I KNOW, I know, this quote is about as trite as sayings come, now-a-days. And it’s especially laughable on a blog about, well, changemaking! But it’s been a nearly uninterrupted refrain in my work and life these past few weeks and I want to reflect what that means for those of us trying to keep track of information that is constantly in flux. Isn’t that the purpose of a data system? Well… yes and no!
Here are a few recent examples of encountering change:
- “I agreed to a set of deliverables, but external factors have changed the game, and now I need to update the relevant deliverables before I can report back on them.”
- “I entered a budget into the system, but Person A has been replaced by Person B, so I need to change the budget to reflect that before I can report back.”
- “I signed up to join a program, but my job demands have changed and so now I need to update my preferences.”
- “I thought we wanted to track fundraising stats this way, but now we want to track them this other way.”
- “Person Z is a member of our synagogue but moved away and we haven’t heard from them in around a year. At what point should we update their membership status?”
- “I used to work out in the morning but my gym changed the schedule. Now I need to work out in the evening and re-arrange all of my to-dos.”
As you can see, these examples transcend simple data entry to making DECISIONS and even some existential questions about what should be tracked in the first place. I hope we can come up with good advice and best practices about this, because this shit is complicated and people in my community deserve good answers.
From caterpillar to, well, caterpillar
In all of these examples, someone has to take information (from an email, an in-person conversation, or their own intrinsic knowledge of changing circumstances) and change records somewhere official. It could be in a spreadsheet, a database, a policy, a budget, a calendar, or even a post-it note. The where/how is secondary– none of these systems can easily self-update. (And I don’t think I want to live in a world with that amount of automation… creepy!)
In general, these type of updates aren’t transformative. We’re not talking caterpillar to butterfly. Just, new information about the caterpillar. Lots of caterpillars.
Systems are usually good at representing information … like… this donation was “pledged” and now it’s “fulfilled” or… “this person was a prospect and now they’re a volunteer!” Sometimes we can even program them to automate some functions (if pledge = fulfilled, remind XYZ to write a thank you note). But they can’t read our minds and inherently KNOW that the pledge has been fulfilled when the check arrives. Our systems (spreadsheets or databases – platform agnostic!) can’t inherently reflect a world that is constantly changing. Someone (like me! or more specifically, like the users I support) have to REMEMBER everything that has changed and then notate those changes. Sometimes that’s just not reasonable or realistic. And then we get un-trust-able data. Or as I like to call it, “TRASH.”
When I have a lot of changes to record, usually I leave requests marked as “unread” in my inbox and then go in and do all of the data entry at once 2-3 times per week. I mostly like this strategy, but the risks are (1) it can facilitate procrastination and (2) in the interim time, the data are out of date. On the other hand, the benefit is that it leads to more consistent data tracking, because I tend to be in a data tracking mindset when I go to make the updates. How else do you handle minutiae like this?
There’s no change-free cocoon.
Also, change is hard.
At work, we have processes that temporarily or permanently “lock” records in our system so that they can’t be changed while they are being reviewed. You might think “that is brilliant!” and it seemed that way to me, too, however every rule is meant to be broken and more often than not, we need to manually unlock records because there are 100% valid changes that should be reconciled. (BTW – you can lock sheets in Excel or Google Sheets too! But beware… you might need to unlock them soon after!)
There are entire special systems (pricey, I might add) for tracking changes to Contracts. I’ve never been in a job or volunteer role where I’ve needed to use platforms like that, but when you have negotiations going back and forth between lawyers, you end up with a LOT of changes to terms and you need a way to keep track them (beyond what Track Changes in a Word doc or Suggestions in a Google Doc can typically provide)… until you finally have a contract that both parties can agree to. But…
Even final versions are sometimes amended! Which is how we get folders that look like this:
From caterpillar to butterfly
I wrote above about change management above at a tactical or transactional level. Those are the day-to-day updates and changes. Add new contact. Update their email. Mark donations as paid. Etc. Every organization (nay, every PERSON) handles these tasks differently. I wish we talked about that more (lucky me, I got to chat about this and so much more with my friend Emily from Make Excel Work for You this AM). And I wish we elevated that work to be seen as truly valuable and moving projects forward, rather than a sink of time and resources, or a distraction from changemaking.
All of that being said, there is so much more about “change management” that can inform how we design and roll out systems, whether that’s a new version of a spreadsheet (like budget to actuals financial statements for my synagogue, or tracking fundraising categories for EQAT), or creating entirely new systems in our work database. These efforts take time, including time to let off steam and frustration in the beginning.
I really like how this change management diagram shows the emotional toll that change management can cost!
I think I have felt ALL of those feelings and thought bubbles in the last 3 weeks. Can you relate?
This image (and other resources that I consulted) come from this post.
Broad, cultural change
My goal in all of this is to build effective, strategic systems and cultural practices that support us to work together in the BEST POSSIBLE WAY so that we can achieve big system changes.
I’ve never felt more passionate about supporting people and organizations to be the best version of their problem-solving selves than I do right now. This week alone, I connected with three brilliant changemakers who are dedicating their energy to orgs with systems that are making them feel stuck. It doesn’t have to be that way! We need system change in order to achieve system change!