Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Six Thinking Hats

This scenario has been repeated thousands of times, maybe in your organization this week: You are facing a big problem. A decision made months ago has now caused sharply declining results. A big meeting has been called, and all the staff enters the conference room with something different on their mind.

Your R&D department has an armful of charts, research, and data depicting the path of the project. The creative department has sketched up a new campaign that improves the message. The marketing manager is unsure if he will be around after the meeting. And the office manager smugly recalls how she suggested it was a bad idea to begin with.

The meeting quickly turns into a discussion that even more quickly becomes an argument about whose perspective has more merit. Each person’s emotional attachment to their point of view and their verbal commitment to their position makes considering other options difficult. The team leader knows that the way through the impasse is to consider a wide range of options.

To move just such a discussion forward, Edward De Bono, in “Six Thinking Hats,” delineates six clear directions, or hats, that represent a particular line of human thought. To each hat he assigns a color, and just like the hat, one puts on that line of thinking to consider the problem at hand.

  • White is neutral and objective – the white hat is concerned with objective facts and figures.

  • Red suggests anger, rage, and emotions – the red hat gives the emotional view.

  • Black is somber and serious – the black hat is cautious and careful; it points out the weakness in an idea.

  • Yellow is sunny and positive – the yellow hat is optimistic and covers hope and positive thinking.

  • Green is grass, growing and abundant, fertile growth – the green hat indicates creativity and new ideas.

  • Blue is cool, the color of the sky, which is above everything else – the blue hat is concerned with control, the organization of the thinking process, and the use of the other hats.

Six Hats thinking allows participants to focus their energy in a specific direction by getting everyone to “wear” one hat at a time.

DeBono rightly states that “the biggest enemy of thinking is complexity, for that leads to confusion.” His six hat method of discussion allows the exploration of a topic in a natural and objective manner. The conversational method makes the material easier to internalize and apply. It is an effective way to organize your meetings so that they actually initiate progress rather than create more roadblocks.

I’ve been able to use Six Hats thinking to help groups step back from an emotionally-charged issue and approach it from a rational, thinking direction. In every case, the results have been simply amazing. Most people have the capacity to look at a situation in a different perspective. It only takes a leader to help them find the right “hat” to wear in the discussion.

Have you tried being a hat-maker lately?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Purple Cow

Regular readers know that Seth Godin is one of my favorite authors, and that his writing, while not originally intended for a church audience, is always dead-on applicable for church leaders to read, digest, and put into practice.

Purple Cow” is one such book.

Yes, the title comes from the limerick. It’s all about being remarkable. Not in the sense of “incredible” or “extraordinary”, but as in “worthy of remark.” Godin refers to remarkable when a product or service inspires users to spread the word to someone else.

How many experiences did you have today that you are going to tell your five closest friends about? One? None? Now think about the experiences your “customers” had today. Will they be raving to their friends? If your answer to the question is not a confident “yes,” then it’s time to do something remarkable.

What’s the purple cow in your organization?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

What's on your summer reading list?

I've posted before on the high value I place in reading. It's something I learned from my father, and something that my own kids have caught. Regular readers of this blog also know that I am always reading several books a week - books of all types. So when "The 100 Best Business Books of All Time" came out earlier this year, it was only a matter of time till a reserved copy came up at my local library. I've started reading it on my Dallas trip and it is living up to its title.

11,000 - that's the number of business books published in the US in 2007. In more concrete terms, that's a stack of books as tall as a nine-story building, with 880 million words that would take six and a half years to read. "100 Best" authors Jack Covert and Todd Satterson also maintain that locked up somewhere in that tower of paper is the solution to your current business problems.

With their comment in mind, for the next few days, I want to dive into "100 Best" and pull out a few that made the list and have proved their worth to the church leadership audience.

At the top of my list from "100 Books" is Peter Drucker's "The Effective Executive". While I will not attempt the impossible task of trying to capture the genius of Peter Drucker in a few paragraphs, I would instead encourage you to pick up a copy from your library and read it; better yet, just go buy up a paperback reprint.

The word "effective" in the title speaks powerfully to Drucker's wisdom. One quote will suffice:

Effectiveness is, after all, not a "subject", but a self-discipline.

You really can't get much simpler, nor much deeper, than that. Effective church leaders do first things first and they do one thing at a time. Effective church leaders are continually learning - and practicing - these disciplines: Time. Strengths. Contribution. Concentration. Decision-making.

How do you measure your effectiveness?

