Creative LeadershipStrategy & Marketing

Why Your Organization is Struggling

One of the most common problems I encounter when consulting with major organizations is that they’re actually doing great things – just too many of them.  In most cases, struggling organizations struggle because over the years, they’ve been pulled in too many directions.  Perhaps 10 years ago they decided to start a new division, or a church launches a school, or they develop a handful of new outreaches.  Sure they sounded good at the time, and probably have been pretty effective.  But over the years, like barnacles on a ship,
they start to slow you down to a crawl.  Not to mention, deplete your bank account.

One of my favorite quotes is from the brilliant artist Michelangelo.  When an admirer asked him how he sculpted such wonderful statues, he replied that he didn’t carve statues, he “just removed the excess stone so the angel inside can be revealed.”

A lot of what I do with organizations is to remove the excess stone.  Typically, after years or decades, things add up, and before long, you’ve become a completely different organization.  You’ve wandered from your original calling, expertise, or brand, and your customers or donors don’t even recognize you anymore.

You’re a mile wide and an inch deep.  You do a lot of things, but aren’t very good at any of them.  The problem with cutting back is that they’re good things.  And most leaders find it difficult to cut these programs, divisions, or outreaches back (just look at Washington).  But the truth is – unless you can face the music and re-focus, it will all eventually tumble like a house of cards.

My advice?  Step back and look at all that you’re doing.  What are you doing well and what not so well?  What excites you and what doesn’t?  What reflects your genuine calling, expertise, and brand, and what doesn’t?  What will actually take you into the future?

If it doesn’t – like Michelangelo – start removing the excess stone.  As we approach 2011, let’s focus LESS on what other people think are important, and MORE on what your organization was really created to accomplish.

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  1. And what do we do with all the people who will lose services, support, and even jobs as a result of this downsizing? That’s the real million dollar question, isn’t it?

    Do we just count the losses as collateral damage? Do we justify them in the name of progress? Do we try to hold on to all we can while making significant cuts, or do we just let go of all our dead weight at one without discretion and hope God will sort them out and bless them accordingly?

    I’ve been on the short end of this stick a couple times in my life now, and each time the message was simple and clear, “We’re too heavy. We hired you when what you did was important to us. What you do isn’t important to us anymore, so you aren’t either. Good bye. Good luck. Sucks to be you.”

  2. As tough as that is, the question becomes, do we cut a department or program that isn’t working or draining our resources, and keep the bigger organization alive, or do we keep everything and risk tanking the entire organization, thereby costing everyone their job?  That’s exactly why leadership choices aren’t for the faint of heart.

  3. I don’t beleive Phil was saying to cut the people and downsize as much as he was saying to re-focus your people on your core compentencies. Remove those things that are no longer at the center of who or what you are as an organization. Shift those people and resources into areas that will have even greater impact. This is Business 101, trim those things that aren’t effective (or are less effective than you would like) and re-focus your energies on those things that make you most effective. Beleive it or not that re-focusing takes people and sometimes more people than you had before.

  4. The best restaurants are the ones with a small menu. They focus on one main thing and are great at it. In and Out for example. Their menu is burger, fries or a drink. That’s it.
    Great article Phil.
    PS Enjoyed your seminar at the NOC convention as well.

  5.  Every local church should be making a difference – a notable impact – on and in their local communities. One of my favorite questions to ask people about their church is this:

    If your local church literally went away tomorrow, would your community notice the impact?


    No matter how you answer that question, there are things your church could be doing to become more effective and intentional about meeting needs in the local community.

    Change, though, can be difficult. A strong commitment by leadership coupled by an set of actionable steps are required to get people out of the pew and into service in your community. It requires – and will foster – growth. Phil, I think there are four “C’s” for this kind of healthy growth.

    • Change
    • Cost
    • Control
    • Commitment 

    Change – not simply modification – is often hard and usually requires the art of subtraction before applying the addition of new ministries or initiatives.


    Sometimes we have the best intentions with less-than-the-best results. Someone has a passion and some charisma so we give them a new ministry area. That’s great, but how are you evaluating the effectiveness of the myriad of groups, ministries and events that aren’t really resourced or promoted as part of the vision of the church? As leaders, we must apply the art of strategic subtraction by whittling down the ministries that are good, but don’t fit within the focused vision of the church. By freeing up leaders, resources and time, it’s easier to make changes that provide more impact and add to the mission of the church

     Cost – can be associated with budgeting for people, time and resources. If you’re not budgeting for all three, your true costs can add up very quickly.

