Three Steps to Lessen the Pain of Change

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“Any change, at any time, for any reason, is to be deplored.” The Duke of Cambridge (late 1800s)

The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians passed on from generation to generation, says that when you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. Our modern bureaucrats, however, have a whole range of far more advanced strategies such as: Buying a stronger whip. Finding lighter riders. Harnessing several dead horses together to improve performance. Arranging an overseas visit to study dead horses. Reclassifying the horse as living impaired. Rewriting the performance requirements for dead horses. Providing additional funding to improve the performance of dead horses. Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position. What a shame when churches behave like that! – “How to Flog a Dead Horse.” Author Unknown.

Change for churches is problematic.  When considering any change, you want to be prepared for the opposition, even flat out hostility and insurrection.  One solution to overcoming change is to invest more time and energy into strengthening relationships during the period of the transition. For any organization, stakeholders would soon fix a dead horse than admit the horse is living impaired and it is time to replace the old horse.  The old horse is comfortable. Stakeholders have become attached to the old mare.  Yes, it may not work like it used to or at all but dang nab, it is our dead horse. The goal of this post is to help you minimize the pain of change in your organization.

 

Lesson One: Circumstances will get sicker before they get better

First, know that any change to an organization is like death for many impacted by the change. No matter how well you try and prepare people with realistic expectations, major change means that life for the group will be different.  Even if you have planned for all the possible bumps in the transition road things will get worse before they get better.  During this transition, you will lose some of your best and most dedicated people.  You will fray friendships and strain relations.   This change will cost you, but do it because it’s an investment in the health and effectiveness of your organization.  Nothing worth doing is ever easy, it comes at a high cost, with the potential for high rewards.

Lesson Two: Change will require buy-in by the entire ministry team.

With my first congregation, I came out of Seminary with guns a blazing.  I was young, energetic and a visionary.   In the last six months I had prayed, studied, done research and I knew without a doubt just what direction this urban church needed to go.  So, at the council meeting, I laid out this bold new agenda.  And it went over like a black, lead balloon.  I forgot one critical step in the vision implantation process, I expected this change to happen but failed to gain buy-in by my volunteer ministry team.  Unless you like being the Lone Ranger any change requires collaboration from the entire ministry team. If all stakeholders aren’t in, they will either become disengaged or undermine the preferred future you are leading the organization to.  It is possible that you can effectively change some ministry programs without this buy-in, but the change will not be a lasting one. In three years the organization will be in the same place, however, the leader may not be. Frustrations will grow and any future changes will be more difficult as the trust in the leadership would have eroded.  Start with the end in mind. Lock arms with your ministry team and plan for the long change road ahead together. Transition begins with building deep trust with all stakeholders. Guard relationships during this phase.

 

Lesson Three: To Make Lasting Change you must change the Culture.

Thomas W. Lloyd said, “Culture beats strategy.” Some attribute the quote “Culture eats strategy for dinner,” to Peter Drucker, but experts say that doesn’t sound like Peter Drucker. None-the- less the point of both quotes is that if you don’t address the culture of the organization, nothing you attempt will survive.  Culture will always win in the end. Changing culture takes at least three to five years.  Leaders, you are the primary culture creators by the values you hold, the stories you lift up, and the behaviors you model. When attempting to change the culture there may not be much fruit for at least 18-24 months.  Hang in there.  It may take at least three to four years before you uncover lasting fruit.  Once culture change occurs you will experience transformed programs, a revitalized organization, and people with a clearly defined sense of purpose. All in all the change is worth it.

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