We often undertake client engagements that lead to some pretty significant changes in how the organization is structured, operates, or even how it conceives of itself. For the most part clients can readily understand the benefits of a more streamlined model or a less bureaucratic structure, but the real difficulty comes in asking them to change how they think of themselves in relation to the organization.
"Ownership" is a double-edged sword.
We love (and need) the engagement, dedication, and often lifelong commitment many nonprofits garner from their board, volunteers and staff. But this ownership often brings a stubborn refusal to change methods, behavioral norms, and similar understandings shared among the organization’s leaders.
We hear much about the evils of "Founder’s Syndrome," but the same dynamics, seeing the individual’s own needs and preferences as inseparable from the organization’s requirements,are often played out well beyond the corner office.
Analysis, modeling, even discussion, debate and compromise, are often insufficient to move "the old guard" from no longer functional positions.
It can be as simple as setting a norm that once the board has decided an issue, it is decided, not open for further debate, or as complex as restructuring how budget decisions get made, whatever the issue (and there are an infinite variety to choose from) emotions flare, ad hominem arguments are declaimed from soapboxes, and the change effort is framed as a test of good vs. evil.
It is odd to contemplate that it is often the most socially progressive groups, those committed to social justice and social change, which fight internal change the hardest.
I have taken to labeling the don’t-change-my-favorite-dysfunctional-practice faction as the "conservatives," in an attempt to bring some perspective to the discussion. No one n these groups wants to be labeled a conservative, and doing so sometimes brings a bit of self-awareness to the conversation.
There are no silver bullets, however, it take lots of hard, patient work to move a conservative-progressive nonprofit into a progressive-progressive framework.