Leading Change Part 3

One of the best resources we relied on, next to the Bible, was John P. Kotter’s book Leading Change. We suited his change process to our own needs and followed these eight steps.

8 Critical Steps to Leading Successful Change

Step 1: Create a sense of urgency.

Leaders tend to underestimate how hard it is to drive people out of their comfort zones. Leaders’ own actions can inadvertently reinforce the status quo. They confuse urgency with anxiety. By driving up the latter they push people deeper into their foxholes. We called people to see that the longer we stayed where we were the less we would become who we wanted to be.

Step 2: Form a powerful coalition.

To lead change, you need to bring together a coalition, or team, of influential people whose power comes from a variety of sources, including volunteer role, status, and expertise.

My starting coalition for relocation included people who were opposed to relocation. My rationale was if they were around others who were passionate about relocation they would change their perspective. I also took my cues from Abraham Lincoln who included his rivals in his Cabinet. As well, Winston Churchill who included enemies in his War Council. Churchill is famous for the saying, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” And Jesus, who chose Judas knowing he could betray him. This strategy proved untenable and eventually their rivals had to be removed. Including opponents made meetings difficult, info leaked too early and some of coalition members resigned at strategic moments to make a point of opposition.

Step 3: Craft a vision for change.

A clear vision can help everyone understand why you're asking him or her to do something.

Most people feel a strong aversion towards uncertainty. When people see for themselves what you're trying to achieve, then the directives they're given tend to make more sense. Answer the question, “What’s in it for me?”

Step 4: Communicate…communicate…communicate the vision.

Fear and uncertainty are significant parts of why change is hard, which makes communication a huge antidote.

Key things to communicate:

  Reasons for the change. What problem are we solving? Making people aware of the pain we’re trying to make go away creates a good common ground. 

  How will the change glorify God, strengthen the church, and reveal the gospel? 

  How is the change consistent with the mission and values of the church? 

  How will the process work? 

  Carefully and clearly affirm how, where, and when people’s voices will be heard. 

  Share that preserving and strengthening relationships will always be a key priority. "No sheep left behind."  
  Be honest where you don’t have all the answers. 
How you communicate is critical. 

Step 5: Overcome obstacles.

We learned that for every setback God will give a greater comeback. Persevere through to critical breakthroughs. In North Pointe’s relocation process we couldn’t get zoning approval from the city for our development. We couldn’t sell our downtown building or liquidate our excess property. Fundraising lagged. The congregation was shrinking. The “border bullies,” as we called them, declared we had gone too far out on a ledge and we were out of God’s will. All signs pointed to our imminent demise.

Three and a half years into the process we held one of our many prayer meetings in the first week of January 2004. No more than 20 people showed up. We prayed for about an hour. We closed off by forming a circle, held hands and said a prayer. In that moment, there was no emotion, no shouting, or demonstrative evidence that anything had changed. But something did change. I couldn’t articulate what had happened I just knew something had changed. We had a breakthrough.

In February everything shook loose. We sold our downtown property. We sold our excess land. The city approved our development plans. We were on our way to fulfilling our vision.

Step 6: Create short-term wins.

Within a short time frame (this could be a month but no more than three), you'll want to have some "quick wins" that people can see. Without this, critics and negative thinkers might hurt your progress. Create short-term targets – not just one long-term goal. You want each smaller target to be achievable, with little room for failure.

Step 7: Build on the wins.

Celebrate the wins. Talk about progress every chance you get. Tell success stories about the change process, and repeat other stories that you hear. But don’t declare victory just yet. Many change projects fail because victory is declared too early. Real change runs deep. Quick wins are only the beginning of what needs to be done to achieve long-term change.

Step 8: Anchor new approaches into the culture.

Do not assume future changes will be easy because you have a win. Each new macro change requires the above process.

Cheat the process, and you will fail.

John P. Kotter, Leading Change