Creative Leadership

How To Make Change Happen Without Disrupting Your Organization

Change happens.  Because culture, media, trends, and styles change, we need to be able to respond to those changes.  Besides, as new information and research gives us more insight into management, leadership, motivation, sales, and more, we need to create organizations that allow growth to happen.  For some, it’s the transition to a second generation leader, for others it’s moving from a publically known or famous leader to an unknown leader, and for others, it’s simply the desire to re-brand.

Whatever transition you face, it’s important that you pull off the change without interrupting or disrupting your organization.

Here are some thoughts to keep in mind:

1)  Listen to employees.  The best strategies come from the bottom up, not the top down.  Far too many churches, ministries, and non-profits are managed from the top down, and that limits creativity, innovation, and experience.  Listen to the people on the front lines and learn what’s working and what isn’t.  Dr. Samuel Chand taught me that “culture is more important than vision.”  Create a listening culture in your organization and you’ll be amazed at what you’ll discover.

2)  Consider making changes to management.  Different stages of a turnaround require different skill sets.  In the non-profit and religious world, too many organizations are paralyzed because of the wrong management team.  In this case, “wrong” doesn’t necessarily mean “bad” or “incompetent” but it means “wrong skill set.”  Typically, first generation management teams are great at executing, because the first generation leaders were driven, opinionated leaders.  But send generation leaders are more team oriented, listen better, and understand technology.

So you need to surround them with a management team that compliments that style.  Remember Jim Collins in “Good to Great?”  It’s not just getting the right people on the bus, it’s getting them in the right seats.  The management team that got you here, may not be the team that takes you to the next level.

3)  Remember the past.
  Don’t get stuck in the past, but play to and upgrade your company’s historic strengths.   What core business are you in?  How did you get here?  In my book “Branding Faith” I talk about the critical importance of understanding your founding story, and making it a key part of the company mythology.  People love the story of how companies got started.  For instance with Pastor  Joel Osteen, Lakewood Church in Houston was started by his father John in an abandoned feed store on Mother’s Day 1959.

We built a model of that original feed store and set it in the lobby of Lakewood for years, reminding people of their humble beginning.  We also re-created scenes from that original Sunday service on film and used it over and over again in video presentations and TV programming.  It has always been an inspiration for the congregation.

4)  Harness the future.  A CEO must make hard decisions that protect the company.  Keep the big picture in mind.  Change sometimes hurts, but it’s better to keep the organization healthy than to limp along trying to make everybody happy.  Don’t be afraid to make the tough decisions.

5)  Keep your eyes on the prize.
  There will be bumps along the way; stay focused on the big picture.  Perhaps you’ve rebranded and income is taking a dip.  Perhaps you’ve changed your fundraising strategy and you’re not getting results.    One of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the years is that change takes time to set.  Changes in your media outreach, fundraising strategy, branding, or operations take time to lock into your audience or donor’s minds.

I once had a client that refused to stick with something long enough for it to work.  Over and over again he’d get nervous and go back to the original way of doing things.  As a result, his ministry has limped along for decades, always struggling.  Change takes time, so make a good decision, commit to it, and stay the course long enough for it to work.

Could any of these tips apply to your organization?

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  1. In answer to your response what culture does America export to the world? Is it positive? Why the need for change in cultures? How does a culture change if it is negative? I think I will agree to disagree with you this one.

  2. Listening to the culture is very important when you want to correctly implement a vision but culture is never more important than vision or else we will be living in a perfect world and there would be no need for change/transformation in the first place because everyone is perfect. Besides I tend to prefer what God says as true because He said that without vision the people perish/cast off restraint.

  3. I couldn’t disagree more actually. Vision is critical, but I know a number of major ministries who have a wonderful vision. But their culture is toxic and that vision will never happen. On the other hand – even without a vision, if you have a great, vibrant culture, something positive is going to happen. Think of the culture of your organization as a incubator where the vision can be birthed and grow.

  4. I think you're missing my point.  In this context, "culture" means what happens inside your organization.  I'm not talking about the "outer" culture in society.  I'm talking here about creating a vibrant, creative, and innovating culture INSIDE your organization.

  5. I think I understand what you mean now. Instead of organisations to focus on achieving the corporate vision first and foremost it would be better to first create and build a culture where people can grow, thrive and therefore flow with the purpose/vision of the organisation. In other words build up the people first in an environment where they want to be part of what you are doing and establish good relations with them. Thanks for the clarity on this point.

  6. Good insights.

    I'd add this.  The time to prepare for change is not when your organization has plateud or is in decline.  it is not when leadership changes.

    The time to plan and prepare for change is when your organization is on the increase and things are going well.  Implementing change is usually done too quickly and without enough planning. 

    Understanding the organization's culture, and how well it will react and adapt to needed change is far more important and more difficult than implementing change. 

    Coming up with a vision and deciding to make some changes is easy.  Coming up with the right vision and deciding how to make the changes is what separates leaders from managers.  It's hard work.  Most people want to leap to implementation.  Most people do it too late in the organizations life cycle and too early in the planning process.

  7. Actually 'vision' in the quoted passage of Proverbs means 'revelation of or from God' ['exegesis' in the Septuagint (Latin) version] rather than what we tend to mean by vision when we use that word today. So the Bible is NOT defending the position that you need a 'vision' to hold an organization together and give it momentum, etc – rather it claims that if people do not have a clear understanding of God and who He is and what His purposes are, all activity is useless and without purpose.



  8. One thing I always did during my law enforcement career was to do… nothing. I watched, talked to the officers working there and then asked why we did things a certain way. If the only answer I got was "because we've always done it that way" I looked at how to change it to make things better or easier. Some things I changed back but about 90% of my changes resulted in increased productivity and happier officers.

    Change is good!

  9. If you have family members in positions of authority in your organization and they are not pulling their weight, make the tough love decision to ask them to move on to another organization. It will hurt for a while but the lasting effects on your organization and staff will be good ones. Unproductive family members on staff are huge morale killers.

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