    As important as hard costs, opportunity costs can also be very significant. Free, in particular, can turn out to be anything but free. For example, if you’re going to offer your facilities as free meeting spaces for civic, municipal or business events, your costs for cleaning, heating/cooling, projection/lights, audio technicians, etc. can all be expected. Those costs are very real, even though the venue might be “free”.

     Control – it’s hard to manage more than we’re used to managing. Most churches stay small because we can manage (control) a smaller size.



     Commitment – to constant evaluation. Because it’s hard to manage that which we don’t understand well, many leaders will fail to evaluate the effectiveness of a “good thing” and stick with  the programs and processes that have become comfortable.

    Using metrics (defining the parameters, agreeing on the benchmarks and analyzing the data) is an important part of being committed to constant evaluation. We have a tendency to shy away from things we have a hard time measuring or, for whatever reason, are held too closely to be honestly evaluated. I just hope that we’ll be honest and answer these questions without excuses. 😉

    My 2 cents,


  6. Paul, good point, and even if Phil was indirectly saying to downsize it’s a reality and unfortunate for the people who are impacted. Just as companies make business adjustments so do people need to take the same approach with their careers, As a recruiter and consultant in Emotional Intelligence one of the first questions I ask people is “What is your value proposition to your current or potential new employer and how are you accounting for the competitive change in the job market or increased competition for advancement with your current employer?” Frankly, the rules have changed, the approach to getting a job that worked a few years ago doesn’t work today and the rules for succeeding as a company have changed as well. We are now at the point where it’s not a matter of the difference between good and better .. but better and best. Phil’s questions to a company can be equally asked to us individually
    ……From Phil’s article-
    My advice? Step back and look at all that you’re doing. What are you doing well and what not so well? What excites you and what doesn’t? What reflects your genuine calling, expertise, and brand, and what doesn’t? What will actually take you into the future?… answer these questions and you’ll be on the road to discovering your “best” and not only will your current employer realize this.. others will also and you’ll create opportunities for yourself even if your company has a re-focus in which you aren’t included.

  7. Emilio, do you pay to get your grass cut in the winter when it does not need cutting? That same guy needs the money 12 months out of the year.

    The truth is, small businesses employ the vast majority of Americans. We can not survive if our costs are greater than our income. We have to cut or change when our business changes.

    Employment is not a life time commitment on either side. God is your source, not you employer (or your government).

  8. I can really appreciate that, Phil. And, I do appreciate your response.

    I get that in all progress there will be some who are left by the wayside. I guess that the point of my question is more along the lines of wondering if there isn’t a better way to do business than just hacking and slashing at regular intervals. Are there different ways we can structure our organizations or ways to plan for the obsolescence of certain parts of our organization?

  9. I’m not talking about your 300 member neighborhood houses of worship. I’ve worked for no less than three churches of 6000+ members and with international broadcasts on the major religious networks and on many secular ones.

    I get what you’re saying about small business, and that’s all well and true. I also get what you’re saying about employment not being a lifetime thing.

    Perhaps I should explain that in both of my layoffs, these huge organizations made the cuts overnight. At one place, 1/3 of the staff was gone in just 24 hours with no prior notice. That’s over a hundred church employees in a 6000+ member church losing their jobs with no warning, some of them having served faithfully for nearly 20 years.

    Of course life has no guarantees, but it does give warnings and we have time to prepare. I’m not looking for some socialist hippie utopia or the old birth-to-death factory employee society, I’m just asking if there isn’t a better way to handle these things. One would think that the church would have a little more compassion and a greater reason to take care of all it’s sheep responsibly, even those on staff.

  10. That’s a great question Emilio, and one that I may blog about.  The answer is YES – there are ways to plan for transitions, cut backs, and even emergencies.  Good leadership can see the “writing on the wall” and have alternative options at the ready.  I’ll elaborate more in a blog soon…

  11. Most of what you said here applies to an individual as well. Many people are a “mile wide and an inch deep”. They have a ton of active pursuits at the same time, but no real sense of purpose in most of those things. This really blessed me and served as a confirmation for me that I need to stick to what I believe I was created for and have passion and proven ability to perform. Do the work that you would do if know one paid you!


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