Stop Undermining Your Efforts

Tripped UpMy agency does a fair amount of training for other professionals. It is from that vantage point that I would like to offer a bit of advice for leaders who are investing in increasing their organizational capacity. First, congratulations for recognizing the critical importance of supporting both your staff members’ professional development and continuous improvement for your organization. That kind of commitment is critical for high-performing organizations. So please, stop undermining your efforts!

How exactly is it that leaders are undermining their efforts? Far too many leaders send their staff to training with the best intentions, and then the staff members — armed with new ideas and information — come back from the training excited and ready to hit the ground running . . . only to quickly hit a brick wall. No one is intentionally trying to thwart their efforts (or at least I hope not), however that is what often happens when no one has taken the time to consider an organization’s readiness to benefit from the new ideas/change effort/best practice information.

Organizational systems are designed to maintain the status quo . . . and that’s a good thing. In most cases consistency and predictability are what we want. However, when you are intentionally trying to infuse something new into a system, and do nothing to alter that system, if the system is working well the result is that the new idea/approach will likely be, if not shut down, certainly diluted in its impact. In effect, the effectiveness of your current systems is undermining your efforts toward change.

There is a way around this dilemma. One effective strategy can be to pilot the new approach — pulling it out from the current systems that are designed to support another way of doing things — to test its effectiveness. If you find that you want to incorporate the new learning on a larger scale, then you can make the appropriate changes to the systems. A similar but slightly larger scale strategy is to try the new way of doing things in a single department or program. Let a small group of staff members work out the bugs in the new system (yes, even the best plan will probably need tweaking to be most effective in your environment) before you try to roll it out agency wide. The most challenging path (but still better than doing nothing at all) is to try to change systems within the entire organization to accommodate a new approach. In most cases, starting small is the best strategy. Gaining little victories, adjusting as necessary, and then expanding the effort makes it easier to convince skeptics that the change is a good idea.

Organizational resources are precious commodities and as leaders we want to make sure we are getting the biggest bang for our buck. The best way to make sure you aren’t undermining your efforts — take a moment to make sure your organization is ready!

Don’t be Afraid to Turn the Page

Open book

Sometimes the hardest time, and yet perhaps the most important time, to make a change is when you are starting to feel really comfortable. Your team is firmly in place, you are making progress in extending your mission reach . . . sure you have the typical day-to-day drama, but overall it feels like pretty smooth sailing . . . why in the world would you want to change that?

Quite simply, because change is inevitable. Either you make it, or someone else will make it for you. Somehow over the years, change has gotten a bad rap. Sure it is uncomfortable for a period of time, but if you as a leader have focused your energy on building a clear vision and strong organizational capacity, change is what will lead your organization to exciting new chapters.

Over the course of the last year, we have had several mid and senior level leaders move on to other pursuits, or shift their roles within the agency. Some had the opportunity to fulfill long-term ambitions . . . going into full-time ministry, moving across the country to be closer to family, taking early retirement . . . others were asked to take on a new challenge within the organization to maximize their gifts and graces and further extend our mission reach. In talking to one of these individuals, she captured what I think at least some of our staff were feeling when she said, “It feels like a page is turning for the organization.” She is right, and that’s not a bad thing. The only way to move through a story is to turn the page. No matter how good one particular passage feels, the story ends if you aren’t willing to look towards what comes next.

The amazing thing is, the next page may be even better. Just as a plotline builds over time, I believe our success today is a result of the solid foundation set by those who came before us. And when you turn the page, the “characters” you have been developing have the chance to grow and expand their impact in new and exciting ways. You will never know what these emerging leaders could bring to your organization if they aren’t given the room to blossom.

Will their story line look exactly like the leaders several pages back? Of course not. But the challenges — the twists and turns in the plot — you face today may require a different type of leader than was needed in the last chapter. Not better or worse, just different.

There’s an incredible story waiting to unfold, but it only happens when you aren’t afraid to turn the page.