Making Hay While the Sun Shines

On the way to pick up a take-out lunch from my neighborhood diner yesterday, the warm sunny day found me with the sunroof open and the windows down. I came across a field that had freshly cut and baled hay in it – the old style small bales. The aroma of the hay took me back to my teenage years, when my buddies and I helped nearby farmers as they would bring in hay for their cattle. My usual job was to stack hay bales on a wagon pulled by a tractor – sometimes tossing them from the field, sometimes stacking them on the wagon. Hard work, but good exercise and fun for a bunch of teenagers.

My instantaneous trip down memory lane was shattered when I rounded the corner and saw one man, driving a tractor pulling a machine that picked up the bales, stacked them in neat rows, and when a row was complete lifting the whole thing onto a trailer. The work was quicker, neater, and in the long run more economically advantageous for the farmer.

On the way back from the diner, going down the same road, but on the other side, I saw an elderly gentleman driving a tractor cutting a small field around his house – but with an identical International Harvester tractor and mower to that I used in the early 70s. Now, the tractor I used then was old – that made this one really ancient. But it seemed to be doing the job just fine, and the farmer was moving right along in his work.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The season and needs of both farmers dictated their actions. Each was using tools at his disposal to accomplish a task. Each was satisfied that they were doing the right thing, and they achieved their desired result.

Change, even as regular as the seasonal changes (at least in NC) is a constant. I’ve been a student and practitioner of change for a long time. One of the best resources for understanding change is William Bridges’ Managing Transitions.

Don’t let the title fool you: the first sentence explains the premise of the rest of the book: It isn’t the changes that do you in; it’s the transitions. Bridges sees change as situational – the new job, new boss, new policy. Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation.

I think Bridges would translate the old French saying above to: There can be any number of changes, but unless there are transitions, nothing will be different when the dust clears.

Situational change hinges on the new thing, but psychological transition depends on letting go of the old reality and the old identity you had before the change took place. Nothing so undermines organizational change as the failure to think through who will have to let go of what when change occurs.

Got Change, anyone?

 

How to Thrive in Turbulent Times

Note: During the current “stay-at-home” mandates and other restrictions in place across the country, I am diving back into 11 years of posts, articles, and reviews across my different websites to bring back timely information for today.


 

In the first and second centuries, the Christian church was communal, organic, and unstructured – a lot like the Internet today. Within the Roman Empire, the Christian church grew from a handful of believers in AD 40 to over 31 million adherents by AD 350, making it the world’s first viral organization. By contrast, today’s mainline churches are institutionally powerful, but spiritually weak.

What’s true for churches is true for other institutions: the more “organized” and tightly “managed” they are, the less adaptable they are. Not surprisingly, the most resilient thing on the planet, the Internet, is loosely organized and lightly managed, and so was the first century Christian Church. The lesson here? To thrive in turbulent times, organizations must become more disorganized and unmanaged – less structural, less hierarchical, and less routinized.

As institutions mature, the positive thrust of missions diminishes and the pull of habit strengthens – until one day, the organization can no longer escape the gravitational field of its own legacy.

No pastor would ever tell you that the goal of his or her church is to create a place where members can gather each week to be expertly entertained while congratulating themselves on their moral superiority. And yet this often seems to be the case.

Speaking to the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit a few years ago, Hamel asked the crowd “Is there a difference between ‘doing church’ and ‘doing Jesus’?”

Following a positive response, he then asked, “So where do your loyalties lie? Is it with the mission of redemption and reconciliation, or with the traditional programs and policies of your church? And if it’s the first, how would people know? What would be the evidence? Wouldn’t it be your willingness to sacrifice some of these familiar practices on the altar of a bigger purpose?”

Silence.

I’ve never met a leader who swears allegiance to the status quo, and yet few organizations seem capable of proactive change.

Gary Hamel

It’s impossible to build adaptable organizations without adaptable people – individuals who are humble, honest, and inspired.

Are you adaptable?

 

inspired and adapted by What Matters Now, by Gary Hamel

Change Without Trauma

Note: During the current “stay-at-home” mandates and other restrictions in place across the country, I am diving back into 11 years of posts, articles, and reviews across my different websites to bring back timely information for today.


 

As noted in yesterday’s post, change often comes in only two varieties: the trivial and the traumatic. Frantic, crisis-driven change is a poor substitute for timely transformation. There must be a better way.

