Leaders are continually faced with trying to change something. And — if you’re honest — you’ve already thought about backing off. Change seems too difficult. You’ve watched friends get hurt trying to lead similar change. You’ve heard the voices of opposition get a little louder. You really don’t want to be afraid to open your inbox every morning. If you've ever tried to lead change you can probably relate.
Reflect on the feelings and emotions these real-life examples bring to your internal world ...
We changed our style of worship from very traditional to a very “contemporary” style (that sounds so ... dated, but what else do you call it?).
We moved from an insider focus to a focus on outsiders we needed to reach.
We reprogrammed all the ministries and stopped doing things like potlucks, bake sales, bazaars, and fundraisers so we could focus on ministry.
We sold all three historic buildings and became a new church with a new mission, a new name, and a new place. After a few years in an elementary school, we moved into a new $ 2.1 million facility.
We remodeled our governance and moved toward a staff-led model.
Change is harder than it needs to be because it’s more mysterious than it needs to be. And it doesn’t need to be quite that mysterious. Change has dynamics; and the dynamics can be learned. If the church (and other organizations) is going to reach its potential, change isn’t optional, it’s necessary. So, if you’re navigating change, here are some key principles to help you maintain clear thinking amidst the sea of emotions that leading change brings:
1. People aren’t opposed to change nearly as much as they are opposed to change they didn’t think of.
Everybody’s in favor of their ideas, but most organizational change is driven by leadership. All real change is. So you just need to realize that most people will come on board. You just need to give them time until a leader’s idea spreads widely enough to be owned. And by the way, great ideas eventually resonate.
2. Change is hard because people crave what they already like.
You have never craved a food you hadn’t tried, and change operates on a similar dynamic. Your people want what they’ve seen because people never crave what they haven’t seen. That’s why vision is so key – you need to paint a clear enough picture that people begin to crave a future they haven’t lived.
3. Leaders crave change more than most people do because they’re, well, leaders.
Your passion level is always going to be naturally and appropriately higher than most people’s when it comes to change. Just know that’s how you’re wired and don’t get discouraged too quickly if your passion for change is higher than others. You’re the leader.
4. Most of the disagreement around change happens at the strategy level.
Most leaders stop at aligning people around a common mission and vision, but you also need to work hard at aligning people around a commonstrategy. It’s one thing to agree that you passionately love God, it’s another to create a cutting edge church that unchurched people flock to. One depends on vision; the other is a re-engineering around a common strategy. When people are aligned around a common mission, vision and strategy, so much more becomes possible.
5. Usually no more than 10% of the people you lead are opposed to change.
Okay, maybe it goes to 30% at the high water mark. But are you really going to sacrifice the majority and the future for the sake of a small group of opposition?
When opposition arises, two questions emerge:
How much actual opposition is there?
Of all the voices you hear, which ones should guide you?
Four Kinds of People
When you try to introduce change in virtually any arena, you get a variety of responses. They range from “enthusiastic embrace” to “deep resistance.” What’s notable is that people’s responses are, for the most part, predictable. In fact, experts promote various accounts of how the population breaks down in response to adaptation to change.
What follows here is a slightly adapted model of how people respond to change. For fun, let’s look at these trends through the lens of how four people-groups respond to something like the introduction of the latest smartphone:
Early Adopters. These are the people who enthusiastically embrace and adopt change. They’re the ones who either line up for days to get the latest phone the moment it’s released or pre-order it seconds after it’s available online. They love change. They thrill at being first. In many areas of life, they are leaders. Not all leaders are Early Adopters, but most Early Adopters are leaders, and they line up around the block for new things with smiles on their faces.
Early Majority. The Early Majority are similar to their Early Adopter friends, just one time zone behind. They like change. They’re enthusiastic about progress. But they’ll get the phone when it’s back in stock. Sure, they may check inventory levels from time to time, but they won’t go camping to get it. Still, they’ll have the latest phone before many of their friends do. And they’ll love its features.
