Tag Archives: organizational change

the slow and arduous process of change, and the need for help

i’d just finished leading a seminar on organizational change yesterday, called “the flywheel of change”, when i popped online and saw this video (it’s short – watch it):

given the conversations i’d been a part of only minutes earlier, the video quickly became a metaphor for me. i had presented adizes’ model of organizational life-cycles (see this post for a little unpacking of that model). we’d talked about the hard path of rebooting an organization (business, church, youth ministry) that is already into entitlement and bureaucracy. we’d talked about the courage and challenge required for the first couple pushes on a flywheel of change, which have to (counter-intuitively) occur when everything seems to be going well, and most leaders want to ‘stay the course’. i’d shared stories of this from my youth specialties days, and consulting work i’ve done with churches and other organizations. and participants in the seminar shared stories of their attempts, as well as the organizational inertia or outright opposition that resisted their change efforts. it was encouraging, in the sense that we were all acknowledging the difficulty, as well as suggesting pathways to new vitality and life. but it was also discouraging in some ways, because change is hard and slow, and fraught with blind alleys and saboteurs, human and systemic.

the poor three-toed sloth just wants to cross the pickin’ road, for goodness sake. but even getting to the road (the metaphorical transition space of change) is a plodding effort. stepping (or crawling) onto the road is to offer himself up, unknowingly, to become likely roadkill. really, without the intentional, careful, knowledgeable (did you notice how the guy knew where to grab the sloth?) assistance of a gracious guide, the sloth would likely not have reached the other side of the road.

but… but, when the guy picks him up (did you notice this? watch it again if you didn’t.), the sloth becomes superman in flight — reaching out to the lush life on the far side.

in our attempts to bring change to the organizations in which we work and serve, we need help. the helper dude is a metaphor for many things:
the holy spirit, on whom we must rely for discernment while crossing the life-threatening space and duration of change.
the community of people who enter into change with us. leading organizational change (from a position granted that responsibility, or from a “leading up” position) is not, cannot be, a solo endeavor. in order for change to occur with both minimized risk and minimized damage, it absolutely has to be a collaborative process.
outside input, wisdom and ideation from others more familiar with the road.
hope. belly down to the road, the sloth could barely see the other side, and certainly couldn’t see all the oncoming threats. but from his elevated superman, flying position, hope rears its head. this isn’t x-games, no-fear hope; nope, this is peeing my slothy underparts fear mixed with a view of the destination. this is biblical hope: choosing confidence when it doesn’t feel logical.

the sloth can’t hop the road or run to the other side. change isn’t quick or easy. it’s slow and arduous and risky. how wonderful that (if we are wise) we don’t have to cross the road alone.

what are you dreaming of changing?
what are the risks you see?
who might have a better view of the risks you don’t see?
who is joining you in moving toward change? who’s on your team?
what role can/should the holy spirit play in your process of change?
where is your hope placed?

ys re-organization, one month later

it’s been one month since the day we had to lay off 14 of our staff here at ys. and it’s still really difficult. i mean, it’s difficult, because these are our friends, and we would have preferred to keep working with them; plus, it’s gut-wrenching to send them out into this job market. please continue to pray for our friends.

7 of the people we laid off finished up that week; but the other 7 are staying on (if they choose) into mid-July, to help us get through the ys one day and dcla events. of course, this creates a challenge: for some of them, we felt it was the honoring thing to give these people the 5 months of lead time (rather than keeping the whole thing a secret and surprising them in 5 months); and for others, we really need them to stay to help us. but either way, it’s hard for us to see them in pain, and deal with our pain about their departure.

in the midst of all this, we’re trying to work toward a vibrant future. it’s got a bit of that saturday between good friday and easter vibe to it. there’s some unknowing about what’s next. we’re trying to move toward change, with a variety of ideas in the works. but we’re still in the transition space, and still grieving.

one thing I’m hopeful about is our immanent move. ys moved into our current building about 10 years ago. it was a cool thing to move into a space that had some neat elements to it, but was still kinda “professional.” made us feel like we’d grown up a bit. but now, 10 years later, we’re not sure we want to be all that professional or grown up! we’ve been toying with moving for about a year or more. when the lay-offs first came into view, we figured the idea of a move was off the table. but when we realized how deep we were going to have to cut in our re-org, the move actually became a necessity. our current plan, if everything works out on schedule (and it never does) is to move around may 1.

but there’s so much more to be hopeful about.

i’m excited about collaboration: the possibilities of collaboration extend so much farther than our workspace – the ability to collaborate better with each other, with our authors, our convention speakers, our convention attendees, and really do more to showcase the breadth and depth of how god is using youth workers, particularly as the church changes,
morphs and engages with our world.

i’m excited about the opportunities for more people to lead – and for the necessity of them to lead. i’m excited that many of our staff are feeling freed up to dream new dreams, to take steps to serve youth workers in new ways. i’m excited about the developing platforms for innovation and ministry that invite in a massive breadth and depth of the world of youth ministry and cultural leadership, both high profile “stars” and unknown local youth workers doing cool stuff.

there is much to be excited about in the midst of the darkness and anxiety.

youth specialties turned 40 this past year. studying organizational life cycles has been something of a little amateur interest for me in the past few years. i’ve been particularly intrigued by adizes theory, which i’ve blogged about here before. this change at ys is almost the deepest kind of change. it’s just shy of a “fire sale”, where the pieces are sold off or given away. but, even though I don’t “like” it, i do believe that this kind of deep and painful change is necessary. and it’s not just because I want to prop up ys so I can keep a job, or so we can perpetuate an organization that should just have the courage to go away. i really do believe that god has another chapter for ys, one that includes serving youth workers when they need it and how they need it (rather than the “we’ll choose what you need” way we’ve done things in the past). so that’s the vision. we want to be here to serve youth workers in new ways, in a changing world, for another chapter. if we don’t or can’t change, then maybe we shouldn’t stick around, and should hand off the baton to others. but if god gives the insight, wisdom, perseverance, courage and vision to pull off this change, we’ll be right here, resourcing, training, encouraging, and occasionally annoying you! Please pray to that end.