Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

December 2019
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Leadership Letters

Without a Strategy for Change, You’re Sunk

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

This is Part 3 in a series on organizational change
Part 1: Leader, Be Prepared! Your Followers May Resist Change.
Part 2: Change in Real Time: What You Need to Know As a Leader

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 Eight-Stage Model of Planned Organizational Change

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.

These are the eight broad stages:


Establishing a sense of urgency is crucial to gaining needed cooperation. If urgency is low and complacency high, transformations usually go nowhere.

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, and they will doubt whether the change is really worth the pain necessary to accomplish it.

Therefore, leaders must identify actual crises, potential crises as well as significant opportunities, and then find ways to communicate the information broadly and convincingly.

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

There are a number of ways to raise a sense of urgency:


It is dangerous to think that a single leader can pull off major organizational change single-handed. Successful change in an organization requires cooperative effort by people who have the power to facilitate or block change.

The leaders must build a team of “change supporters” both inside and outside the organization. These should come not only from the top leadership, but also from among middle and lower levels of management. This team must share the commitment to the need and possibilities for organizational transformation, and they will guide the change process.

Eight key characteristics are essential to effective guiding coalitions:


A good vision serves three important purposes:

Leaders are responsible for formulating and articulating a compelling vision that will guide the change effort and for developing the strategies for achieving that vision. A “picture” of a highly desirable future motivates people to change.

An effective vision has six characteristics. It is:

In creating an effective vision, there are certain steps that can profitably be followed:


The real transforming power of vision is unleashed when most of an organization’s constituents share a common understanding of its goals and direction. Therefore, leaders must use every means possible to communicate widely the vision and strategy. Change is impossible unless a majority of people in the organization are involved and willing to help, often to the point of personal sacrifice. Consequently, effective communication will make the difference between success and failure.

The key elements in the effective communication of vision are:

Leaders should design mechanisms that provide ongoing feedback from constituents throughout the change effort. Involved people can be effective barometers of what is working well and what is not working well. They should be asked to suggest improvements. Any errors that are exposed in the change process should be eliminated.

Moreover, people will usually embrace a new vision only after wrestling with it. Wrestling means asking questions, challenging, arguing and praying together. Of course, in this dialogue the leaders may discover that their vision needs to be adjusted or even entirely reformulated. However, in the end, swallowing their pride and reworking the vision is far more productive than charging off in the wrong direction – or in a direction that others will not follow.


Major organizational change rarely happens unless many people assist. However, constituents will not help, or cannot help, if they feel powerless. Consequently, leaders must empower their constituents if they are serious about change. This means getting rid of obstacles to change, which may require revising systems, structures or procedures that hinder or undermine the change effort. People can be empowered with knowledge, resources and discretion to make things happen. Leaders can also encourage and reward risk-taking and nontraditional ideas and actions.

To empower people to effect change, leaders should:


Leaders plan for visible performance improvements, enable them to happen, and celebrate constituents who were involved in the improvements. Major change takes time, and a transformation effort loses momentum if there are no short-term accomplishments that people can recognize and celebrate. Short-term wins boost the credibility of the process and renew the commitment and enthusiasm of constituents.

A good short-term win has at least three characteristics:

Furthermore, short-term wins help long-term transformation in the following ways:


Leaders should build on the credibility achieved by short-term wins to consolidate improvements, tackle bigger problems and create greater change. They should resist the inclination to let up after a short-term win, knowing that if they let up before the job is done, critical momentum can be lost and regression may follow. After a measure of success, it is a subtle temptation for people to take a “deserved rest.” However, until change processes completely permeate the organization’s culture, they can be fragile and easily undone.

People look to their leaders for signs of continued commitment to the change objectives and vision. Any indication that the change is no longer viewed as important or feasible may have ripple effects that undermine the change effort. Supporters will be lost and opponents encouraged to increase overt resistance.

Therefore, instead of “taking a breather,” leaders should engage remaining systems, structures and policies that do not fit the vision. They should hire, promote and develop constituents who can implement the vision for change, and they should revitalize the process with a new round of projects, themes or change agents.

Great leaders are willing to think long term and to stay the course to accomplish the long-term goals. So, instead of declaring victory and giving up after a short-term win, they will launch a dozen new change projects, taking the time to ensure that all the new practices are firmly grounded in the organization’s culture.


Organizational culture is the pattern of attitudes, beliefs and values shared by the organization’s members, which produces norms that shape the behavior of individuals and groups in the organization. Like national culture, organizational culture is usually rooted in deeply held values and is often very difficult to change.

It is in the culture that the changes must be made to stick. The new approaches must be institutionalized in the organizational culture. Old habits, values, traditions and mind-sets must be permanently replaced. New values and beliefs must be instilled in the culture so that constituents view the changes not as something new but as a normal and integral part of how the organization functions.

Change that is anchored in an organizational culture:

In conclusion…

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.

In the end, any change is in God’s hands. Your first priority is to seek His face!

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