We need look no further that our body’s automatic systems for some useful metaphors.

When you jump on a treadmill or pick up some weights, your heart starts to pump more blood, automatically. When you stand in front of a large audience to speak, your adrenal glands ramp us the production of adrenaline, spontaneously. When you walk from shade to bright sunlight, your pupils contract reflexively. Automatically, spontaneously, reflexively – these aren’t the words we use to describe how our organizations change, but they should be. That should be our goal: change without trauma.

In the mind flipping, VUCA world we live in, what matters is not merely an organization’s success at a point in time, but its evolutionary success over time. I recently remarked that being a part of my church’s rapid growth was like a “rocket ride” – and then a friend reminded me that rockets follow a parabolic path, and that most of the rocket sections ultimately come back to earth in a flaming shower of debris. Ouch!

How do you keep an organization – like your church – in “orbit?” Building a truly adaptable organization is a lot of work. It requires a shift in aspirations, behaviors, and operating systems.

  • An adaptable organization rethinks its strategy without having to walk through the valley of the shadow of death; it reinvents itself before getting mugged by the future.
  • An adaptable organization is one that captures more than its fair share of new opportunities. It’s always redefining itself, always pioneering the new.
  • An adaptable organization is more successful in attracting and retaining talent; it will have team members who are more engaged, more excited to show up every day, and are enthusiastic about their work.
  • An adaptable organization will be more productive in responding to emerging “customer” needs. It will take the lead in redefining customer expectations in positive ways.

Building a church that is as resilient as it is efficient may be the most fundamental organizational challenge facing today’s ChurchWorld leaders.

Adaptability really matters now.

 

Inspired by Gary Hamel’s What Matters Now as part of my research for a presentation at WFX Atlanta 9/19/12

It’s Time to Change the Way We Change

Note: During the current “stay-at-home” mandates and other restrictions in place across the country, I am diving back into 11 years of posts, articles, and reviews across my different websites to bring back timely information for today.


 

In our generation, the rate of change has gone hypercritical.

Change has changed.

Other centuries were convulsed by famine, disease, and war, but never before have so many things been changing so rapidly. We live in a world that seems to be all punctuation and no equilibrium, where the future is less and less and extrapolation of the past. Change is multifaceted, relentless, seditious, and occasionally shocking. In this maelstrom, long-lived political dynasties, venerable institutions, and hundred year old business models are all at risk.

Today the most important question for any organization is this: Are we changing as fast as the world around us? In industry after industry, it’s the insurgents, not the incumbents, who’ve been surfing the waves of change. But they, too, are just as vulnerable to change as their victims. Success has never been more fleeting.

Given all this, the only thing that can be safely predicted is that sometime soon your organization will be challenged to change in ways for which it has no precedent. Your organization will either adapt or falter, rethink its core assumptions or fumble the future – and to be honest, a fumble is the most likely outcome.

Of course, change brings both promise and peril, but the proportion facing any particular organization depends on its capacity to adapt. And therein lies the problem: our organizations were never built to be adaptable.

Especially the church.

Honest leaders will look at the Church, and more importantly their church, and see the words above lived out all too often. Churches are built as organizations of discipline, not resiliency. Efficient ministry comes from routinizing the nonroutine, adapting a management philosophy to the real life of people. As the old saying goes, the 7 words of a dying church are “We’ve always done it that way before.”

Adaptability, on the other hand, requires a willingness to occasionally abandon those routines – but in the church, there are precious few incentives to do so. So especially in ChurchWorld, change tends to come in only two varieties: the trivial and the traumatic. A review of the average church’s history will produce long periods of incremental fiddling punctuated by occasional bouts of frantic, crisis-driven change.

It’s time to change the way we change.

Inspired by Gary Hamel’s What Matters Now as part of my research for a presentation at WFX Atlanta 9/19/12

How’s Your Delivery Model Doing Now?

Note: During the current “stay-at-home” mandates and other restrictions in place across the country, I am diving back into 11 years of posts, articles, and reviews across my different websites to bring back timely information for today.


