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To Everything, There is a Season: Lessons in Change Management

Post by Matthew S. Helmer

For most of us in the United States, the upcoming weekend is a big one — Sunday marks the start of daylight savings time. While I welcome the opportunity to once again leave the office before darkness falls, as the parent of a young child, I’m bracing myself for a few days of disrupted sleep patterns and a few meltdowns (including my own).

It’s a season of transition, which we humans experience quite often. And although change is omnipresent in our lives and workplaces, it still creates discomfort for even the most adaptable among us. I recently assumed a new, broader role in my organization, and I’ve been experiencing the full force of the roller coaster that is change management.

Since I’m sitting in the thick of it, I thought I’d use this week’s blog to share a few tips I’ve picked up in this most recent dance with the change monster. None of these will help with the impending sleep deprivation, but I hope they’ll offer some comfort to those in a similar situation — whether it’s a new job, a complete career change, or an opportunity to spearhead a big project.

Create a Shared Vision

And keep sharing. Whatever the opportunity is, you’ve been chosen, so seize this moment. Take every opportunity to describe where you want to go and how you’ll get there. As both a leader and a colleague, creating buy-in with your team requires intentionality in crafting a shared vision of the future in which people can clearly picture themselves. Communicate your expectations and allow space for others to contribute their ideas and talents to the task at hand — whether it’s building a new organization or revamping your endowment reports.

Consult with Others

Some of you may be true pioneers — boldly and literally going where no human has gone before. But most of us know someone in our network who has faced a similar transition. Supervisors, colleagues at other organizations, your high school BFF — everyone has lessons to share from their own experience with change. Call in favors and soak it up like a sponge. In the past several months, I’ve benefitted from the generosity of friends, mentors and fellow professionals who have willingly shared their advice, in both formal and informal settings. If your organization can support it, connect with a professional coach in your field or take time to learn from others doing similar work. I’m currently on my way home from a campus visit to one of our Board-identified peers, and my brain is swimming with ideas that will bolster our team’s effectiveness. It’s a great reminder that we don’t have to go it alone.

Be Patient with Yourself

This is a mantra I repeat to myself multiple times a day. It’s rare that effective change happens overnight. Like me, you may walk into your new opportunity with a zillion ideas, itching to go. Give yourself time to collect the information you need to know to make informed decisions about next steps and bring others on board with the plan. Look for “easy wins” that move a project or organization forward, and choose one or two “big rocks” as a priority to accomplish in the first few months to a year. I recommend looking for improvements of importance to leadership and/or those that, once implemented, will serve as a launching pad for other needed changes to follow.

Be IMpatient with Yourself

Equally as important as the previous point — don’t let yourself off the hook. Change can be hard, and it definitely is hard work. Progress rarely happens without resistance, and while adjustments to your approach or timeline may be necessary, don’t let it bring you to a full stop. All too often we can lose our momentum and focus when we encounter entrenched attitudes and processes whose time has passed. Steel yourself for the journey ahead and push forward. There is a truth to the age-old concepts of “honeymoon period” and “striking while the iron is hot.” Map out the list of changes needed and get right to checking off the most critical. With visible success under your belt, you’ll be better positioned to keep pressing forward with improvements.

BE the Change

The habits and mindsets that brought you to this new opportunity aren’t necessarily ones that will best serve you moving forward. Pick up a mirror and spend some time evaluating what works about your approach and what can be improved. Time management, communication style, how you manage up, and even exercise and eating habits — a big change in your work may require a big change in YOU. Upon reflection, enhance what serves you well and shed what is getting in your way. A time of transition at work can be a state of metamorphosis for both your professional and personal self. Take advantage of it to refine who you are and how you do you.

These are just a few of the strategies I’ve discovered to be helpful in navigating my new reality. Taking my own advice to consult with others, I wonder — what are some of yours? We all benefit from hearing best practices in this arena. After all, as another old, all-too-true saying goes, “The only constant is change.”

With gratitude,


DRG Group member Matthew Helmer serves as Assistant Vice President of University Advancement at Colorado State University. You can find him at Starbucks every day next week, attempting to cope with the sleep deprivation. But let’s be honest, you can always find him at Starbucks. Tweet him @ExperienceGuru or connect on LinkedIn to share your best tips for managing change.


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