Quiet Majority. These people like phones, but they think about the hassle of changing their cell phone plans and the upgrade costs. They like technology and usually pick up something new at some point. But for right now, the phone they have is fine. Eventually, the Quiet Majority will carry the phone in question just like the Early Adopters and Early Majority, but it might be because they unwrap it at Christmas. They’re not really opposed. They’re just not first, and sometimes not second. They’re waiting to see where the culture goes and ultimately, they’ll follow it.
Opponents. This group has a variety of viewpoints among its members, but what unites them is their opposition to change. The Opponents are rarely people with a future-oriented sense of vision or purpose. When it comes to phones, you’ve seen the type: Some can’t believe another phone is being released when nothing is wrong with the current models. They want the madness to stop. Also in this group are people who are still getting used to their landlines and fax machines. In fact, there are a few who still ride horses to deliver messages. Usually, these people oppose all things new. They don’t like that shirt you’re wearing either, now that you mention it.
So, in the midst of your most emotional and confusing days, ask yourself a couple of key questions:
Am I confusing loud with large?
Am I confusing volume with velocity?
The number one question people ask with regard to change seems to be: What if we lose people? The truth is, you probably will. There is no way to engineer significant change and keep everyone you’ve currently got.
While the losses may be cumulative, the gains are potentially exponential.
We’re afraid that people will leave. We’re afraid of who they’ll take with them. We’re afraid of what they’ll say about us to others. We’re worried about the financial impact of people leaving (even though they’ve likely checked out financially long before they’ve checked out of the building). We hate disappointing people. We don’t like to be disliked. We don’t want to be unpopular.
Start worrying about losing the Early Adopters and Early Majority!
The Early Adopters and Early Majority really are waiting for you to do the rightthing. They’re waiting for you as a leader to lead. They want to be well led. They want to be inspired. Like you, they dream of a better tomorrow. And if they can’t find it in your organization, they’ll look for it somewhere else.
So a question: Who would you rather lose? The Opponents, or the Early Adopters?
Having the right filter helps you wrestle down a critical question every leader needs to answer: How do I make sense of the voices raised in disagreement with the vision? If you’re a healthy leader, you’re going to ask yourself some tough questions like:
What if the Opponents are right and those of us in favor of change are wrong?
What if God is speaking through them and I’m missing it?
What if my judgment is so off I can’t tell what’s right and what’s wrong anymore?
Two questions through which to process every negative voice you hear:
Is there a biblical argument in what the person is saying?
Is this person the kind of person we are going to build the future of the church on?
Discernment simply seeks to understand. In that spirit then, here are five questions designed to help you discern whether a person is indeed the kind of person you can build the future of the church on:
Is their vision primarily based on the past or on the future?
Do they have a spirit of humility? Are they open or closed to the counsel of other people?
Who is following them, and is this the kind of group that you would want around your senior leadership table?
Are they focused on themselves or the people you are trying to reach?
Do they offer positive alternatives that will help build a better future than your current vision for change?
Don’t quit. Persevere. And remember, you will be tempted to quit. In fact, you’ll be most tempted to quit moments before your critical breakthrough.
6. Loud does not equal large.
Just because the opponents of change are loud doesn’t mean they’re a large group. The most opposed people make the most noise. Don’t make the mistake most leaders make when they assume large = loud. Almost every time, it doesn’t.
7. Most people opposed to change do not have a clearly articulated vision of a preferred future.
They just want to go back to Egypt. And you can’t build a better future on a vision of the past. Remember that when they tell you about how good things used to be.
8. Fear of opposition derails more leaders than actual opposition.
You will spend a ton of time living through your fears. Courage isn’t the absence of fear; it’s the determination to lead through your fears. By the way, this does wonders for your faith.
9. Buy-in happens most fully when people understand why, rather than what or how.
What and how are inherently divisive. Someone’s always got a better, cheaper, more expensive, faster, shorter, longer way to do what you’re proposing. So focus on why when you’re communicating. Why reminds us why we got into this in the first place. And why motivates. Always start with why, finish with why and pepper all communication with why.