 

An interesting observation of the church by noted business thinker and strategist Gary Hamel:

It is worth noting that many churches adhere to the same “delivery model” for “spiritual services” and that the standard template is less the product of Biblical injunction than of habit. Unchallenged assumptions include:

  • Church happens in church
  • Preaching is the most effective way of imparting religious wisdom
  • Clergy lead while lay people follow
  • More programs equal more impact
  • The church service follows a typical order: greet, sing, read, pray, preach, bless, dismiss (repeat weekly)
  • Believers, rather than curious skeptics, are the church’s primary constituency
  • Going to church is the primary manifestation of a spiritual life
  • Church is a lecture, not a discussion
  • The primary mission of a church is to serve its members, rather than those outside the church who are searching for a spiritual connection
  • The best way to grow the Christian community is to plant little churches that are replicas of big churches
  • To bring people to faith, churchgoers need to market their beliefs more professionally rather than live them out more convincingly

What could you add to this list of things that mindlessly perpetuate the past in your organization?

If organized religion has become less relevant, it’s not because churches have held fast to their creedal beliefs; it’s because they’ve held fast to their conventional rituals, roles, and routines.

The problem with organized religion isn’t the “religion” bit, but the “organized” bit. Today’s mainline churches are institutionally powerful but spiritually weak

 

Inspired by Gary Hamel’s What Matters Now as a part of ongoing research in preparation for a presentation on change at WFX Atlanta 09/19/12

Do You Feel Like You’ve Been Run Over by Change?

Note: During the current “stay-at-home” mandates and other restrictions in place across the country, I am diving back into 11 years of posts, articles, and reviews across my different websites to bring back timely information for today.


 

In the hyperactive world we live in today, you’re either going forward or going backwards – but you’re never standing still.

Based on that premise, a lot of organizations, churches included, are going backwards. 

Historically, organizational leaders didn’t have to worry about fundamental paradigm shifts. They could safely assume that their basic business model, their way of doing things, would last forever. Over the last few decades, that thought has not only gone by the wayside, it’s been blown to the side of the road by in increased speed of, well, life.

In the case of the church, the paradigm was loyal pew-warmers who showed up each week, sat passively through the same unvarying service, dropped five dollars into the offering plate as it passed, and politely shook the pastor’s hand as they headed off for Sunday lunch.

Repeat next week.

But as we have found out over the last few decades weeks, organizational models aren’t eternal. Increasingly, we have witnessed profound paradigm shifts in the world of business, where rigid adherence to one particular model causes the organization to atrophy when its model no longer works – or at least, works well.

What’s true for the world of physics works in the world of organizations as well – over time, entropy increases. As Gary Hamel writes in What Matters Now:

Visionary leaders pass the baton to steadfast administrators who milk the legacy business but fail to reinvent it. The bureaucrats extrapolate but they don’t rejuvenate. As the years pass, the mainspring of foresight and passion slowly unwinds. The organization gets better but it doesn’t get different, and little by little it surrenders its relevance.

Recognize the Church anywhere in that statement? Better yet, do you recognize your church in that statement?

As Christianity has become institutionalized it has become encrusted with elaborate hierarchies, top-heavy bureaucracies, highly specialized roles, and reflexive routines.

Your church won’t regain its relevance until leaders chip off those calcified layers and rediscover its sense of mission.

 

Inspired by Gary Hamel’s What Matters Now as part of my research in preparation for a presentation at WFX Atlanta 09/19/12

Success Brings Unintended Consequences

During a recent Auxano All-Staff call, founder Will Mancini brought up a conversation that he, Auxano Managing Officer Jim Randall, and noted church consultant George Bullard had that revolved around a book by Jim Collins – How the Mighty Falland its relevance to church and denominational settings today. This post from 2011 came to mind, so I’m reposting it.


Starbucks’ battle back from mediocrity is well documented in CEO Howard Schultz’s 2011 book Onward. Pairing it with Jim Collins’ 2009 book How the Mighty Fall gives ChurchWorld leaders a sobering lesson in how to handle success.

Collins’ 5 Stages of Decline begin with “Hubris Born of Success.” He describes it in a short paragraph:

Great enterprises can become insulated by success; accumulated momentum can carry an enterprise forward, for a while, even if its leaders make poor decisions or lose discipline. Stage 1 kicks in when people become arrogant, regarding success virtually as an entitlement, and they lose sight of the true underlying factors that created success in the first place. When the rhetoric of success (“We’re successful because we do the specific things”) replaces penetrating understanding and insight (“We’re successful because we understand why we do the specific things and under what condition they would no longer work”), decline will likely follow.

