Monday, November 2, 2009

The New Equilibrium

Just a short 18 months ago, I remember a hallway conversation where someone said that “new ideas had trouble seeing the light of day around here” because too many of us had the habit of quickly punching holes in a suggestion that might lead to doing things differently.  The good news is that new ideas are far more welcomed here than ever.  The bad news is that new ideas are far more welcomed here than ever…

The past week or so has provided the opportunity to have multiple conversations with individuals and groups about the pace of change at the College.  We talked about it at a Cabinet meeting and a Think Tank meeting, where comments were made regarding the emerging sense that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of all the changes.  It’s not just about the reorganization, change is coming from all angles - a tweak to this system; a shift in that office; a sudden refinement to whatever process. The College has been very successful for sixty three years – certainly some changes were needed, but now it feels like everything is changing.  In addition, the pace of change is straining our ability to keep everyone informed of this or that change.  In short, it’s just hard to keep up!

Although adjustments will still need to be made, it’s incumbent on all of us to let a few things settle in for a bit – to the extent possible.  Having to respond to double digit enrollment growth, it’s challenging – if not impossible - to say slow down.  I think it’s more, really, about working together.  It’s making the extra effort to talk through differences; reach common priorities; and leverage change for the greatest return to our students.

Concentrating our efforts to make system changes, and include communicating with others in a timely fashion, so that we can all  make better use of our time and increase our success is most important (it’s not always about allusers emails or an hour meeting just because we scheduled an hour). 

Certainly refining our processes is important, but we also need to think about how those changes effect other areas of the College – taking care to address concerns openly as they arise, to insure that all those who want to be part of MVCC’s future are able to do so.  Keeping the big picture in mind and thinking through the timing of changes will help everyone thrive and minimize change fatigue throughout the College.

These notions of change prompted me to revisit a blog post of mine from last May on the punctuated equilibrium model of change – Tushman and Romanelli’s notion of organizations experiencing periods of equilibrium interrupted by punctuations of change.  They stated that a healthy organization can move from a state of equilibrium to punctuation and emerge stronger and healthier as it experiences the next period of relative equilibrium. When the next punctuation occurs, it's generally shorter because the organization is better-equipped to handle it. Over time, as the organization becomes stronger and more effective, the periods of equilibrium are shorter so the punctuations come quicker, but they are less significant because the organization is better equipped to respond and absorb the associated changes.  Safe to say, we’re experiencing a fair sense of punctuation right now - but I know we’ll get through it and catch our breath in the new equilibrium.  If you have any thoughts on this, let me know at presblog@mvcc.edu.