Leading Change

Leading Change

July 12, 2015 in Pastor's Perspective

leading-changeEvery leader is leading change; it’s integral to the job. Knowing how to do it, and do it well, is probably one of the most important skills any leader can have. But in my experience it is also one of the most difficult things a leader has to do. You would think that eventually we would get it figured out. That’s where books like Leading Change are so helpful.

In my experience, “establishing urgency” and “developing a vision,” while distinct, are intimately linked and essential for any effective change effort-at least a change effort of any significant magnitude.

Without establishing a sense of urgency there is seldom real forward movement. Urgency is all about communicating why the change needs to be made now; without that, people don’t move forward. The change effort takes a back seat to everything else that calls for attention. And there are always plenty of things calling for attention. Many leaders have been frustrated for just this reason. Their people agree that the changes would be beneficial, but nothing happens because people don’t have a sense of urgency.

Vision is connected. In a sense, vision is about the “what” while urgency is about the “why,” or more accurately, the “why now.” Vision describes the future reality; I love Kotter’s point that having an ineffective vision is worse than having none at all. That really struck me. An effective vision is going to resonate with people. I wonder if we sometimes rush the process because we know we need to have a vision with the result that we settle for one
that doesn’t have the impact it could. It takes time and work to establish an effective vision; we dare not shortcut the process if we want to lead change well.

I’ve also become a huge believer in the importance of getting short-term wins. It’s hard to overestimate the impact on morale and the energy that is released when people see positive results or real progress. In leading any change effort I think leaders should identify potential short-term wins and be very intentional about reaching, and then celebrating, those wins. Few things will have a bigger impact on the actual progress made.

What’s your take-away? What has been your experience leading change, for better or for worse?

  • Bud Brown 08:28h, 24 July Reply

    Unfortunately, two decades’ worth of data on the success of change leadership initiatives in the corporate world suggests that the value of change leadership / change manage / change theory is negligible.

    In 1995 Kotter wrote in a Harvard Business Review article that 70% of all change initiatives (of the 100 major corporations he had studied up to that point) had failed. In 1999 Senge reported (citing two independent studies of hundreds of initiatives) that 60% to 80% of all TQM change initiatives had failed. In 2008 a McKinsey & Company analysis of 1546 interviews with business executives around the world revealed the same number: only 30% agreed that the change initiatives had produced the desired results.

    So after more than 70 years of change theory research (in the academic disciplines of sociology and psychology) and business publications on change leadership and change initiatives, the dreadful fact is that 7 out of 10 initiatives STILL fail.

    The problem isn’t for lack of knowledged. Yesterday I searched Amazon for the official category “organizational change” and found 1,918 titles listed. A search of the phrase “change leadership” produced over 48,000 titles, while a search of the phrase “change management” produced almost 107,000 titles.

    While I really want to believe in the work of Kotter et. al., they just don’t have the data the vindicate the popularity of their work. Which is too bad, because we desperately need a theory or model of change leadership that has at least a 50% chance of working!

    In our field (change leadership and change management in stagnant and declining churches) we are happily finding different results. After two years’ of field research, statistical analysis and field testing the principles uncovered, we’re now in the midst of writing.

    More to come.

    • Dave 00:19h, 11 August Reply

      Bud, I just got back from vacation and saw your comment. I’d love to hear more about what you have learned in this area.

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