News & Views

A blog for those interested in what affects, motivates and drives the New York City Nonprofit Sector — written by CRE’s crackerjack consulting team. We hope you use this space to share your thoughts, ask questions and engage in conversations about our city, social justice and the nonprofit sector.

Making Change


 by Valyrie Laedlein - I spend a fair amount of my time working with nonprofit Executive Directors (ED) and Boards on workplans intended to make change happen within the Board of Directors.  Much has been written on leading a change effort and managing change, but something I came across today made great sense in the context of some recent client challenges.

Earlier this week I had one conversation with an ED who said his Board had done a lot of work with a national consultant (for whom I have a great deal of respect), but that he now needed help making sure that the change they’d discussed and planned for would “stick.”

In another conversation with different ED yesterday, the client raved about the strides her Board had made in functioning differently after a recent Board “retreat” that CRE had done with her board – and she asked us to repeat it with those who couldn’t attend in order to make sure “everyone would begin to change.”

The desire or need for change – and for sustaining change - is not exclusive to the Board room by any means.  To any Executive Director struggling with a less than effective Board, it seems to be one of the most challenging venues, however.  So what does it take to really make change, lead change, and make it “stick”?

In Chip and Dan Heath’s new book: Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, reviewed by Dan S. Cohen in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (Spring 2010), the brothers Heath suggest that successful change in any context is dependent on fundamental changes in people’s behavior.  Organizations, management teams, boards of directors - and the individuals within them – don’t transform without changes in how individuals behave. 

And how do individuals begin to change their behavior and then sustain those changes?

The authors of Switch suggest that three factors drive changes in behavior.  These factors, while they seem obvious, provide useful insights for how any of us might make change happen. 

  • The first is logic and rationality:  What is our reason for change?  How do we understand the importance and urgency for change?  As Executive Director or Board Chair, how have you brought your Board members along in thinking through the need to do things differently and to bring about a different outcome?  This speaks to the importance of taking time to define a commonly shared “end point,” so that the individuals whose behavior must change can see the logic and reasoning behind why that end goal is important and why their changed behavior is an element in achieving it. 
  • The second is emotion:   How motivated are we to get to a different place, and what is driving that motivation that extends beyond our logical reasoning?  How have you tapped into something deeper or more instinctual in your Board members that will spur them to action?  This element speaks to Board members’ passion for and personal connection to your mission, as well as the emotions that underlie our sense of a personal connection to each other.  Relationships among Board members, concern about letting others down, the emotional rewards of working with others to accomplish something together, are all powerful motivators for action and change (see blog of March 8, 2010).  To the extent that we create the opportunities for Board members to internalize their connection to our mission and to build relationships with those Board and staff who share that mission, we infuse the change process with the emotion needed to sustain it.
  • The final factor is environment:  What barriers to change are likely to obstruct progress?  By contrast, what can we put in place to sustain and encourage the changed behaviors we want to see?  How can we aid everyone in being more aware of the progress attained as well as the path ahead?  Environment, of course, encompasses those things over which we have little control – the economy; regulatory decisions; clients’ needs – all of which impact the potential and momentum for change (positively or negatively).  There are environmental elements, however, which a Director or Board Chair can affect and can use to support changes in behavior, such elements as:  the nature and level of information shared; whether meetings are structured to allow for and encourage new ways of behaving; and the nature of the working relationship between Board and staff. 

While the book’s authors have a much more creative way of presenting these factors (which involve analogies to elephant riding… just to whet your curiosity), even the simplest extraction of themes give us much to consider in terms of how we, as leaders, inspire, motivate and support change – within ourselves, as well as among our colleagues.  Disciplining ourselves to consider how we balance these three factors – logic, emotion and environment – is a valuable tool for making and sustaining changes within our Board, within our organizations, and even within our communities. 

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