Change Leadership

And now for something slightly different. Below are some jottings and collected thoughts on leading an organisation through change.  At first sight, they aren’t particularly theological but:

  1. I thought they might be of general interest to those who come on this site and are involved in leadership/management in the workplace
  2. Some of us are involved in church leadership and for example might be going through changes related to our discussion on multiple congregations or other matters
  3. Many months ago when we were talking about Revelation and how we know, we talked about the right place for General Revelation and an understanding of God’s Common grace meaning that there is much we can learn from day to day life in the workplace. So here are some things I’ve picked up. Now they are presented here un-evaluated and so we need to submit them under the authority of special revelation.  This is an exercise we may well come back to later on once we’ve covered the big picture of what we believe about God, us and the World.


In any case, here goes. Hopefully some of it will be useful! Enjoy!

It’s a long game. This means patience is a virtue. In fact, to some extent there can be an inpatient patience because you both want to give the sense of urgency but also be relaxed when things don’t fall into place in the time scale and timing that you want Part of this is about acknowledging that you may be new to an organisation and so ready to play the long game but there may be a good number of people who have been there a long time and are actually desperate for change.

An old boss of mine described change management as like wind surfing –you spend a lot of time waiting and preparing for the right wave to take you forward.

You need to think strategically –where would you like things to be. Good strategic thinking requires the ability to do “what if analysis”

-This means that the vision of where want to be needs to be specific enough to say something meaningful but also broad enough to allow for some flexibility. You may need to accept some “defeats”/ set backs along the way and the route may not be as direct as you want it to be but you still know where you are going.

“What if” thinking allows you to identify the potential for factors to change this includes considering risks and opportunities. It means that there are a number of “routes” to the final destination. I don’t like to call this “plan b” because it’s not really about changing for a less satisfactory option but rather about finding a different route through.

Talk the Walk. That’s right. I know Americans say you should “Walk the talk” but I’ve switched it! How an organisation acts relates to how it thinks. How it thinks relates to how it talks. This is one reason why it’s a long game because first of all you change the language and that affects how people think and act. But it takes time. Most people will struggle to adjust to new language and old ways of talking will persist. Some will deliberately stick to old ways of talking. However what happens over time is that people get used to new language

Give those who support change a chance! Most change processes involve a certain amount of consultation. This includes surveys, forums and votes. It is right and valuable to give people a good chance to raise objections and these should always be patiently answered. They should never be dismissed even if we suspect the motives of the person raising a question or are uncomfortable with the way it has been raised. This is because others are listening in and so you have an opportunity to explain things again for them. However, quite often, those who resist change will take full advantage of the consultation to put forward their views. They will claim to speak for the silent majority. They will claim to be representing the anonymous people who have complained to them. In fact, many people will not have strong views and those conversations will have more often than not been dominated by the so called “representative” explaining why change is wrong and taking the polite nods of their audience as assent! But here’s the thing. Those who support change have the tougher ask because they are siding with you against inertia. So provide every opportunity for them to speak up!

Be Curious! Good change agents are interested in “why” as well as “what” They want to know why things are the way they are and why change hasn’t happened before. Effective change resisters discourage curiosity and rarely let anyone stop and think why (except to offer conspiracy theories) after all, if we asked “Why are they changing this?” then we might find that although we don’t agree with the proposed solution we now understand and agree on the problem.

This curiosity means we will want to know what makes people tick. What matters to them? We will also want to know how systems and processes work

Asking “Why” means we will want to measure things properly. This will mean a few things

-be wary of setting targets. Targets often distort

measurement because people behave in a way that will seem to meet the target without necessarily working towards the objective (in other words, targets encourage cheating)

-Learn about statistics. When looking at data an important question is “Is there a real difference between the measurements?” Too often people boast about success (or failure) because data seems to move but in fact there is no statistical difference.

-Understand the different types of things you measure. So for example, distinguish between enablers and results. Also watch out for lead measures and lag measures. A lag measure is one that takes time to come through. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have a strong influence on it, it’s just that it takes time (the obvious example of this is employment data which tends to lag behind recessions and recoveries). So know what your lead measures are (the early indicators that change is having an effect)

Be focused. Jim Collins distinguishes between the fox who knows many things and the hedgehog who knows one great thing. He talks about the hedgehog principle meaning that a good leader has a single focus

Linked to this –don’t be afraid to talk about all of the issues and options for the organisation with people. It helps the debate, it gets people thinking. However, don’t expect everyone to agree to every change before you make one change. When it comes to agreeing the changes get agreement for one or two at a time and then move forward.

And that means –grow to love talking with people face to face. That includes and especially includes the people who disagree with you, those who can be awkward and frustrating. Sure, use emails to make sure people have chance to read and digest thought out proposals but also initiate face to face conversations. When someone emails with a question, objection or complaint then don’t just respond in writing, offer to meet them. See those conversations as opportunities. I think that’s the transition from managing to leading. I move from seeing these conversations as unwelcome interruptions to seeing them as an opportunity to build the case. By meeting with those who raise the strongest objections you learn. It may be that they are right and that you have got something entirely wrong. A gracious admission can go a long way. It could be that they are wrong but that there are things you can learn about why they object or struggle that lead to modifications to the change. They may gradually over time begin to hear, understand and accept the proposals

Eli Goldratt suggests that people move to full support and engagement through stages (I am afraid I cannot now remember where I first read his comments on this) but it ran something like this

Level                     Status

  1. I don’t accept you our your agenda
  2. I accept that your intentions/motivation is good but I don’t agree that there is a problem
  3. I agree that there is a problem but don’t agree with the solution
  4. I agree that the solution theoretically deals with the problem but cannot see any real benefit from making the change
  5. I accept that the solution is right but the cost of making the change is too much
  6. I say yes to the solution but I am not yet fully engaged and so I don’t act (it may be that I don’t know what part to play and what to do)
  7. I agree and I act

Be relaxed about your reputation. The change agent is more concerned about making the change happen than getting credit for it. They know that others will plagiarise their ideas and get credit for them. They also know that some of the best ideas will not be their own.

They also know that they may not get to implement the change themselves. This is the King David principle. David could not build the Temple but it did not stop him preparing so that his son could. One of my greatest delights was visiting my old workplace and seeing that my team had gone on to implement some of the biggest changes I had wanted to see –after I left the company.