This quote has been attributed to everyone from FDR to Rahm Emanuel and lots of others in between. So why is it so quotable during these times?
Well, it means that if you are in a crisis, this is the best time to make changes – especially those things that have been most difficult to change in the past. For this reason President Obama is moving quickly on many fronts:
- Financial regulation
- Health care
- Early education & child care
- Negotiations with countries in the Middle East
…and the list goes on….
For nonprofit leaders, it does seem counter-intuitive to tackle big changes at a time when your organization is facing financial problems; yet, that is the best time to do it. To understand why, we need to understand the variables in this change formula:
Change = D x V x 1st < cost
Michael Beer at Harvard developed this formula, which states that for change to happen, one needs to have D (high dissatisfaction with the current situation or condition) as well as V (a vision of how things might be better in the future) and 1st (the first steps to move one from dissatisfaction to that vision of the future). And, the cost (emotional, energy, financial, etc.) of doing this must be perceived as being less than the cost of staying as is.
What makes today a great time for change are the first and last variables of the formula. Most people are dissatisfied with the current economic situation and the dissatisfaction is high enough to make staff, board and volunteers more accepting of a potentially high cost of making the change.
Now is a good time for making major change in a nonprofit because board and staff leadership do not need to convince people it is time to make a change – they understand why the times demand that organizations cannot operate as they always have.
This heightened awareness also increases the perceived cost that people are willing to take on to make the change happen. They will expend more time, money and energy in order to get to a better place – that is, the vision provided by the leaders. In other words, staff and volunteers will cooperate more readily with leadership to make change happen.
So this dynamic is what people mean when they say “never waste a good crisis.” It is all about willingness to make change if you believe that there is a big problem. This is a great time to make those changes that leadership has been unable to make during good times.