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Abrupt change is a big opportunity to improve youth programs

By Nancy Hegland

Daisies in various stages of growthTwo weeks ago, I was planning for this blog post to be about the busy-ness of our lives. I had gathered multiple resources to base my thoughts on at the time. I knew that my professional and personal life would be extra busy, too, as I wrapped up some major work projects and attended my own teenagers' events. Then our lives changed and we were all forced to adjust.

Along with adjusting our personal lives, we are adapting the way that we provide positive youth development experiences. This past week, my colleagues have brought considerable creativity, innovation, and exploration to bear on this problem. Their efforts will enable us to deliver distance learning far into the future and beyond the current, immediate need.

As we are seeing, change can be an opportunity as well as a challenge. As I thought about change, it made me think about ways that we are adjusting our work, as families and communities seek programs that benefit youth today. John Kotter has written several books on the topic, including Leading Change and Accelerate. He says organizations that navigate transformational change have some key elements in common. These elements include eight steps, which are not necessarily linear but occur continuously and at the same time.

Kotter's 8 steps

  1. Create a sense of urgency around a “Big Opportunity”. We certainly have a big opportunity in front of us now.
  2. Build and maintain a guiding coalition. Bring different minds together to learn from each other.
  3. Form a strategic vision and initiatives. What will be different as a result of our efforts?
  4. Communicate the vision to create buy-in and enlist a volunteer army. This will have greater success when others believe in the opportunity.
  5. Enable action by removing barriers. We must clear a path that can unlock the volunteer army to act in new ways. 
  6. Generate and celebrate short-term wins
  7. Sustain acceleration. Continually drive towards your opportunity
  8. Institutionalize change into the culture. Sustained change occurs when it becomes embedded in the culture.

As I think about the many conversations I have had with colleagues this week, I know that we will work differently now and in the future. We will succeed when we engage different minds, form our objectives, communicate them, and have buy-in from others. We will need to remove barriers and generate short-term wins. I see this happening in many places and look forward to seeing what will come of this challenging time in our world.

-- Nancy Hegland, Extension program leader

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  1. Thanks, Nancy. Some great ideas here as we all adapt to our new reality.

    1. Yes, life changed and we are all adjusting to what it means for us. What have you tried that is working for you?

  2. Thank you Nancy, this was a great read right now. I think #4 especially, Communicate the vision to create buy-in and enlist a volunteer army is so important. We will need the help to make it work!

    1. It is sometimes easy to move ahead on our own, as we have things we want to accomplish, however so important that we bring others along and hear their ideas. If people know the vision and direction, they will hopefully come on board. More than ever, we need to work together. During this time, I have been presented new opportunities to volunteer. One is contacting individuals from our church. The individual who called to ask told me the plan to expand the care ministry team. I said yes to her request, then received additional information - basically telling me what questions to ask and who to contact, if there were questions from the people I called. The calls went smoothly and people were very appreciative that someone reached out them. There is no better time to work together!

  3. Great blog Nancy! In our work and education we have to see this time with distance learning as an opportunity. It would have been nice to have more time to develop our skills. My ECFE families have been so appreciative of my less than polished Zoom meetings this week. Thank you!

    1. We all need to be patient with each other, as we learn new skills and work in different environments. We know that everyone is doing their best. We need to be patient with ourselves and each other, flexible, and take a pause. We are all adjusting and will figure this out together!

  4. Thanks for this insightful piece. We just have to remember that most people are willing to help, they just might not all be in the same stage of readiness. I might be able to jump in, but my neighbor might still be trying to find their light in the darkness. Show up, be real, and be compassionate.


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