December 1996 // Volume 34 // Number 6 // Tools of the Trade // 6TOT1

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Guidelines for Change

This book review of "Taking Charge of Change," by Douglas K. Smith describes principles useful to Extension workers who supervise volunteers or other professionals. The eight principles discussed include: focus on performance, emphasize teamwork, empower team members, personalize needs and actions, embrace improvisation, learn by doing, harmonize initiatives, and lead by living the desired changes.

Arlen Etling
Associate Professor
Department of Agricultural and Extension Education
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pennsylvania

Taking Charge of Change: Ten Principles for Managing People and Performance. Douglas K. Smith. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1996. 314 pp. $25.00 hardcover.

Winston Churchill is credited with saying, "If we do not take change by the hand, it will surely take us by the throat." In Cooperative Extension many of us are trying to take change by the hand. We are trying to change our organization and programs to respond to new challenges and to stay current with our changing world. To others, change is something that seems to threaten their very survival.

Doug Smith, co-author of The Wisdom of Teams (1993), wrote ten guidelines for managing change with a business management audience in mind. Eight of his guidelines, however, can help us in Cooperative Extension revitalize our organization and programs. Below are Smith's guidelines along with the reviewer's comments on their application to Cooperative Extension. The quotations are Smith's.

  1. Focus on performance. People do not change because someone tells them they should. Few people change for the sake of change. They change when they can see that their actions will make a difference to their well being and to that of the organization. "Performance objectives give people the best means to assess and improvise their way through change" (p. 74).

  2. Emphasize teamwork. Not every performance challenge requires team action. Recognize which challenges require teamwork and base that teamwork on performance challenges. Smith recommends (a) teams of two to 12 individuals in most cases, (b) that team members' skills complement, not duplicate, each other, (c) that team members establish a common purpose, common goals, and a common working approach, and (d) that team members hold themselves mutually accountable as a team (pp. 187-191).

  3. Empower team members. No one can change other people because individuals can change only themselves. Also manipulating people will not work in the long term. Motivating individuals, based on goals that they recognize as important to themselves, is the best approach. "Enlist the contributions of many, not just a few" (p. 290). As more individuals are empowered, impacts increase. Extension program impacts result from the collaboration of many administrators, specialists, agents, volunteers, and clients--not solely from the actions of a few people "at the top."

  4. Personalize needs and actions. Ensure that each person knows what his or her performance means to the purpose and results of the whole organization. "Build on what people do know instead of underestimating them. Take advantage of readiness and identify sources of reluctance instead of overreacting to resistance" (p.71).

  5. Embrace improvisation. Fear of failure is one of the greatest barriers to productivity. It makes us repeat the same program long after there is a need. It keeps us from taking a chance, trying something new. It encourages us to avoid programs and techniques wherein we lack experience. Smith says, "Change demands that you make stuff up, try things out, see what works and doesn't, and talk among yourselves a lot" (p. 39). He agrees with Tom Peters who in Thriving on Chaos (1987) supports piloting new ideas, borrowing ideas, and supporting small failures as the best way of avoiding stagnation and, eventually, large failures (pp. 191-279).

  6. Learn by doing. This should be familiar to us in Cooperative Extension. "You cannot learn new skills, behaviors, and working relationships without using them" (p. 100). We learn from small failures and build on successes. All activity must be focused on practical needs but guided by a shared vision (chapter 9).

  7. Harmonize initiatives. Productivity seldom results from uncoordinated activity. To bring about change, mutually supporting initiatives must "...move simultaneously from the top down, the bottom up, and across pre-existing organizational boundaries" (p. 42). Individuals and teams at all levels must contribute to the purpose of the whole organization and be rewarded for doing so. Again a vision is important. That vision should be "...something people live now, not just in the future" (p. 291).

  8. Lead by living the desired changes. Leaders must reinforce the desired changes (those that will strengthen the program or organization) by practicing the new skills, behaviors, and working relationships that they are trying to bring about in the organization. Leaders should be models, not dictators. Leaders must not put themselves above followers if they expect change.

This book is not just a discussion of guidelines. It is full of case studies and diagrams of organizational change. Smith uses a lot of examples from business (a disadvantage to Extension readers) but also some from non-formal education. He discusses many strategies relevant to Cooperative Extension organization and programming that assist in the application of his guidelines.

He implies that these guidelines can help leaders use change as a motivational force for success rather than as an excuse for failure. At a time when Cooperative Extension is besieged by many challenges and opportunities, this book, while no panacea, can make an important contribution to the administration of programs and to the organization itself.