Hospitality is Openness

Come for Dinner
Students & Friends for Lunch

Change can be difficult for anyone. Multiply that by a thousand employees and 10,000 – 30,000 students and it can be unfathomable. Let’s do the math… [clicking keys on calculator] … that’s 10,000,000 – 30,000,000 difficulties! And before you question my math, keep in mind that no one has only one problem with change. I stand by the numbers.

Why would anyone attempt change against those odds? That’s some serious demotivation. However, I believe that unless we change we are dead, and the fear of death can overcome the demotivating factor of 30,000,000 problems. Fear eats status quo for breakfast!

The Registrar’s Office at Trinity Western University has gone through a large change over the past 15 months, which has proven to me many truths about change. We implemented a major (10 years in the waiting) upgrade to Jenzabar EX, and all of the collateral changes that resulted from doing so. This meant a new finance system, a new student portal, a new faculty portal, a new general ledger structure, a new… and a new…. This past 6 months have meant implementing a new scheduling software Ad Astra. All of these changes have had huge ripple effects that our students, faculty, and staff feel to some degree of discomfort. (Wait, how do I enter grades again? Last time it was here, but now it’s gone. HELP ME!!!!) These were changes that were forced upon us. Upgrade or lose the system: our choice.

Hmm, an ERP or paper… the choice was clear. Change was inevitable.

I have a lot of respect for John Kotter (O he of Harvard Business School fame) and his theory of how to lead change, but his model, and most others like it, can run amok through people’s feelings. Ignore how people feel about change at your peril. Ignoring how people feel about change says something about our beliefs about what it means to be human and what we believe about education.

I believe that change (and education too) is greatly facilitated when we take into account how people feel about it. Change is hard. Change is work. Change is discomfiting. And what if it is just change for the sake of change? What if the change makes your job easier while it makes my job harder? Do you really care that little about me? Are you just a power-hungry jerk? And if you make me feel this way, YOU MUST MAKE EVERYONE FEEL THIS WAY! [Flips the bird, walks away.]

Ignore how people feel about change at your peril.

We have chosen the model of hospitality to help us frame our response to change and serving others through change. Hospitality carries with it the ideas of openness, humility, and transparency, all of which are very helpful when it comes to dealing with people’s feelings towards change. Oh, and food. Food affects people’s feelings maybe even more than music. Food is good!

Think with me. Hospitality involves opening your home and inviting others in. In my case, it is humbling to let others see my too-small kitchen with old, dingy cabinets and squeaky floors. It is hard for me to be transparent and let others see through my outside walls into my home – with all it’s dings and scratches, saggy couch and, really, is that your TV? It’s so small I think I’d need binoculars to watch it!

We take risks by inviting others into our homes. Being hospitable about change means inviting others in to make the change with us. Openness, humility, and transparency are necessary to defuse tension, build trust, and to learn from others. These are critical to managing change well. Hospitality demonstrates that we care about others – that we trust them enough to take a huge risk and let them in. And by doing so, we show that we are trustworthy too. Having the humility to learn from others is difficult, but if that is not who we are as universities and colleges, then we are not true educational institutions.

Having an attitude of openness, humility and transparency can have a dramatic influence on the whole experience of change because we are letting others help make the change. In this, I have learned a lot from my wife Kathleen. When we invite others over to our home for a meal, the question always arises, “What can I do to help?” Usually, my wife hands the person a cutting board, a knife and a bag of veggies. Invariably, having a meal together involves all of us working together in the kitchen, bumping into each other while carrying sharp knives and delicate dishes. It is risky, but the whole experience is enriched and we always have a great time.

Change can be enriching, even fun – a bit of a rush, actually. Not everyone will see it that way, but it sure helps if we invite, include, and involve those affected. Being hospitable can change the potential for tension to the potential for a much better experience. People understand the inner reasons for it and are more willing to overlook the work and discomfort for a better future for all. In the best of examples, they work with us to accomplish the change.

Especially if there is pizza involved.

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