Leading Through Change, Part One of Two

An anecdote from the world of human resources:

A factory in the small southern Illinois town of Dupo was a local landmark. It had been in operation for 92 years. During that time, they employed just about everybody—and everybody’s papa and grandpapa and neighbor and cousin. The giant blue concrete building and the timeworn white sign were recognizable to all. Until the day the sign disappeared.

The factory had recently changed management. A nice enough man from just outside of town had purchased the company. News of the “new guy” was greeted well; reports were that he had honest intentions and folks’ jobs were safe. In fact, to show his commitment to the small town of Dupo and the hard-working folks who lived there, the new owner commissioned a brand new sign for the factory. In fresh paint it would now read, “Proudly operating in Dupo, Illinois, since 1918.”

On Monday morning, workers began removing the old sign. However, delivery of the new sign had been delayed; it wouldn’t be installed until Thursday afternoon. Monday evening, folks began noticing the missing sign. By Tuesday evening, everyone knew the sign was gone. And by Wednesday, everyone in town was convinced they knew the reason: the factory was closing.

Has this ever happened at your church? At your office? If you don’t operate in a culture of continual change, even the smallest change can be a major disruption.  Sing two worship songs instead of three and you have an email inbox stuffed with complaints. Cancel the Christmas party this year and you get voicemails about “ruined holidays.”

So how do you continue to innovate and improve when even minor changes have a major impact?

We think one of the secrets is operating preemptively. Make the change before you need to make the change.  Do this often. And follow it up with noticeable improvement.

Around here recently, that’s meant scrapping popular parts of our singles programming in favor of service-oriented opportunities; routinely altering holiday service programming to make room for awesome openers (see: North Point iBand); and changing the name of our middle school ministry so we had a name to which the kids could really relate.

When these changes are made before you’re backed into a corner, they feel proactive. They are easier to cast in the light of your vision. And people are quicker to trust in the change because it is intentional . . . We’re changing because we get to, not because we have to.

Do this often enough and eventually folks will get excited about change.

They will begin to trust that you’ll exchange the scrapped program for a better one; or swap the worship song for an even cooler video; or maybe even replace the timeworn white sign out front with a fresh, new one.

Next time, in Part Two, we’ll consider how the label of test can make introducing these changes opportunities to build excitement. But for now, what changes could you make preemptively in your church or company? And can you make the changes in a way that teaches people to believe that change equals improvement?


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