Sally Eaton of the Manor Tree Group helps you to think about how you will prepare the ground when you need to make changes in your own setting.

Change can be met with fear and resistance even though most changes bring positive benefits and improvement. 

The psychology of change

We can all think of changes that have brought benefits: washing machines, computers, cars etc are all changes that have significantly affected the way in which we lead our lives. It may, therefore, seem illogical to be fearful of change.

Anxiety often arises from feeling out of control and it is this feeling, more than the change itself, that can lead staff to react negatively to a new proposal or change plan. The more staff can feel involved in the change process, the less likely it is that it will be resisted or opposed.
Staff could resist change in one of two ways:

  • Open resistance
    Staff may challenge the change in meetings, in a one-to-one or in writing. This can be healthy and can give the change coordinator the opportunities to respond to and address the concerns. If the change is challenged persistently and/or aggressively, it may be necessary to break the change down into manageable and acceptable stages and to take the process a little more slowly.
  • Covert resistance
    This is much harder to overcome and can be very effective in achieving its aim. Quite often it is difficult to ascertain the source of the negative reaction and, therefore, to allay fears. Making opportunities for group or individual discussion is essential and asking for people’s opinions can help to draw out hidden fears and worries associated with change.

Two ways to look at change

Positive benefits 

  • ‘It could lead to more efficient working practices.
  • ‘It could make us more successful  and cutting edge.’ 
  • ‘Fresh challenges are stimulating and exciting.’  
  • ‘Without change we would stagnate and not keep up with vital  developments.’
  • It’s good to be setting the pace and trial new practices to pass on to others.’

Fears and anxieties

  • ‘I’m happy with the way things are.’
  • ‘It may involve more work.’
  • ‘It could be very stressful.’
  • ‘This is just designed to make my life more difficult.’
  • ‘I don’t want to learn anything new.’
  • ‘This change might expose my weaknesses.’
  • ‘There’s enough change going on in my personal life, I can’t cope with any more.’

Types of change

Change can be sudden and dramatic or gradual. It can be imposed or may be instigated by the team. Gradual change is obviously gentler but is not always appropriate or possible. Developing a change culture within an organisation makes it easier for staff to accept change. If the leadership team often explain the benefits of change and change happens as a natural and regular part of self-evaluation and review, then it can be easier for staff to cope. If an organisation is not used to change then any adaptations to practices – big or small – are likely to be greeted with resistance.

Change is easier to accept when staff are able to feel part of the process. Developing a change plan that is shared with others helps staff to take ownership and, therefore, be more positive about the outcome.

A  model change plan

  • Establish who will be responsible for co-ordinating the change and the timescale planned. Will this be gradual or radical? Imposed or team-instigated?
  • Outline the change in clear, concise terms.
  • Define the need for the change.
  • Define the benefits of the change to the organisation, staff, parents and children.
  • Establish who will be involved in the change and, therefore, who needs to be part of the communication link.
  • List the objectives to be achieved or the goals and vision associated with the change. It is important to be able to verbalise these to others.
  • In your mind’s eye, be clear about where you are now and where you want to be.

It is important that the change coordinator is pro-active and monitors the process regularly. They need to be a good change agent.

Qualities of a change agent

An essential key quality for leadership staff moving towards the Early Years Professional Status, is to be a good change agent. They must:

  • see the need for change and be able to act on it
  • communicate the need for change in a positive, motivating way
  • listen to ideas presented by others and have ideas of their own, keeping abreast of changes nationally
  • set SMART targets (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Related) for change
  • draw a team together to effect change and development.

In summary:

  • Change is an essential part of life. Mostly it is an unstoppable process that we can guide but not totally control.
  • Understanding the need for change and planning the change properly is essential, as it helps everyone to feel more positive and in control.
  • The appointment of a team leader who has good skills in managing people and the change process is essential.

Establishing your attitude to change

Consider the following statements to establish your attitude towards
change or share them with your staff to open up discussions:

  • ‘I enjoy it when things change.’
  • ‘I seek out new ways of doing things.’
  • ‘I am always open to new ideas.’
  • ‘I am good at communicating the need for change to others.’
  • ‘I tend to only make changes that arise from a crisis rather than managing the change process.’
  • ‘I plan for change and I am realistic about what can be achieved in a given timescale.’
  • ‘I prefer gradual change to rapid change.’