The Steps of Systemic Change
The Washington State School Directors' Association provides
extensive training in systemic change as part of their
"Passport to Leadership" program. The materials in this
section are excerpted from their work.
The first step in the process of systemic change is to build a
vision. This process should involve members of every sector of
the organization and/or community that the change will affect.
Effective Questions for Building the Vision of the Future
- What will the ideal look like when its complete?
- What are you looking forward to most in completing that
- What specifically will be most pleasing?
- What has worked most effectively in similar situations in
The next step is to take stock of the current situation.
Collect data and opinions from throughout the community, taking
care to get information from those closest to the activities and
setting of a particular area. When taking stock, it is important
to remain optimistic and to appreciate the success of what is
already in place. Some helpful questions for preserving this
frame of mind are:
- What was particularly effective about the way that
- What would you do differently another time?
- What would be the benefit of doing it differently?
The next step is to compare the shared vision with the current
situation, prioritize areas for change and set goals. In making
these decisions, there are several questions which will help
focus your thoughts and decision making process:
- What part of that decision are your most comfortable
about? Most uncomfortable about?
- What specifically about that part are you most
comfortable with? Most uncomfortable?
- If nothing mattered except what you would most like to
do, which would you choose?
- What specifically about that is the deciding factor?
- What would it take for your to feel comfortable in doing
- What options do you have for getting past that obstacle?
- What is the biggest unanswered questions about that
- What do you feel there is to learn from having made that
After the goals are set, it is time to develop and implement
an action plan. A useful framework for doing this is to use the
Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle. Here are some questions to guide the
- What will be changed? (Goals)
- How can the process be changed to eliminate the root
causes of defects and delays?
- What does a defect-free process look like?
- Is the new process customer focused? Results-oriented?
- When will the change be implemented?
- Have critical path/milestones been defined?
- When and how will the changes be evaluated?
- How will the change be implemented?
- What methods will be used?
- Use a pilot? How?
- What political/cultural and procedural support exists?
- What are the effects of the change in these areas?
- How will people be trained, motivated, informed re: the
- Who is doing what and when?
- Do the change/pilot
- Advisable/best to do a pilot
- Train those whose jobs will change
- Supervise execution of change
- Gather data from key points in the process
- Monitor progress and effectiveness of the change
- Have you achieved the goals set forth in the plan?
- Were the methods used effective?
- Check for side effects.
- Were other processes affected?
- Check for backsliding
- Act to refine and standardize the change
- If the results of the pilot are acceptable, standardize
the change across the whole process.
- If the results of the pilot are unacceptable, return to
the PLAN stage of the cycle.
- What did the information you collected tell you about the
effectiveness of the change?
- Does the change need to be refined?
- Update the documentation.
- Update manuals.
- What lessons learned can be applied elsewhere?
Once you have found an approach that works to accomplish the
goals that you have set forth, standardize the process to achieve
stabilization and "hold the gains". A useful approach
to doing this is to use the Standardize-Do-Check-Act cycle as
- Establish a reliable method or standard through explicit
- Use "Who, what, where, when, why and how" to
describe the new baseline.
- Educate and train all current and new employees who work
in the process
- Include new methods in the training curriculum and
- Train any trainers who will train in the new methods
- Provide feedback session for employees using the new
- Assist employees who encounter difficulties
- Establish a system for ensuring that the new process is
- Prevent reversion to old methods
- Error prevention in new methods
- Use of checklists
- Use of visual aids/instructions
- Check the feedback of employees
- Take appropriate action to correct or maintain the
- Provide additional training where appropriate
- Support workers under high stress situations