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Strategies for Change

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What brings about changes in attitudes and behaviors? Some believe that humans are essentially rational, so reason and evidence should do the trick. Intentional change, therefore, takes the form of a rational sequence of activities to produce a change message based in theory and research, then developed and tested empirically and logically and finally accepted because of its sound evidence and reason. Research and Development centers, institutional research and planning offices and formal governance systems are designed to operate as if change is mainly a rational process.

Others find that humans are social creatures. New attitudes and behaviors, though they may be developed by rational processes, raise awareness, interest, trial and eventual adoption through a process of social interaction and persuasion in which opinion leaders and reference groups are influences perhaps as significant as the rational soundness of the change message itself. Intentional change under these assumptions puts time and skill into linking innovative ideas, practices or products to “potential adopters” through social networks. Professional associations, information clearinghouses, learning resources centers, conferences, workshops and extension agencies use this strategy.

Still others feel that the main obstacles to change are not impressive messages nor social influences. Psychological barriers are the problem. What is needed is the skilled intervention of human relations consultation in order to diagnose and facilitate the reduction of those barriers. Yet another group maintains we are political animals at base, busy protecting and strengthening our vested interests. In order to accomplish change, we need to build powerful coalitions among interests and obtain authoritative decisions which will be enforced by requiring people to change their attitudes and behaviors. That strategy is visible in the informal governance process and in administrative policies regarding program and personnel priorities.

All of these assumptions hold true, probably in varying degrees depending on the issue, the situation and the people involved. It would seem that one of the most important roles to be played by an organizational coach is to help her client appreciate the value inherent in each of these change strategies and find a way to effectively implement and interweave these strategies on behalf of her organization and those being served by her organization.


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