By David Hegg
If you’re like me, you’re absolutely exhausted keeping track of all the changes being dropped on us, proposed around us, and rejected by us. By my count, we have suffered enough at the hands of those who worship at the altar of change but quite clearly have little knowledge of how to bring it about in a way that actually makes things better. I say it’s time we ask our leaders to re-enroll in a master class on how to manage and lead change. Here are some of my suggestions for the curriculum for that class.
Leaders are responsible to be out in front of the group, sizing up opportunities as well as recognizing challenges and avoiding obstacles. They are in the business of making decisions concerning the right way to go and the right things to do.
But deciding the right thing to do is the easy part. The challenge comes in doing the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, and for the right reasons.
This is especially true when leading change. Most people fear change because it either takes away something they like or asks them to do something they don’t.
As a leader I’ve paid the “idiot tax” several times, but along the way I’ve also learned some things:
1. Change must always be the servant of mission: Change is never good when it stands alone. Change for change sake, or for reasons other than true enhancement of the group’s mission, will almost always be seen as the enemy. But if the group is united in what it is trying to accomplish, and change is seen as facilitating that mission, it will be understood as a benefit rather than a problem by those who matter most. If you want to lead change, make sure your mission is specific, and powerful enough to unite the group.
2. Change is made palatable through communication: Nobody likes surprises. No matter how much authority you have, you can’t just announce change and expect folks to get on board. We actually like changes we’ve had a hand in formulating. Communication that promotes understanding, invites dialogue, offers some level of participation in the whole process, and creates proper expectations is key to building acceptance of change.
3. Change is adopted emotionally first and then operationally: Every great organization is so because its members own the group mission emotionally. Change threatens that and makes emotional ownership of change an absolute necessity if the change is to become a catalyst to improvement rather than a roadblock. But emotional ownership depends on questions being accepted and answered, perceived personal risks alleviated, and time allowed for people to mull it all over. Some of the best people in the organization may at first seem hardened to any suggestion of change simply because they are intensely loyal to the organizational mission as they understand it.
Here again the importance of mission is an absolute. If they can be shown just how the mission will be enhanced, their loyalty will move them to accept, emotionally own, and champion the change itself.
4. Change is never going to be appreciated by everyone: Don’t kid yourself. Some folks aren’t going to like the change no matter what you do because they haven’t ever owned your mission. Chances are they have their own agenda, and the possibility of change is bringing it to the surface. They are at odds with the change because they are at odds with the mission. And at some point you’ll have to show them how much better off they’ll be with an organization that shares their viewpoint.
Do people really hate change? Only if they see it as a withdrawal rather than a deposit in their lives. As leaders we can do some things to make change beneficial, but it will take patience, and most of all, integrity. It starts with deciding to do the right thing, and then making sure we do it in the right way, at the right time, and for the right reasons.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.