leading change

I recently read John Kotter’s business book on bringing change to an organization. I really enjoyed the book and thought it may be helpful if I posted a brief summary. While the framework is for business, I found it easily applicable to ministry.  See what you think…

  1. 1. Establishing a Sense of Urgency

Without a sense of urgency, complacency will consume an organization. Emphasis on the status quo will strangle any hopes of increased effectiveness on the part of the organization. Kotter discussed the sources of complacency and how leaders can combat and defeat it by revealing the crises being faced by the organization. Effective leaders must create an atmosphere of open and honest communication where team members can discuss the realities of the market, the weaknesses of the organization and the opportunities that are being presented.

Because unawareness of crisis and opportunities will cause an organization to stagnate, a strong sense of urgency to bring change must be fostered by leaders.  Without it, no significant change will be experienced.  With it, employees will observe the opportunities being presented and a foundation for transformation can be established as the change construction process proceeds forward.

2. Creating a Guiding Coalition

In order to affect change in an organization, a leader must strategically develop a leadership team of influential leaders from within the organization, who believe in and help lead the transformation. No singular leader is able to bring healthy and lasting change to an organization of any size. Members of this team must be in position of authority, must possess expertise, must enjoy credibility within the organization and they must be proven leaders among their peers. Both leadership and management skills are needed on this team, with leadership being vital.

A significant part of the success of the transformation coalition is trust. Team leaders must trust one another as well as the processes in which they are engaged. This does not always happen organically: leaders must intentionally focus on efforts to unite the individuals. This is most effectively accomplished in off-site team-building experiences. From a higher level of trust, a common goal will be adopted and invested in by all members.  The coalition can then lead the organization in the transformation process.

3. Developing a Vision and Strategy

Both the creation of a vision and the development of specific strategy must be employed if change is to be embraced.  The author refers to vision as “a picture of the future with some implicit or explicit commentary on why people should strive to create that future”. (p.68) Strategy is what makes the vision “doable”. One without the other is impotent in affecting transformation.

Vision must be imaginable, desirable, feasible, focused, flexible and communicable.  A transformational leader must be able to describe to an interested party the strategy of the vision within five minutes. The importance of vision and strategy cannot be overemphasized, without these vital elements, no substantive change will be enjoyed in the organization.

4. Communicating the Change Vision

One cannot lead change without effectively communicating the change vision. This requires an incredible amount or time and resource investment, which makes the process painstaking and unappealing to many leaders. It is essential that the vision communication be clear and simple.  This is the responsibility of the primary leaders.

Key elements of vision communications are: simplicity, use of metaphor, multiple forms, repetition, leadership by example, explanation of inconsistencies and two-way communication. These elements may be formal in their presentation or more organic in their development but they must be presented on a variety of levels to a variety of people utilizing a variety of media.

It is required that the change coalition be united in the commitment to the vision and communicate that unity to all employees.  Modeling behavior is a crucial element to vision communication.  Employees will observe the solidarity of the leaders and will pattern their behavior accordingly.

5. Empowering Broad-Based Action

Employees and volunteers must be engaged in inclusive action in order to experience true organizational change.  They must be empowered by the change coalition.

There will be many obstacles in the typical organization that will serve as barriers to change. These obstacles must be identified, address and removed, if necessary.  This includes systems or structures which hinder vision fulfillment. All structures need to align with the vision. Many of these designs have been in place for many years, without strong leaders to point out better alternatives, there will be an unawareness of the possibilities.

Individuals within the organization will need to be motivated to resist the status quo and to learn to function outside of a traditional comfort zone. Employees need to be developed and supervisors, as well as employees, who resist the vision must be confronted. The employees who challenge the way the organization has always functioned must be rewarded for their visionary behavior.

This is a painstaking and sometimes frightening stage of change, but required nonetheless.

6. Generating Short-Term Wins

Leaders who wish to motivate change within their organizations must establish the expectation of legitimate short-term terms wins for their team. Too much focus on a big dream without an emphasis on day-to-day improvements can leave employees tired and battle-worn.  Since it does not come naturally, most managers need to include more of a strategic system for creating these wins.  Team members should know that the change is working and those who help to create wins should be recognized for their efforts.

Short-term wins possess these characteristics: visibility, unambiguity, and a direct relation to the change effort.  These characteristics will create a healthy pressure on employees, and create an increased sense of urgency and expectation.  Everyone on the team should have the privilege of celebrating the day-to-day organizational victories.

7. Consolidating Gains and Producing More Change

At every stage of the change process, resistance to change will continue to arise. The temptation for leaders will be to celebrate short-term wins, but this can be lethal to the change process, and all momentum can easily slip away. In order to sustain long-term transformation, it must be driven deep into the core of the organization.

This stage may seem radical, in that many times, massive amounts of change are required before any change in the organization can be realized.  This is especially true of highly interdependent systems. All systems, structures and policies that do not fit within the vision of the desired change must be addressed. This can be accomplished only by leaders who have built substantial credibility through the patient development of the previous six stages.  This includes hiring, developing and promoting key individuals who are helping to fulfill the change vision.

This stage requires a very long-term perspective on organizational leadership by the leaders.

8. Anchoring New Approaches in Culture

Until a transformation is anchored deeply in the culture of an organization, the change is subject to reversal.  Culture is very difficult to change, it happens only after the actions and behaviors of people have been modified. This is why cultural change happens at the end of the transformation process, not at the beginning.

More effective leadership and better management will inspire increased performance through customer and productivity–oriented behavior.  They will paint the picture for employees as to how these new behaviors enhance organizational success.  Those who refuse to adopt the new culture of change will need to be addressed and may need to be removed.  Those who do adopt the vision should be assured of continued leadership development and succession. Obviously, this is one of the last steps in the change process.

The eight stage process of bringing change to an organization as presented by John P. Kotter in Leading Change is thorough, practical and motivating.

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3 responses to “leading change

  • James Cristantiello

    Good blog. I feel like I’m in step with you pastor. We’ve got to stay in the dream/ strategy/ execute phases and out of the other ones that bogg us down.

  • rickwhitter

    Jimmy, I really liked Kotter’s approach. I learned so much from the book about the process of change. He points out that it takes real leadership maturity to walk out the entire process. I know that is where I have failed in times past. It’s so easy for me to get ahead of myself and get impatient. I’m praying for more patience, you know? Good to be on the same page with you and others.

  • James Cristantiello

    I had the priviledge of working with a great guy for a handful of years who was my opposite. He really challenged me, but as long as we stayed on mission our organization grew. We experienced the greatest season of excellence that I’d ever known at that time.

    As a reminder of our trust in each other to the mission, I bought a model train for my desk as a reminder to always move forward. In turn, he hired someone with special needs as a reminder to have an appreciation of slower moving people (namely me).

    We need to greet diversity with open arms. The more diversity the better. Yet, urgency is the birth place for diversity so I really think this idea of bringing primary leaders together to promote change is the next step. LEAD

    However, I don’t want to be the train that’s left the station without the cars attached to it. It’s a delicate balance so THANK GOD I don’t have to do it ALL.

    Galations 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

    What an exciting time to be apart of Cross Community Chruch!

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