Recently, I was talking to one of our clients who is in a religious community and she was worried that we would grow frustrated with how slowly her organization adopts change.
This got me thinking about an interview I read with Condoleezza Rice sometime back on how she had to deal with getting a slow and ponderous organization – in her case the U. S. Department of State – to change to the new realities of the world after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
She was asked what piece of knowledge from her academic career she found most useful in the State Department.
“I found it useful to remember that most institutions don’t want to change. They’re institutions because they’ve developed a certain set of traditions and norms and expertise, and change is hard. A lot of work I’ve done as an academic affirmed that usually institutions change when they’re failing. It’s very hard to make change when they’re succeeding. They take the cues too late from the environment. The question is how do you get a relatively successful institution to respond to really new challenges.
I found three things helpful. One is that you paint a picture of other times that the institution has responded to change and difficulty successfully. Secondly, [it helps] if you can find in the institution a counter narrative that supports the direction of change. And finally, you have to look to see whether there are impediments to people doing the right thing. Mostly in good organizations, and the Department of State is certainly one, people want to do the right thing – they don’t want to be obstructionist – but sometimes there are things that make it hard for them to do the right things.”
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