Leaving Your Mark

by Kyle Hickman

If you are a graduate assistant like me, you have a very limited amount of time in your role. Some of us are part of a University culture that encourages innovation and new strategies, while others may have decades of established tradition that would tremor at the thought of "innovation." Either way, as aspiring professionals, we are constantly finding new ways to leave a lasting impact on our department and the student organizations that we work with. Inevitably, as we adjust to new organizational cultures, our lofty aspirations sometimes cause conflict. We may see forms of complacency in many directions, but we are not sure how to address it without bringing the spotlight on us in a negative fashion. 
For example, let's say you were a member of a fraternity or sorority at a school of 2,500 students. Your chapter routinely recruited 5-10 members each bid day. Recruitment (for you) meant a lot of hard work and effort. Also, your organization worked hard to give everyone a role in the committee process. If you move to a larger University to work with the Fratenity Sorority Life community, you might find out that groups tend to recruit around 50-75 men/women with ease. Despite this "success," you see very little values alignment in their bid decisions and a majority of the members who only show up for social events and Ritual ceremonies. You see the potential of the group. You see the complacency spread throughout the culture. How do you address it?

Recognizing Complacency & Creating a Sense of Urgency

This post is designed for fellow grads, but it is not limited to just the higher education environment (change the examples to apply to any culture or organization). Utilizing John Kotter's "Leading Change," I would like to give you an idea of what complacency looks like in multiple forms and equip you with some steps that you can take to create a sense of urgency that can eventually lead to change. As any student of Organizational Change knows, the change process takes time, which requires patience and a number of "small wins." Before you can address or fix many large organizational issues, you must instill a sense of immediate urgency. Otherwise, your change efforts will end up proving futile. If you are only in a position for a maximum of two years, it can be mildly frustrating to see an organization not fulfill their potential. Here are some questions to consider when addressing the issue of complacency:

  1. Does the organization recognize any current major/visible crises?
  2. How is performance measured in this organization? Are these standards relatively low?
  3. Is there a lot of denial in the culture? Do individuals take responsibility for their actions?
  4. Does there seem to be an obnoxious amount of positivity coming from the highest positional leaders?
  5. Are members/employees able to confront one another comfortably?
  6. Are performance goals constructed in linear fashion? (i.e. are they incorporated into everyone else's collective goals?)
Secondly, here are a few ways to battle complacency and create the urgency needed to cause lasting change:
  1. Allow a minute error or financial loss to occur. Stepping in to solve the problem at the last second very rarely creates the sense of urgency needed in an organization.
  2. Set performance goals much higher than usual. This will prohibit the previous behavior from remaining constant.
  3. Expose the organization to more outside influences/factors that can indicate substandard performance.
  4. Create communication channels that allow members of the organization to communicate with unhappy outside forces (administrators, other organizations, professors, etc.).
  5. Facilitate opportunities for the organization to have more "honest" conversations. You may encourage some members of the organization to speak up and reinforce the complacency being challenged.
  6. Bring in outside experts to raise awareness of the issues at play.
  7. Continually raise the conversation on "what could be." Introduce opportunities for progress that the organization cannot currently pursue. Instill Hope.
 "There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things." -Niccolo Machiavelli

Student Affairs - the First Years

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