Proving a Better Way Isn’t Always Easy

by Nicholas George on April 25, 2011

The time for change had come.  The leadership had tried working with the people running the program for almost two years and still they hadn’t made the progress they desired and knew could be achieved.  I was approached and asked to look at the program and see what would be needed to get the desired results.

I began, as I do with any change project, by listening vigilantly to the people sponsoring the program as well as the students participating in it.  What I found was a disjoint between what the sponsors wanted to see learned and what was actually internalized.  The program had been around for over 30 years in similar forms throughout the world and by all records, very successful in accomplishing its goals.  Why was ours not reaching its full potential?

Keeping in mind all I heard from the listening to the people and all I learned from researching these kinds of programs I created a whole new design for the program.  It felt like it was time to try something new.  Traditionally, the program was always delivered in one block of time, usually five days in a row.  My design was to split it across seven sessions, meeting for a full day once a month.

It took a little work to convince the leadership to try the new idea.  Once they were on board, the task become convincing the groups that sponsor the program to support the new design.  I knew presenting such a different format would be met with some resistance.  When it was time to present to the sponsoring groups I thought I was ready.  I had my research, my design and feedback from past participants.  What I didn’t have was data supporting the seven-month format. 

I was not prepared for the vehemence of their response.  It was more than just resistance to change; many people felt the program was working just fine as it was and the change wasn’t necessary.  Others felt the change would make finding participants much more difficult due to the extended commitment.  Still others saw the change as corrupting the tradition of the program and would cause a negative perception for the sponsors.  A few were willing to try it for a year but reserved full support until they saw some results.  After what seemed like hours of discussion we had enough support to go forward with the new design.

The first year saw a small group of participants, all fully sponsored.  The results were better than any of us could ever imagine.  When asked about their experience, all the participants thought they learned more from the once a month format than they would have learned had all the information been presented in a one week program.  The program was, by all records, a huge success.  While we won many more supporters after that first year, there still were those who disagreed with the new format.

The change has been in effect for the past five years and the number of people supporting has steadily grown.  While there are still some who would rather see the format go back to one week, many, many others like it just the way it is.

It took almost five years of answering questions, resolving concerns and graduating successful participants to prove the validity of this programs new design.   While it wasn’t always easy, it was always worth it.  It took a little faith and a lot of confidence.

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