Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

January 2000
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A Model of Planned Change – Part 1

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

Large-scale change in an organization involves a process of experimentation and learning. It is impossible to anticipate all the possible problems or to prepare detailed plans for how to carry out all aspects of the change. In fact, contrary to common assumptions, the process of change in an organization is not always initiated by top management, and they may not even become involved until the process is well underway.

The essential role of leadership is to formulate an integrating vision and general strategy, build a coalition of supporters who endorse the strategy, then guide and coordinate the process by which the strategy will be implemented. Rather than specifying exact and detailed guidelines for change at all levels of the organization, it is much better to encourage middle- and lower-level managers to change their own units in a way that is consistent with the overall vision and strategy. The leaders should provide encouragement, support, suggestions, and the necessary resources to facilitate change, but should not try to dictate exactly how to do it.

Successful implementation of change requires a wide range of leadership behaviors that involve both organizational actions and people-oriented actions. In “Leading Change,” John Kotter presents an eight-stage model of planned change. This model includes both kinds of actions, and to successfully implement change, leaders must pay careful attention to each stage. Skipping stages or making critical mistakes at any stage can cause the change process to fail.

The Eight-Stage Model of Planned Organizational Change:

1. Establish a sense of urgency.

2. Create a guiding coalition.

3. Develop a compelling vision and strategy.

4. Communicate the change vision widely.

5. Empower constituents for broad-based action on the vision.

6. Generate short-term wins.

7. Consolidate gains and produce more change.

8. Anchor new approaches in the organizational culture.

1. Establish a sense of urgency.

Crises or threats will quickly thaw resistance to change. However, unless there is already an obvious crisis, most members of an organization are unlikely to comprehend the need for major change. Therefore, leaders must identify actual crises, potential crises as well as significant opportunities, and then find ways to communicate the information broadly and dramatically. Establishing a sense of urgency is crucial to gaining needed cooperation. If urgency is low and complacency high, transformations usually go nowhere.

There are many sources of organizational complacency, all of which help maintain the status quo:

1. A lack of prayer and seeking God for His highest purposes to be accomplished by the organization. If we were truly seeking God’s will, we would realize how far short we are.

2. No major and highly visible crisis. “Church is comfortable, no divisions recently, the bills are paid; we’re OK aren’t we?”

3. Success. Too many visible resources. “We’re growing; why change now?”

4. Low overall performance standards. Two underground church movements in China recently set a combined goal of leading 40 million people to the Lord in a two month period. This would be accomplished by each leader leading 5 people to the Lord and each believer leading 3 people to the Lord in that time period (actually the work of a weekend in China). In America, we are thrilled when we see a single soul saved per year in many churches!

5. Organizational structures that focus constituents on narrow functional goals, instead of broad organizational performance. Too absorbed with narrow “busy” details we lose the big picture of our actual state.

6. Internal measurement systems that focus on the wrong performance indexes. “Are the church’s small groups following everything in the agendas they are given?” versus “Are they winning souls?”

7. A lack of sufficient performance feedback from external sources. Self-absorbed and egocentric, we are too insulated from our environments to get any legitimate feedback regarding our real performance. Church may look pretty on Sunday, but what are we really accomplishing?

8. A kill-the-messenger-of-bad-news, low-candor, low-confrontation culture. “Quiet! Don’t rock the boat! You may make people feel bad!”

9. Too much “happy talk” from senior leaders. We’re particularly guilty of this in the church: always trying to make people feel better than how they really should be feeling.

10. Human nature, with its capacity for denial, especially if people are already busy or stressed.

Raising a Sense of Urgency

To break complacency’s power, there are a number of ways to raise a sense of urgency:

1. Pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to convict the people of their complacency in the face of the organization’s real problems and opportunities.

2. Allow errors to occur, instead of correcting them at the last minute.

3. Eliminate obvious examples of excess. “If the pastor drives a BMW, why should I sacrifice for missions?”

4. Set goals so high that they can’t be reached by conducting business as usual. God has called us to change the world!

5. Stop measuring performance based only on narrow functional goals, and instead hold people accountable for the broad performance of the organization. What are we really accomplishing?

6. Inform the constituents about the real performance of the organization, especially its weaknesses.

7. Insist that everyone in the organization is personally exposed to the real problems the organization faces. Ultimately we’re all responsible for the success or failure of our organizations.

8. Bring outsiders in to force more relevant data and honest discussion into leadership meetings. Counteract insider myopia with external data.

You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (Rev. 3:17)

9. Be more honest when discussing the organization’s problems with its constituents. Let’s be honest for a change, instead of always trying to be positive. Eliminate leadership “happy talk”!

10. Bombard people with information on future opportunities and possibilities, on the rewards of fulfilling those possibilities, and on the organization’s current inability to pursue those opportunities. We may be surprised by how they rise to the challenge!

The next Leadership Letters will continue to describe the actual mechanics of implementing change.

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