Acknowledge Organizational History and Long Time Contributions
The notion that change takes time seems obvious, doesn't it? But it can be very frustrating for a new, passionate board member (or executive director) who has a clear vision of how things could be. To create change, we need to understand history. Culture is a function of history and members are the keepers of that information.
A. When organizations need to change, but current, long time members are satisfied with the current situation, they need to be heard and acknowledged before they can be receptive to change. Among the older organizations in the project sample, the strongest revealed a wonderful balance between respect for the group's historical legacy and a willingness to embrace change. Knowledge about the organization's history, values, mission, language and style was effectively transferred to new board members, and from one chair to the next. The legacy informed the way boards approached changing environments and new opportunities. With this shared historical foundation and commitment to continued impact, the full group can accept and participate in the new culture.
B. One of the board members from a membership organization observed that "you can't go too fast." The leaders who championed and shaped the strategic planning process took time to consider their actions frequently or "as often as needed" to sustain the dialogue with the other members of the board and the executive director. At each juncture, they asked others to voice their hesitations, worries and concerns. The questions raised during the process and resulting discussions (particularly about legal and image issues) were important to identifying problems and exploring resolutions before moving ahead. In this way, they felt that change was achieved with a high level of collegiality, respect and warmth as part of the process.
C. The older generation needs to believe that the work they did in grounding and establishing the agency was as important as the work preparing for the future. While change agents are eager to move ahead, it is crucial to ensure inclusiveness and participation of all. In one organization, it became important to nurture the founding generation during a time of enormous change. "If you lose the past, you cut yourself off from what was learned before. The wisdom of the elders was especially important to honor."
D. A board member from a museum talked about balancing the past with the future. With attendance growing each year, the museum was planning to modernize and expand despite the economic recession and uncertain outlook. As a century-old institution, the museum has clearly weathered many challenges and transitions, remaining vital in a changing society. Its longevity attests to its resilience and adaptability.
- Board members understood that they are entrusted with the responsibility of perpetuating the museum's legacy and founding vision. However, board members also understood that simply looking backward to the museum's many accomplishments and awards is not enough. They have to focus their attention on opportunities to serve the community in the future. The organization can be both grounded and adaptive. Too much emphasis on the legacy can paralyze an institution, threatening to embalm current practices instead of preserving core values of service and excellence.