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  • Tracey Smith

Navigating Organizational Change


Here at Aaron Hur Group, we consult with 100's of churches, nonprofits, and organizations about leadership transition and organizational change. Transition and change are an inescapable part of leadership, but how you manage transition and change is what is the most important. Change is difficult because most people will overestimate what they currently have in their organization, and underestimate what they could actually gain if they were willing to let go. Change is inevitable! Whether it is planned change in an organization or the change is forced upon them by some unfortunate situation. Whatever the case, it is always best to be prepared to navigate through organizational change as prepared as you can be. Over my 23 years of ministry, I've personally experienced leading three major organizational changes and leadership transitions and have coached 100's of other organizations to successfully do the same..


If you are currently navigating a season of transition and change or have one coming up, here are a few things to remember that can help you lead well through that change.


1. Have a strategic plan.

Many organizational transitions go strangely wrong because the leader(s) does not have a strategic plan. Not having a strategic plan is like a ship not having a ruder. An organization can find itself lost and off course from their original purpose and God-given mission of why they even exist. The first thing to understand about strategic planning when it comes to change is to understand it is a process. So many times, our team come alongside a leadership team and they want to move through change quickly and make changes at lightning speed. They want to make it happen now. That may sound good in theory but we all must realize making change in an organization is similar to playing a game called jenga blocks. If you are familiar with jenga blocks, you understand that it is a game that requires skill and with one bad move, you can cause the whole tower of blocks to tumble. Organizational change requires patience. Our team is constantly coaching organizations to 'trust the process' and follow the plan.. Planning for change is not just you sitting down with your team and listing objectives or initiatives but rather, it is understanding that change is a process and should be treated as so. The easiest way to do this is to break down the process into three areas of focus: Current State of the organization | Where we are today?Transition State | What steps do we need to take to get from current to future? and Future State | How will we operate tomorrow? Sit down with your leadership team and walk through these three focus areas and be honest about where you are, what it would take to get there, and what we would like to look like tomorrow. Taking the time to plan through these steps, will lead your team to your goals, objectives, people, roles, responsibilities, and timeframe for this transition. The plan may need to be tweaked during the transition, but at least you have tracks to run on and a clear roadmap to follow..


2. Clearly define leadership roles.

Next, clearly define the roles the leadership and identify the W.I.N. (What's Important Now) champions. It is crucial to identify the change and the leadership structure that will take us through the change. Our team has spent countless hours with large organizations that have teams that have not been given a job description nor have clarity on what their role and responsibilities are in the organization. It is imperative that each person on your team works within a well-defined structure and clearly knows their expectations for their role. To be effective, you must be clear who will be leading throughout this change - especially what part they will play during the transition. During times of transition, people need and want to know who is in leading and what they are leading during the change. If the roles are not clearly defined, this will cause confusion and much unneeded frustration. Make sure each department or ministry has a clearly defined leader or point person. This will help bring clarity and help relieve some of the stress that accompanies internal change. It will also ease the onset of office politics and jockeying for positions among fellow co-workers. Also, leaders need to be bought in to the change. They will need to lead with confidence knowing that God is in control and the change is necessary to move into the best that God has for us as a team and as an organization that is trying to accomplish their mission. Leading through change is a little like parenting. The kids will look at their parents to see if the parents are anxious with the change. If the parents seem anxious; then the kids will be as well. To put it in perspective, leaders play a similar role as the parents. Your team is looking to you to make sure we are not anxious but rather, we are confident. When they hear us say its going to be okay and point them back to the main thing (God & mission) then they can confidently lead with stability. The key is to keep everyone focused on Him and keep the ship as stable as possible so you won't through anyone off the ship accidentally.


3. Over-communicate.

Communication not only eases the process, but it also provides a synergy when your team understands the benefits of the organizational change. If they are left in the dark when it comes to communication, then it will naturally bring confusion and uncertainty to what's next. As we coach others to navigate change, we have a rule of thumb when it comes to communication: communicate clearly, early, and often. You, as the leader, may feel like you have either heard the facts or talked about them too many times already, but always remember: your team is not a part of all the conversations that you are privileged to hear. You may be excited about the change because you have a clear picture with all the details involved, but organizational change will often bring anxiety among your team. Be sure to over-communicate and make sure your team is aware of the changes that will affect them or their area of ministry. Don't be afraid to repeat yourself. Another piece of advice we give to the leaders we are coaching is to clearly communicate to the right people, at the right time, with the right information. Having a clear line of communication and a communication strategy is one of the reasons it is essential to have one point person in every area, to communicate the right information, to all avenues of the organization. It also helps the team own it and see how it benefits them and the role that they play in the change.


4. Share the load.

Many leaders feel they have to do it all when it comes to leading change. During a transition, whether big or small, it is key to remember that you will not be able to lead effectively if you do not share the load. Know your strength areas and your growth areas, and seek to surround yourself with other leaders who have the ability to move the organization forward.


I like to use the illustration of a boat captain that has come down from the bridge and is now swabbing the deck. The captain may feel like this is something he needs to do, but let me assure you that this is not where the captain of a boat needs to be. The good captain or leader understands his role and understands that if the boat is going to “stay its course,” then the captain must be at the wheel. I have spoken with so many leaders that have fallen into this tragic misunderstanding.


Know your role in the transition and fulfill it, and also have a capable team of leaders that can share the load with you. Don’t be in the weeds doing someone else’s job when you should be driving the boat. If a captain leaves the bridge, it is almost guaranteed that the boat will begin to stray off course.


5. Point people to God.

I am often surprised how little I hear of corporate prayer during times of major transition. God has such a different perspective on transition, because He sees the past, the present, and the future. Now, I am not talking about a “tack-on” prayer at the beginning or at the end of a team meeting, but intentional time seriously seeking God’s plan, His wisdom, and His guidance during times of transition and change. I recently read Mark Batterson’s book The Circle Maker. It reminded me how much prayer is a vital need for any leader at any time, but how extremely important it is that a leader leads his team to the source of all peace during a time of transition and change. Prayer is not so much about us changing the mind of God, but rather us opening ourselves up for God to make the necessary changes in us. All throughout history, we see that before any great movement of God, there was one foundational element of prayer. I like to say if you want to live in the ordinary, God will allow you to do that. BUT, if you want to experience the extraordinary, then you must join God in what all He has planned. The foundation to find His plan will always be in your time of prayer.


6. Know who is really leading.

During the times I led through a major church transition, I constantly reminded myself that Jesus is the head of the whole thing. It is good to remind ourselves that someone else is in charge, and we must follow His leadership. As a leader or an organization in a season of change, this is really comforting to know. I am not alone, and I have the ultimate source for help, strength, and wisdom if only I acknowledge Him and allow Him His rightful place.

I understand and have been there - leading through transition is not easy, but it can be done successfully. Expect opposition but don't succumb to it. In the leadership lessons of Nehemiah, a cupbearer of King Artaxerxes, he boldly told his opposition, "I cannot come down to where you are Nehemiah understood that his God-given mission could not be deterred because of someone's opposition. The leader understood his mission was great and his work was necessary to help the people accomplish what was best for them and all those that would be affected for generations to come. Don't give up! Don;t quit when the opposition comes. Look up and know the mission is great and the work will need to be completed. Understand you are not alone and it will be worth it when the change is completed.


What other tips do you have for effective change management and leading through transition?



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