Over the first couple months of the year, we have tackled timely leadership topics like Succession Planning and Leadership Styles. I do not want to get too far into the year without looking at one of the top three leadership challenges, which is dealing with change. Many leaders are able to hire well and set effective strategies, yet the ability to get teams to internalize, commit to, and follow through with change escapes them.
I worked in an industry that re-engineered and consolidated constantly. Change was actually a business principle. No question, change is impacting the not-for-profit and ministry sector like never before. Without getting too deep, let’s look at some observations, obstacles, and strategies.
There are three questions I try to ask very early on in any new assignment where I feel change is necessary:
1. What is something we are doing that really provides very little value and why?
2. What are we saying “no” to that we should reconsider?
3. (For each team member) What is the one thing you would do differently or improve if you were in my position?
These seem simple and maybe obvious, but they are important.
Organizational change carries many elements. The emotional element might be the one that takes the most energy. Asking people to think and act differently is not easy. I have seen teams and organizations struggle the most when they just start plunging into operational changes without measuring and planning for the people side of the equation. There is always a possibility for this to become an obstacle during implementation when you ask people to start walking the talk. Human dynamics alone can bungle up what looks like a good execution plan. Just remember not to execute change like a fire drill. One mistake I need to guard against is assuming that everyone has been tracking my way of thinking all along and when it’s time to just add water and mix, everyone will be ready.
Resistance to change can be as expected as the sun coming up in the morning. However, there are ways to work through it. As a practice, I use the following:
Find a way to tell the story as it exists today. Highlight how it is not sustainable or will provide zero growth. Identify a coalition of the willing. Having champions at every level is critical. Push through your historians and resistors and leverage your business pragmatics. Take on the headwind and start learning early. Find the innovators and prove your case early. Adopters are your best friends.
Since change is very personal, we need to make it personal. You have heard before that people don’t always remember what you say, but they remember how they feel when you said it. Be straight up with your team. For example, you can say, “I would be failing you if I didn’t work at developing the organization in a way that prepares it for the future.” Remember - we lead through influence and not control. I have to grow and change as a leader, so it only makes sense that the team I lead should be doing the same.
Recognize that it's a Process
Organizational change is a continuous process. To use a football metaphor, the leader is often the owner, coach, and quarterback all in one. You must focus on a number of mission-critical initiatives at the same time. They include, but are not limited to, the following:
1. Keep asking and responding to the hard questions.
2. Focus on sustaining the energy and momentum of the change.
3. Get all levels of the organization committed to new values and ways of thinking.
4. Keep building the bench strength and leadership within the organization.
There is no question that in times of change, the pressure and weight of the process is on the leader. It is impossible to be successful without walking hand-in-hand with our Lord and Savior. Trust His Holy Spirit to lead and strengthen you. I keep Jeremiah 31:25 (NIV) in front of me: “I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.” You’ve got this because God has you.
GTC President / CEO