Leading Through Change: 5 Tips for IDD Organizations

2020 brought an unprecedented number of national and worldwide events that required quick decision-making and strategic change from executive leaders. Leaders in intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) organizations were not exempt from this upheaval — the coronavirus pandemic alone required IDD organizations to quickly pivot to protect programs and persons served.

Drastic changes will only continue into 2021. The pandemic is far from over, the nation is transitioning to a new presidential administration, and racial and economic inequities continue to affect all Americans. Given all of this, what can IDD leaders do to effectively lead through change during this time?

In a Relias webinar, John Nash, the Executive Director of The Arc of North Carolina, provided five principles leaders in IDD organizations can follow during times of change.

1. Determine What You Can Control

According to Nash, it is tempting as a leader to try to control everything around you. For many, it can quickly lead to burnout, especially if one subscribes to the idea of, “If I want it to get done, I have to do it myself.”

This type of mindset is not feasible or sustainable. In order to effectively lead through change, leaders must accept that they cannot control everything around them. It’s about focusing on what you can control that matters.

When facing an issue causing great change, consider all the aspects of the situation that are impacting that change. Make a list of these items, and then ask yourself, “What is in our realm of control?”

In the case of COVID-19, no one has control over the fact that there is a deadly, worldwide pandemic. However, leaders can control the policies that affect the health of staff and persons served during the pandemic. Leaders can control the type and quality of training that staff receives about infection control. Leaders can also control the organizational resources to help improve employee health and wellness.

2. Keep the Mission and Values Top of Mind

Change management involves making tough decisions that can deeply impact the organization, staff, and persons served. Maintaining a deep and unwavering commitment to your organizational mission and values during change can help anchor you, even when things get tumultuous.

Having a clear understanding of what your mission is really about helps as you determine what actions to take. If your mission is focused on integrity, excellence, person-centeredness, and leadership, these need to be maintained during times of change.

As you evaluate your options, it becomes quite simple: If the decision points you further in the direction of achieving your mission and upholding your values, then go for it. If it detracts you from your mission and vision, then it may not be your best option.

When navigating change, leaders must remember that their people are their greatest asset.

3. Know Your Resources

For many IDD providers, resources always feel scarce. Budgets are thin, funding gets cut year over year, and resources dwindle as high turnover and other crises affect the organization.

However, when navigating change, leaders must remember that their people are their greatest asset. Especially those on the front line — the DSPs, QIDPs, and other front-line staff who know the people you serve and the organization best. Engage these individuals in your decision-making and planning. Seek their input and clearly communicate to them your reasons for the choices you make.

It is also important to consider what resources you need to invest in. Sometimes investment ends up saving money in the long run. Determine what tools are necessary to keep operations running smoothly, whether it’s a secure telehealth platform, a robust learning management system, or something else.

4. Make a Plan, and Work the Plan

When it comes time for a leader to create a plan of action, Nash recommends an exercise called circle planning.

First, a leader thinks through and creates their own plan of action. Next, they share that plan with a small group of advisors, who will either validate the plan or find errors that require further brainstorming. The leader then shares this updated plan with a larger group — maybe the board of directors or a group of DSPs. The leader does this over and over again, as much as needed, until a plan is fully baked.

Once you have made your decision, go forth with it. Have confidence as you execute on this plan, since your team will reflect the confidence you show.

5. Remain Flexible

The familiar adage is true: “The only constant is change.” Effective change management means being prepared to change course and be agile when necessary.

A good thing to do is to ask yourself: Are we better today than we were one week ago? One month ago? Take a minute to step back, breathe, and clearly re-evaluate your organization’s progress. And then, start from the beginning again. Determine what you can control, keep your mission and vision top of mind, evaluate your resources, and then make and execute on a plan.

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Nellie Galindo

Product Marketing Manager, Relias

Nellie Galindo, MSW, MSPH, received her Master of Social Work and Master of Science in Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has worked with individuals with disabilities in several different settings, including working as a direct service provider for individuals with mental illness and leading a youth program for young adults with disabilities. She has facilitated and created trainings for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the areas of self-advocacy, healthy relationships, sexual health education, and violence and abuse prevention. Mrs. Galindo has worked in state government helping individuals with disabilities obtain accessible health information in their communities, as well as utilizing the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure equal access to healthcare services.

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