Management of Change pt 8 – Never Let Up and Incorporate Into The Culture

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In the penultimate blog in this series guest writer Gary Borland touches on the final steps of ‘Kotter’s 8 Step Process for Leading Change’.

The Strategic Planning Process and supporting plans should by now be ready to deliver and/or delivering a considerable amount of what the overall programme sought to achieve. Maintaining focus and momentum is vital; programmes become highly susceptible to reversing out the benefits if either is lost.

Let’s look at the final 2 steps in ‘Implementing & Sustaining Change’.

Step 7 – Never Let Up

The challenge of maintaining focus and momentum can vary at different times of a change or transformation programme, but it’s important to realise that one of the most dangerous times is after considerable progress has already been made.

Once we have in place a strong sense of urgency, an effective Guiding Coalition, clear and well communicated vision, empowered people and an on-going stream of short-term wins and successes from the programme, it is very, very easy to take the foot off the pedal. This can result in a loss of focus and, when looking back, the realisation that the fruits of the programme have just unwound at an eye-watering pace. Leaders may ask “what happened?” Inevitably whatever happened has its roots in leadership failure – maybe a premature declaration of programme completion and success, or an urgency that’s dwindled to barely a flicker, or people getting bogged down in unnecessary, non-contributing work or a failure to continue to learn from experience, apply, re-learn and re-apply.

Relieve the pressure – set the example
‘Change fatigue’ is prevalent wherever busy people are asked to do different or additional things over a sustained period, while other things continue to change around them. People can feel demoralised if they are asked to do everything they did before and have new work added as a consequence of the change programme. It may be obvious, but if there’s too much work, finding other ways of doing it or stopping it is a very effective way of relieving pressure. Simply having leaders constantly complain about their own workload while failing to model new ways of working, is a rapid catalyst to a very tight downward spiral. Leaders must lead.

Step 8 – Incorporate Change Into The Culture

Culture is a widely used word. It is often used to describe how leaders would like the culture to be, rather than describe the culture that actually exists. Culture, cultural change and the embedding of cultural change is a vast and complex subject, hence this blog seeks only to highlight a few considerations in the context of change or transformation. Simplified, culture could be considered to be ‘How we do things around here’.

Culture and Strategy
‘Culture eats Strategy for breakfast’ has been over-used and is misunderstood in many organisations. They are not intended to sit in isolation. One does not trump the other nor is either a reason why the other can be absent. Ask many leaders to explain the culture specifically and you may be there for a while. Ask them about the gap between the culture they would like to have and the one that currently exists and you’re likely to be there even longer. Why? Because it is a very, very challenging element that’s ignored at our peril.

For change to be incorporated into the culture, people need to believe in the change and what that change means for the culture. Some people won’t ever like it and will leave. Trying to keep people who aren’t enrolled, don’t want to be enrolled and don’t align to where you’re going or how you’re getting there can be a serious mistake. But supporting them in leaving well says so much more about your culture than the words on the brochure or website. How does someone know what the culture in your organisation is like? Because they experience it, not because you tell them what it is.

Over time, decisions should continue to support the change and the change eventually becomes part of the culture. People no longer have to think about it; they live it.

Next time we will conclude the series with a return to what is undoubtedly the foundation on which either success is built, or failure is inevitable – Leadership.