Here’s what Starbucks’ Schultz had to say in looking back to early 2008:

If not checked, success has a way of covering up small failures, and when many of us at Starbucks became swept up in the company’s success, it had unintended effects. We ignored, or maybe we just failed to notice, shortcomings.

We were so intent upon building more stores fast to meet each quarter’s projected sales growth that, too often, we picked bad locations or didn’t adequately train newly hired baristas. Sometimes we transferred a good store manager to oversee a new store, but filled the old post by promoting a barista before he or she was properly trained.

courtesy sodahead.com

courtesy sodahead.com

As the years passed, enthusiasm morphed into a sense of entitlement, at least from my perspective. Confidence became arrogance and, as some point, confusion as some of our people stepped back and began to scratch their heads, wondering what Starbucks stood for.

In the early years at Starbucks, I liked to say that a partner’s job at Starbucks was to “deliver on the unexpected” for customers. Now, many partners’ energies seemed to be focused on trying to deliver the expected – mostly for Wall Street.

Great organizations foster a productive tension between continuity and change. On the one hand, they adhere to the principles that produce success in the first place, yet on the other hand, they continually evolve, modifying their approach with creative improvements and intelligent adaptation.

When organizations fail to distinguish between current practices and the enduring principles of their success, and mistakenly fossilize around their practices, they’ve set themselves up for decline.

By confusing what and why, Starbucks found itself at a dangerous crossroads. Which direction would they go?

Questions for ChurchWorld Leaders:

  • Is your organization locked in on your vision, core values, purpose, and culture?
  • Or do you move in first this direction, then that, just to have “success”?

Beware the unintended consequences of success.

an updated post on a series reviewing Onward, by Howard Shultz

Onward

preparation for a new series coming soon on Leading the Starbucks Way, by Joseph Michelli

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Look Back with Old School Thinking to Look Forward

Translating New Testament Principles into Present-Day Practices

One of my favorite pastimes is browsing through used bookstores in towns I travel to. Recently, I discovered a treasure in the form of the book “Building Better Churches” by Gaines S. Dobbins, prominent Southern Baptist educator from the 1920s-1950s. He asks some great questions:

  • What sort of church would it be that undertook intelligently and fearlessly to fashion itself according to the basic principles of the New Testament?
  • On what vital functions would it major?
  • What would be revealed to be its strengths and weaknesses?
  • What would it give up as encumbrances inherited from a traditional past but clearly of doubtful value in the living present?

His answers? He thought the church should be a

  • Regenerate body – an inward change growing out of a personal experience in which the shift of life’s center has been from self to Christ
  • Beloved community – sacrifice for the common good is the essence of true community; love cannot flourish in an atmosphere where some assume an attitude of superiority over others as their inferiors
  • Company of worshippers – the object of worship is the God of the Lord Jesus Christ made real through the presence of the Holy Spirit. The practice of worship is in spirit and truth; the purpose of worship is to maintain vital unity between the worshiper and God through the mediator, Jesus Christ, and the illuminator the Holy Spirit. A church may do much else besides worship, but it will do little else of consequence without worship
  • Winner of believers – the process of intelligent persuasion began with Christ’s invitation to “come and see.” It continued throughout His ministry and Paul expanded it. There is no mistaking the proposal of the New Testament that believers be won to saving faith through persuasion
  • Teacher of disciples – preaching and teaching are indispensable means of leading toward Christ, to Christ, and into the service and likeness of Christ. A church is essentially a school with Christ as the Great Teacher; the Holy Spirit as His interpreter; the Bible the chief textbook; the minister the chief officer of the school with other leaders gathered around him as teachers and staff; every believer an enrolled student; and all others who can be reached are sought as learners to be led toward Christ
  • Server of humanity – the early Christians caught the spirit of Christ and like Him, “went about doing good.” It must send regenerate men and women out into an immoral society to transform evil into good, wrong into right, injustice into justice, not so much by political measures as by the leavening process of Christian influence
  • Agency of the Kingdom – the Kingdom of God is a present and future reality. It is not an organization to be promoted, nor a movement to be advanced, nor a social ideal to be realized, but a relationship to be entered and a spiritual order into which others are to be brought through persuasive witnessing

Dobbins, after a lifetime of service to the church, but writing this in 1947, had this final thought which I leave for you to consider:

Ours is an age of revolution. Inevitably the churches are undergoing change. Why not seize on this opportunity to make changes back to the New Testament rather than farther away from it?

