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

Great Design is…

Utterly unexpected. A brilliantly designed product or service is clever and amazing. Think anything Apple.

Amazingly competent. A well-conceived product excels at what it does. It is functionally flawless. Think a Ziploc bag or Google’s home page.

Aesthetically exquisite. At the pinnacle of great design are products so gorgeous you want to hug them. Think a Porsche 911.

Conspicuously conscientious. Consumers (especially those under 30) are demanding socially responsible products and services that reflect a sense of stewardship for the environment and a passion for making a difference. Think Prius.

Unfortunately, design is still an afterthought in most organizations. Great design is less about genius than empathy – and it’s often the tiniest things that make the biggest difference.

– from Gary Hamel’s What Matters Now

Designing takes place in the uncomfortable gap between vision and reality.

Marty Neumeier, The Designful Company

Design is not just about products, even though that is often our first and only thought when it comes to design.

Design is change.

You need to find a situation worth improving and then work through the creative process.

For ChurchWorld Design Thinkers (aka Leaders)

  • What are the thoughtless little ways we irritate our members and Guests and what can we do to change that?
  • What are the small, unexpected delights we could deliver to our members and Guests at virtually no cost?

Design Thinking Matters.

courtesy richworks.in

courtesy richworks.in

 

What Happens When Your Vision is Too Rigid and Can’t Account for Change in the Environment?

Most pastors will invest more time on preaching preparation for the next month than they will on vision communication for the next five years. How about you?

That quick experiment is a great way to introduce a special two-part SUMS Remix devoted to the visionary planning problems you must solve.

Will Mancini, founder of Auxano and author of God Dreams, has never had a pastor disagree with him about the simple time analysis above. Most quickly nod with agreement, and understand that something is not quite right about it.

Of the many reasons (let’s be honest… excuses) given, one of the most important is that no one has shown the pastor how to spend time on vision planning. That’s what God Dreams is designed to do. Central to the book’s process is the Horizon Storyline, a tool leaders can use to connect short-term action steps with the long-range dream, while leveraging the power of storytelling to make the plan stick.

Vision Planning Problem #8: The plan is too rigid and can’t account for changes in the ministry environment.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – What Matters Now, Gary Hamel

This is not a book about one thing. It’s not a 250-page dissertation on leadership, teams or motivation. Instead, it’s an agenda for building organizations that can flourish in a world of diminished hopes, relentless change, and ferocious competition.

This is not a book about doing better. It’s not a manual for people who want to tinker at the margins. Instead, it’s an impassioned plea to reinvent management as we know it—to rethink the fundamental assumptions we have about capitalism, organizational life, and the meaning of work.

Obviously, there are lots of things that matter now. But in a world of fractured certainties and battered trust, some things matter more than others. While the challenges facing organizations are limitless; leadership bandwidth isn’t. That’s why you have to be clear about what really matters now. What are the fundamental, make-or-break issues that will determine whether your organization thrives or dives in the years ahead.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Many classic strategic plans assume that the immediate future will resemble the recent past. Anyone alive in the 21st century knows that this assumption is no longer valid. We simply must be ready to adapt to major changes in our world from culture and politics to communication and technology.

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

The Christian church in its various forms, and the great universities it spawned, have proven to be some of humanity’s most durable institutions. From the beginning, they have been missional at their core – but as change accelerates, they will have to become even more so.

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

What’s true of 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 Web, 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 a bit more disorganized and unmanaged – less structured, less hierarchical, and less routinized.

Gary Hamel, What Matters Now

A NEXT STEP

On a chart tablet, make three columns:

  • Things we are presently doing, but should stop
  • Things the church should be doing
  • Things we are doing well

Take 15 minutes for the team to individually consider these categories. Have each person select his or her top two in each category and write their initials by them on the chart tablet. Do not allow comments until everyone is done and the list is complied.

Talk through each item and rank the list. Be sure to include the “whys” and “why nots” in your discussions. After the exercise, discuss what action steps, if any, should be taken.


Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 48-3, published July 2016.


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 “summary” for church leaders. Each Wednesday I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt here.