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Why Change?*

Rev. John Simpson, General Superintendent
Baptist Union of Victoria, Australia

Number 183 

The environment is forcing changes on human endeavors in every context. Overload caused by long hours at work, limited financial resources and competing goals are all having an impact. There are rapid changes both in the way issues are being tackled and in the tools being used to address them.

Hierarchy Is Becoming Obsolete

The old paradigm of a hierarchy which required long term service and experience as the base for power and direction now needs to be open to all that is happening in the younger generation. For example, if you want to know how to operate a computer, a twelve year old enthusiast will be able to help you.

Hierarchy offered success: if you were at the top it was a little harder for people to disagree with you. There was a danger of not wanting or needing to talk to those with a different view. Openness to differing views was not regarded as necessary (after all you had been around the longest anyway) and serious evaluation was not seen to be of any great value.

Further, there was another danger arising from being at the top: there was no need to learn too much more. The information flow was not seen to be vital.

Volunteers, More Than Ever, Want To Make A Difference

In these days of great change, hierarchy does not make sense any more. There is a changing human factor in getting tasks completed: the era of the passive volunteer who was willing to do anything is passing. People now have less time and are much more selective about what they do and when they do it. They are wanting to make a difference, an impact.

Additionally, staff are becoming more selective too. They have many more choices: the idea of a job for life is being replaced by commitments to specific projects which may last for only a few years. Life is becoming a stream of projects, an openness to specific tasks which offer genuine satisfaction.

The old paradigm which gave recognition for years of service on the job and dedication to the cause is being replaced by job satisfaction and the opportunity for making an impact. "Work" is now being defined by the scope offering for having an immediate impact.

Funding Sources Are Changing Too
 

These changes mean that the obtaining of funds has to be undertaken in a different way too. Traditional sources of funding which offered assured avenues of finance are disappearing as the scope of needs has increased. There is now a healthy competition for funding and the attracting of the attention of potentially interested and supportive people.

Human services and charitable causes are now being designed to meet specific needs and circumstances. A reliance on traditional activities and lines of support has to give way to adaptation and flexibility. The hierarchical, talking down, chain of command approach to life is simply no longer appropriate. There is a tendency for this style to be insular and introspective.

Change-Adept Organizations

The need now is for organisations which are adept at changing. The pressing questions are:

* What do we need to learn to accomplish what we are about?

* How do we best learn it?

* Where do we find the information we need to make an impact?

* What projects can we undertake which will make an impact consistent with our mission?

In essence the call is for creative innovation, the creation of new alliances, the building of fellowship and new friendships.

The Three Steps

The three important assets of any change adept organisation are:

1. Concepts which include: 1. Concepts which include:

* The best, latest ideas, methods and modus operandi to achieve the mission

* The constant examination of what is driving our organisation

* The imagination to innovate

* The capacity to test if the mission is still viable in an environment of change

2. Competence which includes: 2. Competence which includes:

* The ability to deliver effectively the services being offered

* The skills and professionalism which will produce high levels of performance

* The returns in satisfaction which will retain and develop the necessary talents

3. Connections which include: 3. Connections which include:

* The relationships with key partners, sponsors

* The essential openness to collaborate with like minded groups having similar goals despite the initial fear which is always a response to new partnerships

* The development of partnerships rather than going it alone since partnerships stimulate innovation and mutual learning and enrichment

* The willingness to collaborate with groups which may have differing emphases

In addition there is a fundamental need for commitment to the mission, the bond which holds the organisation together. This commitment will also build bonds with the people whom the organisation is serving.

Assess Your Ministry

Note that there is always a need to challenge the underlying concepts of what we are about:

* Does our mission still make sense?

* Is imagination at work?

* Are we still viable?

* Do we love the organisation enough to ask the right, tough questions?

* Are we still meeting needs?

The Strategic Pyramid For Innovation

At the top of the pyramid there is room for "the big bets": the great initiatives which may just work in the future. A small organisation can really only have one since the big bet claims resources and the attention of people. At the top of the pyramid there is room for "the big bets": the great initiatives which may just work in the future. A small organisation can really only have one since the big bet claims resources and the attention of people.

In the middle of the pyramid there is room for the testing of new ideas. Let’s try some new ideas without banking the whole future of the organisation on these. 

There is no need for great fanfare here, just the willingness to encourage some fresh initiatives which do not need to be smashing successes. They are experiments which may have varying degrees of success.

At the bottom of the pyramid is continual improvement which involves everybody. There is an understood commitment to trying, learning and incorporating small ideas which can be acted on and which help to reduce resistance to change.  

At the bottom of the pyramid is continual improvement which involves everybody. There is an understood commitment to trying, learning and incorporating small ideas which can be acted on and which help to reduce resistance to change.

The change adept organisation nurtures the courage to act on ideas and innovations. There is the encouragement of the entrepreneurial spirit without insisting on total agreement.

Authority is given to act in new ways and try new ideas thereby building confidence in all players. Indeed, a refusal to give participants the opportunity to contribute to and share in new ways can lead to a powerlessness which will work against the organisation in the long run

Some Questions For Congregations And Leaders

1. What changes are taking place around us which require us to think carefully about what we are doing and how we are doing it?

2. In what ways are we, as leaders:

2.1 Genuinely open to contrary points of view?

2.2 Seeking fresh information?

2.3 Encouraging the perspectives of the younger generation?

3. What opportunities are there for our people to be engaged in "high impact" service projects where they can really be making a difference for the Kingdom?

4. How well do we understand our mission as a congregation:

4.1 Are we trying new, imaginative ways of achieving what we think the Lord has called us to do as leaders and as a congregation?

4.2 Given the changes all around us, is our mission likely to succeed in the way we are presently pursuing it?

4.3 What provision have we made for constant evaluation of what we are about? Are we asking the tough questions of ourselves?

5. In what ways are we developing the competence of our congregation:

5.1 In what ways are we helping our people to exercise their gifts effectively?

5.2 What do we need to do to ensure that everything we do is done well?

5.3 How can we engage people in service in ways which are rewarding and satisfying?

6. With whom are we co-operating outside our own congregation these days?

6.1 How much effort are we putting into co-operating with other churches and like minded groups?

6.2 Since we are not meant to serve the Lord in isolation from other Christians, with whom have we established effective partnerships and teamwork?

7. Could our church be described as a "change adept" organisation?

Some Considerations For Your Denomination

1. How clear are we about our mission as a denomination?

2. What changes are taking place around us which are causing us to reflect carefully on our mission as a denomination?

3. In what ways are our structures open to the ideas and contributions of our those who are under 30 years of age?

4. Where are we providing the opportunities for imaginative thinking, fresh initiatives and the creative implementation of new approaches to our functioning as a denomination?

5. Do we have a sufficiently high regard for our denomination to be asking the "tough questions" about our modus operandi: e.g. is our mission viable, relevant, meeting needs?

6. What are our "big bets" i.e. the really adventurous leaps of faith in our life together in this denomination?

7. With whom should we collaborating and forming partnerships for the future?

8. How adept are we in seeing and responding to the need for change as a denomination?

Rev. John Simpson

* From an address given by Rosabeth Kanter, Professor of Business Administration,
Harvard Business School, 29 March 1998, as part of a course on
"Strategic Perspectives in Non Profit Management."

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:02:57 PM