John Kotter is a prolific author of books about “change” in organizations. Getting people, organizations, and communities to move in new directions or to end old habits is difficult, but he’s developed lots of practical strategies and outlined a step-by-step process to succeed based on his studies of dozens of companies. Fundamental is a relationship of trust among the participants (e.g., managers and employees, city council and residents, historic sites and neighbors), which is a result of transparency and openness, and a willingness to listen and discuss tough issues. It sounds obvious but I’ve seen national organizations create an atmosphere of suspicion, hostility, and fear simply because they hold too many closed door meetings, only communicate bland or stale news when the environment is clearly unsettled, and won’t answer simple questions about what’s happening. The result is change has to be forced (and enforced and reinforced) and buy-in, participation, and support is low. It’s the worst way to implement change, except for war.
If you’re dealing with change at your historic site or house museum (either leading or experiencing it), John Kotter introduces this idea in, “Levering Trust to Achieve Buy-In,” a short video at Forbes posted last week. If you want to explore his ideas further, I’ve found his books Leading Change (a classic) and Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down (really a handbook, great for advocacy and fundraising) to be helpful.