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

Understanding the Three Transitions of Change

It has become almost a cliché that the only constant today is change.

What moves it from a cliché to a truism is that the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said the same thing – 2,500 years ago.

In spite of that historical background, we all feel that change is different today: it is without end, and increasingly complex. We talk not of a single change, but of change as an ongoing phenomenon. It’s a collage, not a single simple image; one change overlaps with another, and it’s all change as far as the eye can see.

To some degree, the downside of change is inevitable. Whenever human communities are forced to adjust to shifting conditions, pain is ever present. But a significant amount of the waste and anguish we’ve witnessed in change management is avoidable.

The typical church has not operated well in a rapidly changing environment. Structure, systems, and culture have often been a drag on change rather than a facilitator.

The failure to sustain significant change recurs again and again despite substantial resources committed to the change effort, talented and committed people “driving the change,” and high stakes. In fact, leaders feeling an urgent need for change end up right: organizations that fail to sustain significant change end up facing crises.

This isn’t the sort of challenge you take on because it sounds good.

Adapting to and mastering change is not a choice. A significant part of a leader’s responsibility deals with being a change agent in the organization’s culture. In a time when changes come so fast and from so many unexpected angles, change is no longer a luxury but an imperative.

Even though change is a must for your organization, the “how-to’s” can often prove a problem. Many people lunge into change with no idea of its rules, its guiding principles, its nuances – and its dangers. Quite often disaster is the result. The only thing worse than ignoring change is leaping into it willy-nilly.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Managing Transitions by William Bridges

The business world is constantly transforming. When restructures, mergers, bankruptcies, and layoffs hit the workplace, employees and managers naturally find the resulting situational shifts to be challenging. But the psychological transitions that accompany them are even more stressful. Organizational transitions affect people; it is always people, rather than a company, who have to embrace a new situation and carry out the corresponding change.

As veteran business consultant William Bridges explains, transition is successful when employees have a purpose, a plan, and a part to play. This indispensable guide is now updated to reflect the challenges of today’s ever-changing, always-on, and globally connected workplaces. Directed at managers on all rungs of the corporate ladder, this expanded edition of the classic bestseller provides practical, step-by-step strategies for minimizing disruptions and navigating uncertain times.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

If you were to gather a group of 10 to 20 people together, and ask them to discuss changes they are going through (or have recently gone through), before long you will notice all different types of change provide people with the same basic experience.

Three main similarities begin to present themselves:

  1. An ending, followed by
  2. A period of confusion and distress, leading to
  3. A new beginning.

However you deal with them, endings are the first phase of transition. The second phase is a time of lostness and emptiness before “life” resumes an intelligible pattern and direction, while the third phase is that of beginning anew.

That is the order of things in nature. Leaves fall in autumn, winter sets in, and then the green emerges again from the dry brown wood in the spring. Human affairs flow along similar channels, or they would if we were better able to stay in that current.

But endings are fearful. They break our connections with the setting in which we have come to know ourselves, and they awaken old memories of hurt and shame. Growing frightened, we are likely to abort the three-phase process of ending, lostness, and beginning.

Sometimes, we even twist the pattern around so that beginnings come first, then endings, and then…then what? Nothing.

It is when we turn things around in that way that transition becomes so unintelligible and frightening.

It isn’t the change that will do you in – it’s the transitions. Getting people through the transition is essential if the change is actually to work as planned.

The Three Phases of Transition

Endings – Letting go of the old ways and the old identity people had. This first phase of transition is an ending and the time when you need to help people deal with their losses.

Neutral Zone – Going through and in-between time when the old is gone but the new isn’t fully operational. Called the “neutral zone,” it’s when the critical psychological realignments and repatternings are taking place.

New Beginnings – Coming out of the transition and making a new beginning. This is when people develop the new identity, experience the new energy, and discover the new sense of purpose that make the change begin to work.

William Bridges, Managing Transitions

A NEXT STEP

On the top of a chart tablet, list a change in your organizational life that you have been considering.

Underneath this, divide the rest of the chart tablet into three columns, and write the headings “Endings,” “Neutral Zone,” and “New Beginnings” at the top of the columns.

Before you move forward, ask yourselves these three questions developed by the William Bridges Associates team:

  1. What is changing? Until any vagueness you have about change can be clarified and until the leaders of the change can explain it clearly, in a statement lasting no longer than one minute, there is no way that they are going to be able to get other people to buy into the change. Longer explanations and justifications will also have to be made but it is the one-minute statement that will be the core of people’s understanding.
  2. What will actually be different because of the change? Many change projects are designed and launched at such a high level in the organization that all the planning is unrelated to the everyday, operational details that make up the lives of most workers. In such cases, the decision-makers often have no idea how changes will actually make anyone’s life or job, or even the function of a whole department, different. Yet that is all that people need to know before they can embrace and support a change.
  3. Who’s going to lose what? There must be a hundred other versions of objections to dealing with endings and losses, but they are all variations on a single theme: the mistaken idea that the best way to get people through a transition is to deny that they are even in a transition. In fact many internal communications projects are based on this central misconception that you can (and should) talk people out of their reactions to the change.

Transition management is based on another idea: that the best way to get people through transition is to affirm their experience and to help them to deal with it. It is simply a question of understanding how the world looks to them and using that as the starting point in your dealings with them.

With an understanding of the dynamics covered in these three questions, spend at least one hour working through the three phases of transition, writing down words or phrases under each heading.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 102-2, released October 2018.


 

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<