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Organizational Change and the Importance of Flexibility

By Cean C. Eppelheimer | August 6, 2018

It is a well-known fact that the culture of an organization emanates from its leadership, and any effort to transform the culture requires that these leaders shepherd and support the process.

But what is not discussed enough is the notion of flexibility, or how to be nimble in order to adapt a plan midstream and improve ideas. In some cases, what’s important is knowing how to accept when a plan is simply not working. Flexibility requires leaders to be humble and not married to the plan or to their own personal agendas.

Westminster Canterbury, located in Lynchburg, Virginia, is an excellent example of a flexible organization. Since 2014, this organization has undertaken a deep cultural transformation. As they shifted toward a small house model of care, they embraced the long process of shifting both the culture and operations of a large Continuing Care Retirement Community.

The leadership team started this process by developing a plan that articulated their vision for the Westminster culture, the underlying values, and the organizational structure that would allow those values to be lived. They developed a solid educational program to provide employees (top-level leaders included) with the knowledge and skills to contribute to their desired culture.

To this day, four years into their culture change journey, Westminster’s staff go through training in coaching and person-directed living. Additionally, a mix of continuing education, facilitated conversations, regular “huddles,” and booster events keep these ideas fresh and in front of all their employees.

Even though the broader plan has been established, it consistently evolves. For instance, while continuing education is a given at Westminster, the content and approach to this education is flexible. Changes are made according to what works for people, their learning needs, and what inspires staff. Leaders keep a finger on the pulse of the organization and retain a willingness to adapt as needed.

Leaders at Westminster Canterbury also exhibit a willingness to acknowledge when something is not working and are willing to let go of that approach without blaming or judging.

Recently, a Westminster household was struggling to implement the agreed-upon changes. They were encouraged to “step back” from the plan and focus instead on how person-directed practices can best support the change process. Westminster’s employees are expected to support a person-directed culture at Westminster, but they are also encouraged to arrive at that support in their own ways.

When it comes to transforming an organization, it is important for leaders to provide the framework for change, the essential education, and a set of well-articulated organizational values that guide the overall transformation.

But then it’s also important to step back and let an organic process flow—a process that can let go of approaches that don’t work without blame or judgement. A process that considers new alternatives. A process that involves everyone who is affected, and a process that finds the best approach for implementation.

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