This past summer, on 2 occasions I was confronted with a situation where I had to deal with today before I could consider tomorrow. This sounds like a no-brainer, so here are the 2 occasions to help illustrate the dilemma:
Progression of a Condition
A speech pathologist in a hospital suggested certain therapies to address a problem that presented itself during an examination of my wife who was suffering from a sudden condition. The literature suggested the condition would continue to deteriorate for some time, so why perform the therapies on the current problem? Would the problem not get worse? The speech pathologist answered that all conditions progress differently for each individual. As a result she works with what is currently happening, and will reassess as time goes on.
The following day, the speech pathologist came in to perform the therapies, but my wife had already started a reversal of the condition instead of progressively getting worse. In fact, the problem observed in the previous day’s examination had gone away. The speech pathologist reassessed the situation, and decided to simply come back the next day for another examination. No therapies were performed as none were needed. Today is not tomorrow.
Culture Exists in the Now
A consultant led a training where we focused on identifying issues of importance to tackle and the possible paths to move forward. “Changing culture” was 1 of the identified paths, and the consultant remarked that changing culture is difficult. So he asked us, “What can be done within the existing culture to effect desired change that may also lead to changing the culture?” In other words, what can be done today while we move on our way to tomorrow? Today is not tomorrow.
Our focus changed to what was achievable in the “today” in which we worked. This allowed us to come up with proposed paths that had fewer barriers, or at least barriers that were not as difficult to overcome. This still does not mean the path is easy, but it may be more achievable. In the process of working with what we have today, aspects of the current culture may begin to change toward what we desire.
So Today is not Tomorrow. Should We Just Give Up?
Not at all. What I am suggesting is a 2 pronged approach to organizational change:
- Work with what you have today (while you)
- Build for the desired tomorrow
An example of this is my suggestion for working the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) into the evaluation of higher ed faculty for tenure and merit. I am in no way suggesting this would be easy to do, but it is more achievable than attempting to change how faculty are evaluated. The percentages of research, teaching and service are based on old notions of the amount of time required for teaching. I do not mean the percentage of time as it relates to workload; rather, the amount of time required for effective teaching.
If my suggestion were to be implemented, I think that over time the faculty would come to understand just how much time teaching demands as we move away from an information dissemination model. This, in turn, may change how faculty evaluate each other for tenure and merit as workload percentages may shift, and teaching may gain more respect for what it requires to do effectively. If I were to just insist that those faculty who teach in a dissemination model change their ways and value teaching as we know it today, I likely would not make any progress.
Why not Just Keep Doing What We are Doing?
Change is inevitable. Inevitable. We will change voluntarily or have the change brought to us.
Forcing change is counterproductive. People resist change, so forcing it only asks for backlash. I am reminded of something I either heard or read 24 years ago. It goes something like: Living organisms grow. Growth brings pain. Living organisms seek to minimize pain, but if there is no growth the living organism dies.
Organizations are made up of people. If the organization is not growing (not necessarily in size), then it will die. Because organizations are made up of people, the organization seeks to minimize pain which causes a backlash against growth.
Our goal is to keep growth alive at a level of pain that is tolerable. If this is achieved, the organization will continue to grow and hopefully survive and thrive.
A living organism that is growing can still be wiped out by external forces, so there is no guarantee of avoiding negative outcomes. Not growing almost guarantees a negative outcome whether there is an external force or not. A quote from the movie The Shawshank Redemption states this best: “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”
The challenge is in finding balance and being intentional about questioning. Push enough to grow, but not enough to cause backlash. Focusing on working with what you have today while building for the desired tomorrow may be a good way to find this balance.