A strategy guide for student leaders by student leaders.
Reform, Change, and Goal-Setting
Reforms should be introduced at the beginning of the year. They should be specific, actionable, and based off concrete goals. The best change managers guide implementation and ensure buy in from all relevant parties.
You should always be thinking about ways you can improve your team and your operations. However, you should also be considering how you will implement change. Successful change management will have both a drastic effect on the effectiveness of your change and your ability to track its effects.
The best time to introduce a change is at the beginning of the academic year. You will have another smaller window at the beginning of the spring semester. Change during a semester is more difficult still. Therefore, all large changes should be made, if possible, at the beginning of the semesters and small adjustment can be made during the semesters.
At the beginning of the first semester, members are eager to get the year started and are receptive to change. It’s a period of transition for everyone as each grade gets used to being a year older. Especially at our age, a year can make every difference. With new leadership and new members rearing to go, there’s no better time to change the team than at the beginning of the year. Take advantage of this time and proceed with full force.
When implementing change, you must first analyze your organization and understand which strategies are helping or hindering your success. Consider what went well and what went poorly the previous year.
Once you’ve identified your challenge areas, take some time to understand if you want to invest the time and energy to fix them. Additionally, consider whether the pros outweigh the cons. For instance, when I implemented mandatory practices and tournament attendance for Speech & Debate, this cause some members to leave. Turn-over within an organization is theoretically a bad thing, but the change also made the team more competitive. Additionally, it attracted new members who were interested in competition.
Now that you’ve identified the goals of your change and which areas you want to affect, determine the least invasive way to make your desired change a reality. If you can reorganize your organization without introducing a new policy, that’s excellent. If you need a new policy, ensure that its scope is specific and targeted.
Once you’ve determined what changes you want to make, it’s time to plan your change strategy. Identify who will be helped and who will be harmed by your change. How will you mitigate those harms? Consider how much cost you’re willing to incur in order to get your change implemented.
Next, identify the members of your team who will promote your change and the members who will fight against it. Consider the steps necessary to make the change happen and how you will track its success. Review the history, and whether a reform like this has been tried before. If so, draw the lessons learned and design your strategy accordingly.
Coordination and communication are key to implement successful change. Your ideas should be debated, and when they’re agreed upon, they should be properly explained to the general body. There will be times when your proposed reforms are unpopular. Perhaps they change an old tradition. Perhaps they require a significant increase in member investment. Regardless of the change that you’re going to make, it’s significantly easier to adopt changes when your board is aligned with your ideas. In fact, if you can convince a board member that the change is his/her idea, you’ll be able to implement change without having to spend your political capital.
The easiest way to get alignment with your board members on reforms is to base them off the goals for the new academic year. At the beginning of each year, you should review the goals you had for the previous year and establish new goals for the upcoming year. These goals should be specific, actionable, timely, and difficult enough to be challenging but not so difficult that they seem impossible. During the conversation about goals, you’ll want to orient members towards the changes in policies that will be required to achieve those goals. The aim is to lead the conversation so that someone else mentions the specific policy change you want to implement. For instance, if you want more accountability for attendance, you might say something along the lines of:
“We want to be more successful at tournaments this year than last year. I think success in this area would look like a state championship as well as 10 people qualifying for nationals.”
Once you’ve gotten buy in that the goal is realistic but challenging then you might want to steer the strategies towards attendance.
“So what prevented us from achieving those numbers in the previous year?”
Inevitably, someone will mention that due to a dearth of practices or attendance, there were potential issues. At this point, you’ll want to ask what strategies could be put into place in order to increase attendance. Once suggestions start to flow in, you can then insert your own amendments. That way, by directing the conversation but not taking it over, you’ll be able to address the points you want to change and have your board members feel that their ideas are being implemented. Most minor reforms can be accomplished in this fashion. However, if you’re seeking to create a large change that affects a good portion of the organization, it may be better for you to lead to charge to demonstrate both your seriousness of intent and your willingness to take the fallout for anything that may go wrong.
Once agreements have been made on what changes are needed, it’s time to put them into action. First, you’ll need to bring all your members together to explain the change. As with your general policies, changes should be publicized and widely available. The consequences for abiding or deviating from the new policies should also be explained and coordinated with your evaluation system. As the year progresses, you’ll want to track how your change has affected the team compared to the previous year. This will provide you data on how best to tailor your adjustments as the year progresses. Document your findings so that subsequent leaders can benefit from your insights.