a certain reality to any position, at any institution: we’re not going to buy-in to every policy, procedure, or practice. What defines a successful team member is often how they manage disagreement and dissatisfaction.
What is change? Ultimately, it’s the re-management of something. Matter changes state, but regardless of the phase (with some exceptions, chemistry friends!) you’ve got the same basic substance. Water, no matter frozen, liquid, or vapor, is water.
What is evolution? It’s the development and adaptation of something to a new environment or circumstance. Evolution allows something to more successfully navigate the changing world around them. The T-Rex grew arms for a reason, even if they look silly.
I assert that we should avoid change and embrace evolution.
One of the biggest frustrations supervisors may experience are anxious, smart professionals that always seem to have something to say about a policy, procedure, or practice. It’s easy to look at a policy, procedure, or practice and immediately pick it apart and compare to previous institutions or experiences. Being critical isn’t difficult. In fact, many of the things that professionals “change” will be “changed” again when they leave. It’s the circle of administration (and it moves us all!). How many times have we been in a meeting, only to hear “well, we tried it that way a few years ago and it didn’t work.”? Institutions, for as slow to “change” as they may be, have historically short memories at the departmental level.
To avoid change and support evolution we need to ask ourselves the following question when encountering something that frustrates us:
Am I frustrated, or looking towards change, because I just don’t like it or because there’s a problem and/or unserved need? Is it ego or need? Does this need to evolve or am I just looking to make my mark?
If a professional can honestly answer these questions, they’re half way there. Remember. You don’t have to like everything.
Always seek to understand. Buy-in is created through understanding. Be humble when approaching, especially with your supervisor or campus partner. How you ask, and what you ask, can create an overwhelmingly positive or negative impression. Start by being genuinely inquisitive:
- Prep your supervisor, team member, or campus partner for the conversation. “Lately I’ve been thinking about _____ and am curious how it evolved that way. Is there something I can read or reference to better understand?”
- Look for evidence. How do you know something is or is not working? What examples do you have? Are these examples aberrations (nothing is perfect) or are they long standing, systematic problems?
- Ask thoughtful questions. How did this policy develop? Who else does it impact? Who is involved in how these decisions are made?
- If after thoughtful inquiry you see an opportunity for evolution and development work with your supervisor and team members to run a structured inquiry, like a SWOT analysis. Individuals encourage change . Groups support evolution.
Our students needs typically don’t change – they evolve and develop based on the changing nature of communication, education, and identity. To serve these needs, changing, or just rearranging the existing parts, will never create the kind of environment students require to be successful. We’ll be spinning our wheels. Many lament that institutions are slow to change, but often that’s strategic. Being quick to change is irresponsible. Evolution is a slow, steady process.
We must also always remember that we only have so much energy and political capital. Picking what’s important and the most necessary as a team will allow us to create long term, sustainable processes, that are artifacts of evolution.
“Before you run out and change the world, ask yourself, “What do you really want?” – Swimming with Sharks (1994)