10. Unimplemented change will always become relief or regret.
One day, you’ll be so glad you did. Or you’ll wish you had. Remember that.
11. Incremental change brings about incremental results.
You’ll be tempted to compromise and reduce vision to the lowest common denominator: incremental change. Just know that incremental change brings incremental results. And incrementalism inspires no one.
The Problem With Incremental Change
So you want to bring about change but you’re afraid of the pushback that you know the change will create? Totally understand that. So you’re tempted to do what many leaders have done. Instead of bringing about the deep or radical change you know needs to happen, you decide to introduce change incrementally.
Rather than remove the furniture you know needs to go, you move it an inch a week, hoping nobody will notice.
Rather than fire the poor performer, you transfer him to a new position and hope one day he’ll leave.
Rather than kill the programs that need to go, you add a few new ones instead and skirt the real issue.
Rather than make all the changes you know need to be made, you create a 10 year time line, thinking that people will better accept the change the longer you delay.
Sound familiar? What’s wrong with this picture?
The problem with incremental change is that it brings incremental results. If you want incremental results, then embrace incremental change. The reality is that most leaders don’t want incremental results. You dream of significant results. Of radically different results. Yet for some reason too many leaders fall for the leadership lie that incremental change will usher in radically different results. It won’t. Radical change brings the potential for radical results. Incremental change never does.
Too many leaders fall for the leadership lie that incremental change will bring radical results. Why Do Leaders Fall For This? Why do you as a leader talk yourself into believing that incremental change will produce the results you’re looking for? There are at least three reasons:
a. You fear people’s reaction to significant change.
You’ve seen other leaders get crucified for ushering in change. And you don’t want that to be you. Fear is one of the main reasons change isn’t happening fast enough in the church or in many organizations today. Wouldn't it be a terrible thing to stand before God one day and explain that the main reason you didn’t do what you were called to do is because you were afraid? Do you really want fear to be your final epitaph as a leader? Or would you rather go down trying?
b. Past opposition to change.
You tried change once, and it failed. Well, awesome. You also had a bad meal once, but you didn’t stop eating. Why is it leaders shy away from change once they’ve had any opposition to it? Maybe the change itself isn’t the problem. Maybe your strategy is the problem. Just because you failed at leading change once doesn’t mean you’ll fail forever. Get a new strategy. What’s at stake is far too important not to.
c. Belief that progress should come without pain.
Now we get closer to the heart of the matter. Many leaders secretly wish progress came without pain. Progress almost never comes without pain. Significant things are rarely accomplished without significant struggle. Our heroes are always people who suffered to bring about a better end. Part of us wants to live like that, and part of us doesn’t. The leadership question is whether you’re willing to endure pain for the sake of a better future. Real leaders say yes to that. They honestly do. If you want significantly different results, push past the fear and stop thinking incrementally. Incremental change brings about incremental results. Now you know what you’re dealing with.
12. Transformation happens when the change in question becomes part of the culture.
You won’t transform an organization until people no longer want to go back to the way it was. You can change some things in a year and almost everything in 5 years. But transformation happens when people own the changes. That’s often 5-7 years; only then do most people not want to go back to Egypt.
13. The greatest enemy of your future success is your current success.
Successful organizations create a culture of change because they realize that success tempts you to risk nothing until decline forces you to reexamine everything. Keep changing.
To wrap up this app ... let's be honest ... there are times when you bring change or attempt to bring change and things end up in a mess or the obstacles are just too numerous and/or large to ignore. What are some signs that maybe the battle is over and you should move on? When does the opposition become too much for you to stay in your current role?
Three conditions (there may be others) that, if true, should make you think twice about staying (or reconsidering the plan for change):
Your spouse thinks it’s time to give in or move on.
Your circle of wise counsel is unanimously telling you to reconsider.
You have lost the confidence of the most capable leaders in the organization.