Picture this: You're the new PTO president, and you have a brand new leadership team with only one returning officer, the secretary. You have wonderful new ideas and energy for a terrific year. But how do you get the members of your group to buy in to new ideas and new ways? They seem wedded to the old!
How can you share your energy and enthusiasm, moving them along with you without creating hard feelings? Will entrenched attitudes stop you? Your chances of success are better if you move with care.
First, it's important to understand where resistance to change originates. Many group members might not want to lose something they perceive as valuable. Say the group puts a lot of effort into a fundraiser that brings only a small return. You propose replacing it. Perhaps that fundraiser once met with better success. Maybe it was originated by a beloved former leader. In that case, ditching the fundraiser might seem disrespectful and a further loss of that leader. Or perhaps the fundraiser was a comfortable way for people to assume some responsibility without too much effort. The loss may involve pride in what they did.
Sometimes the change being proposed is simply misunderstood or doesn't make sense for this particular parent group. In the book The Fundamentals of Change, authors Kathleen Morris and Charles Raben state that if your members believe that the change "violates an important principle or commitment that the organization must stand by," your work in persuading acceptance of change will need to include a connection to the mission of your group.
Add the well-documented fact that most of us possess a low tolerance for change in our lives and the uncertainty that accompanies it, and the source of resistance to our new ideas becomes apparent.
So what kinds of circumstances foster acceptance of a change? Helping members understand what will be gained from the change creates a great foundation for moving forward. Perhaps the gain will be more money with less time and effort. Or increased feelings of achievement for the group and the resulting enthusiasm that attracts new members. The gain might be evident in the new light in which the group will be viewed (status and prestige) if the change is successful.
Change Is Good?
Members always welcome change more openly when they have a sense of ownership for the decisionmaking process that leads to the change. Sometimes, including the whole membership in the decision stage is possible; sometimes it is not. What usually is possible is for members to be included in how your working committee will implement the change. Reassure members that change does not imply criticism of past practices; in fact, honoring the past helps people manage change.
The following list of specific techniques may help with overcoming resistance to new ways of doing things. They are based on an article by the Rev. Charles Am titled "The Fine Art of Change." It was published in the November/December 1999 issue of Current Thoughts and Trends magazine.
Propose the change as a means of getting to an already accepted goal. Use your mission statement to support the need for the change. If you don't have a mission statement, take the time to develop one before you try to introduce anything new.
For example, let's say that one of the goals of your group is to promote improved literacy within the families of your district. In the past, you've sponsored a bake sale to buy books for the library. But you recently learned about research showing the connection between reading in the home and overall literacy.
What seems to make more sense to you, based on that information, is to sponsor a book fair that provides books to families at dramatically discounted prices. Both the book fair and the bake sale contribute to the overall goal, and baking and selling cookies might seem easier than organizing a book fair. Your best strategy in this case is to show how much more closely your new idea is related to the goal, extending the idea of reading beyond the library and into families.
Present innovations as extras, not as substitutes for the familiar. Even the most dedicated parent group members fear loss. In our example, the loss might be the camaraderie involved in baking together or the status of making the most popular cookie at the sale from an old family recipe. Is there energy in your group to do both activities? Or can your bake sale be directed toward meeting other goals? Rev. Am advises that you'll have more freedom to try new things if you protect as much of the old as possible.
Use short-term experiments rather than asking for long-term commitment. This relatively simple idea can satisfy both the need for a change and the need to protect favorite oldies. A trial or "pilot" provides for a review of the benefits and drawbacks of an innovation after an initial, fixed period of time. If the new idea meets the mission, was fun, and involved people meaningfully, it can be adopted for the long term. If it doesn't work out, it can be dumped without a huge loss of dignity or reputation for the leadership.
Welcome everyone's input. Your members are more likely to buy in when their ideas become part of the plan. The plan itself generally grows stronger when you use a collaborative process in its development. In our example, you could ask specifically for people's ideas about such issues as the timing of the fair, the location, what kinds of displays would be most effective, and how to publicize it to families. The list of issues that can benefit from input is almost endless with such a project.
Create a thirst for something new. Remind people that continuing to do things in the same way will most likely yield the same results. Results are unlikely to improve, and you won't move closer to realizing the big dream. For example, if you can tap into the energy of the dream that created the desire for higher levels of literacy for families in the district, people may more easily feel the hope that trying something new can generate.
Begin with the leadership. Explain your idea first to your core group of officers and other leaders. Collaborating with your committed workers first, then sharing with the larger group, can build a network of people who already support the change. They have their own personal sphere of influence with the group.
This kind of informal networking uses the avenues of influence that already exist to create acceptance for a change. If your key people agree with your new idea about the book fair, they'll help their friends see the wisdom of increasing access to books in the home. Your job of persuasion will be made that much easier.
Andy Warhol once said, "They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself." Most leaders appreciate the fact that to grow and improve, change is necessary. That doesn't make it easy.
Activist Saul Alinsky expressed that difficulty this way: "Change means movement. Movement means friction." Only in an abstract (nonexistent) world, a world where friction doesn't exist, can movement or change occur "without that abrasive friction of conflict." With some preparation and thought, the steps of implementing new ideas may not become free of conflict, but the process will certainly become more manageable.