A Path to Organizational Change

Leading Change

Photo by Lookas PHT. Available at Flickr.com.

Some people cringe when they hear the word “change.”  I know because I run into that reaction upon occassion. Perhaps they have been burnt by leaders who promise change but don’t deliver. Whatever the reason, to survive, organizations must change. Change is life and life is change. Living things change. In fact, if you’re really enamoured with stability, the best place to find it is at the cemetary.

Most leaders, however, realize change is necessary and want their organizations to change for the better. They don’t know how to go about making that happen. Without a doubt, change is difficult; but I believe leading change is the core component of true leadership. In this post, I want to share with you some ideas about being an agent of change.

I see change as a three-stage process. At each stage, we must address both individual and organizational dynamics. The individual dynamics usually relate to helping people deal with their feelings about change. Organizational dynamics have to do with making sure that we see the organization as a complete system. If we don’t embed the change in all organizational dimenions and at all levels, then organizational immune systems are likely to kick in and fight off the change.

So… Let’s unpack these stages.

Stage One: Clarify the Need for Change

The objective of this stage is to help people understand and feel the need for change. I’m not talking about some kind of psychological manipulation, but about revealing the facts and helping people to get beyond their defense mechanisms and to actually absorbe the facts.

Organizational Dynamics. At the organizatinonal level, we’re still dealing with people but we’re trying to help them look beyond themselves and see the organization and its environment. Many times the cause of organizational stagnation is that people get so focused on what they’re doing they forget to look around at their surroundings. Yes! Our system is efficient for producing widgets, but are people still interested in buying widgets?

To accomplish this, you have to do some reasearch both on the external and internal environments of the organization. You need to find the strengths and weaknesses of the organization and also the threats and opportunities coming from outside the organization.

Individual Dynamics. At the individual level, communication skills are essential. Communicate clearly and often about your findings. Also, help people connect their valued past with the current organizational reality. “We were once the most influential company in town because we stood for quality.” The idea here is to show people that your current levels of productivity and growth do not do justice to deeply-held values from the past. “We are drifting away form our core values.”

Sometimes, you will find people for whom no amount of factual evidence will be convincing. This is where you need to hone your confrontational skills. And there are different ways to confront, so don’t automatically equate that word with the in-your-face approach. Sometimes confrontation is gently saying, “This is the way we are going. You can come along or you might want to find a different employment that is more conducive to your goals.”

OK… I have to quit. This is getting too long for a blog post. So, I will continue next week. I hope to hear back from you. I would love to read what you think about this approach, how practical you think it is, and how you would go about leading change.

provides consulting services for churches and organizations. Contact Dr. Waddell today at gregwaddell[at]leadstrategic.com to discuss the needs of your organization.

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