Creative Leadership

How to Keep Your Organization’s Transition from Being Disruptive

Years ago I read an interview with retail executive Philip Schoonover on managing the turnaround. In the article he lists “5 Tips” on managing a turnaround, and when I read them, I realized immediately that they could apply to most of the non-profit or religious organizations going through various transitions today.

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, Schoonover’s ideas are worth the read. I’ve added my take specifically for non-profits and faith-based organizations after each one:

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. I’ve written before 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) Refresh 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) Embrace your heritage. Play to and upgrade your company’s historic strengths. What core business are you in? How did you get here? In my book “Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media” 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) Protect the future. A CEO must make decisions that protect the company after a turnaround. 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) Stay the course. 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.

Any of these tips apply to your organization?

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  1. I have to say that I don't think these 5 steps will do it. When you compare Circuit City to it's chief rival, Best Buy, they are too far down the path to failure and it seems like a lost cause. Today, Best Buy (BBY – NYSE) sits at $47.72 while Circuit City (CC – NYSE) sits at $5.08. You can look at the 2 year slide of Circuit City stock and see that Mr. Schonover has a long way to go. The five points he makes are a basic model for managment, however radical change will have to occur to for them to see an up swing. The same will be the case for many of our churches. If the numbers show an overall loss during the last 24 months, a complete and hard shift will probably need to occur. I believe that Circuit City is missing a few key elements. Where is extreme customer care on the list? What about giving back to the buyer in ways that speak to appreciation? His fifth point of "staying the course" is very weak. I understand Phil's comment regarding staying with what you have changed for the better. However, I'm a regular shopper of both Best Buy and Circuit City. I look in the ads and visit the stores… probably more than my wife would like. The only thing "new" at CC over the last 18 months is Firedog. BBY already had Geek Squad running at full tilt long before then. I can say that although I shop both stores, I am a "Customer" at Best Buy. For churches on the downward slide how can we go beyond the 5 points of the Circuit City model? I can say that we need to look way beyond those 5 points and talk about serving and making a more positive impact. Schoonover's points look inward for "fixing". I'm not sure he has spent much time stepping out of the store and looking at the faces of the shoppers. Just some thoughts from a Best Buy fan!

  2. I couldn’t agree more. Drastic times call for drastic measures. However, the Wall Street Journal pointed out that Circuit City is in this fix because of some long term issues, and some mis-steps by this CEO. But in a brief post, I think these are absolutely critical for churches and non-profits. We have to start somewhere (please) and these are really good places to begin to make real change happen.

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