And we thought all this “church change” stuff was new…

Cooperation Rather Than Confrontation

Following the Civil War, economic recovery and expansion in the United States was to a large part driven by the expansion of the railroad system.

From its infancy in the 1830s through the 1870s, railroad systems developed piecemeal within the borders of each state. Everything from locomotive size to railcar layout to schedules to fares was developed only with a mind to serve a limited scope – usually measured in tens of miles, occasionally getting up into the hundreds of miles. Nowhere was this more glaring than the rail gauge, or distance between rails.

Facing a tremendous rebuilding effort, with grand schemes of expansion beyond that, the independent railroad systems of the mid-1880s realized that it would be better to serve national, rather than local, interests. The idea that it was better for a railroad to have a separate gauge from its local rivals had become redundant.

Cooperation rather than confrontation was now the watchword.

After decades of incessant fighting, railroad companies realized that railroads work best as an integrated system; the longer that passengers and freight can travel without changing trains, the better the service.

In the South, the five-foot gauge was changed to standard (4 feet, 8 ½ inches) over two days in the summer of 1886.

Two days.

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Large gangs of track workers moved one of the rails on 13,000 miles of track. The operation – staggering in its scope – also required converting 1,800 locomotives and 40,000 coaches. Up until this time, trains heading in and out of the South had been subject of delays as their cars were lifted by hoists and attached to wheel sets of the right gauge.

The efforts of tens of thousands of workers over a momentous thirty-six-hour period on May 31-June 1, 1886 created – at last – a unified railroad for almost the whole United States.

Are there bottlenecks in your organization where converting to a “standard gauge” will bring tremendous growth opportunities?

Background material from The Great Railroad Revolution by Christian Wolmar

Transformation Hurts

If you are comfortable where you are, or if things are okay as they are, you wouldn’t go through transformation.

Only when the pain of changing things overcomes the pain of status quo would you ever consider transformation.

That’s where Starbucks found itself in early 2008. Chronicled in CEO Howard Schultz’s 2011 book Onward, Starbucks – at the apparent height of its success – was declining inwardly, and on the edge of declining outwardly. Onward details the transformation Starbucks went through in 2008-2010, utilizing a Transformation Agenda developed by the senior leadership team at Starbucks as the primary guide.

The Transformation Agenda featured 7 “Big Moves” – innovations and advancements designed to return Starbucks to its core practices. The Big Moves also contained one final, painful set of actions designed to reverse sales trends and bolster stock value.

600 stores closed.

12,000 partner positions eliminated in these stores.

1,000 non-store positions eliminated.

Schultz called it the most painful decision he has ever made. Only the certainty that closing the stores would keep Starbucks operational in the long run allowed him to make the decision. He understood the reasoning, but it was impossible to take the emotion out of the equation:

For all the flak about Starbucks’ ubiquity, almost every store maintained a devoted following inside and out. A soul. With each closing, we would be erasing a fingerprint, and that was a reality I could not possibly ignore.

Fast forward to the fall of 2010: Starbucks regained a healthy balance with a culture that celebrates creativity and discipline, entrepreneurship and process, as well as rigorous innovation. Their fiscal 2010 operating margin was the highest consolidated one in their 40-year history. The transformation worked.

But according to Schultz,

…perhaps the most valuable thing that came out of the two-year transformation was the confidence we gained knowing that we could preserve our values despite the hardships we faced. Holding fast to those values steadied us throughout the tumultuous journey, and the ways in which we conduct our business will continue to bring our partners pride and fuel their engagement as we continue to grow.

Success is not sustainable if it’s defined by how big you become. Large numbers are not what matter. The only number that matters is “one.”

brewed coffee in cup

One cup.

SB customer

One customer.

barista handing drink over counter

One partner.

SB interior

One experience at a time.

 

Question for ChurchWorld leaders:

What’s your “one”?

an updated post from a series reviewing Onward, by Howard Shultz

Onward

preparation for a new series coming soon on Leading the Starbucks Way, by Joseph Michelli

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