Friday, June 26, 2009

What is Your Plan?

To further the mission of your church, there must be action today and specific aims for tomorrow. Yet planning is not masterminding the future. Any attempt to do so is foolish because the future is unpredictable.In the face of uncertainties, planning defines the particular place you want to be and how you intend to get there. Planning does not substitute facts for judgment nor science for leadership. It recognizes the importance of analysis, courage, experience, intuition - even hunch. It is responsibility rather than technique.

Effective plans have five elements:
  • Abandonment - the first decision is whether to abandon what does not work, what has never worked - the things that have outlived their usefulness and their capacity to contribute.
  • Concentration - concentration is building on success, strengthening what does work.
  • Innovation - you must also look for tomorrow's success, the true innovations, the diversity that stirs the imagination.
  • Risk taking - planning always involves decisions on where to take the risk. Some risks you can afford to take; some decisions carry great risk but you cannot afford not to take them.
  • Analysis - it is important to recognize when you do not know, and therefore need to conduct an analysis of potential decisions.
What is your plan?

Asking questions of yourself and your organization is never finished. Leadership requires constant resharpening, refocusing, never really being satisfied. Perhaps the most powerful question of all is this: What do we want to be remembered for? It is a question that induces you to renew yourself - and your church - because is pushes you to see what you can become.

Go ahead - keep asking questions!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What are Your Results?

The results of social sector organizations (like the church) are always measured outside the organization in changed lives and changed conditions – in people’s behavior, circumstances, health, hopes, and in their competence and capacity. If the church is going to further its mission, it needs to determine what should be appraised and judged, and then concentrate resources for results.

Progress and achievement is measured in qualitative and quantitative terms. These two types of measures are interwoven and shed light on one another – and both are necessary to illuminate in what ways and to what extend lives are being changed. Qualitative measures address the depth and breadth of change within its particular context. They begin with specific observations, build toward patterns, and tell a subtle, individualized story. Quantitative measures use definitive standard. They begin with categories and expectations and tell an objective story.

Leadership is accountable to determine what must be appraised and judged, to protect the organization from squandering resources, and to ensure meaningful results.

What are your results?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What Does Your Customer Value?

This is a very complicated question! What satisfies your customer’s needs, wants, and aspirations? It is actually so complicated that it can only be answered by the customers themselves. Leaders should not even try to guess at the answers but should always go to the customers in a systematic quest for those answers.

The danger for ChurchWorld is that people are so convinced they are doing the right things and so committed to their cause that they come to see the institution as an end unto itself. I believe that’s what you call a bureaucracy.

Don’t forget that you have two customers to ask this question. Your knowledge of what primary customers value is of utmost importance. Yet the reality is, unless you understand equally what supporting customers value, you will not be able to put all the necessary pieces in place for the organization to perform.

What do your customers value?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Who is Your Customer?

Don’t get hung up on the word “customer”. When you answer the question “Who must be satisfied for the organization to achieve results?”, you have defined your customer. For churches, there are two customers: the primary customer is the person whose life is changed through your work; the secondary customers are volunteers, members, partners, employees, and others who serve your mission. The primary customer is never the only customer, and to satisfy one customer with satisfying the others means there is no performance.

Today, our customers are often one step ahead of us. So you must know your customer, or get to know them quickly. You will have to ask this question time and time again because our customers constantly change. The organization that is devoted to results – always with regard to its basic integrity – will adapt and change as its customers do.

Who is your customer?

Monday, June 22, 2009

What is Your Mission?

Simple questions are the hardest to answer. Simple questions can be profound, and answering them requires us to make stark, honest, and sometimes painful self-assessments.

This week, I’m asking you to ponder 5 simple but deeply challenging questions first posed by Peter Drucker in “The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Nonprofit Organization” in 1999. Many of today’s best and brightest minds ask these questions of themselves and their organizations constantly. Don’t you think the church should do any less?

Each social sector institution exists to make a distinctive difference in the lives of individuals and in society. Making this difference is the mission – the organization’s purpose and very reason for being. A mission cannot be impersonal; it has to have deep meaning, be something you believe in – something you know is right. A fundamental responsibility of leadership is to make sure that everybody knows the mission, understands it, and lives it.

To have an effective mission, you have to work out an exacting match of your opportunities, competence, and commitment. Every good mission statement reflects all three. With the limited resources you have - not just people and money, but also competence - where can you dig in and make a difference? Where can you set a new standard of performance? What really inspires your commitment?

What is your mission?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Speaking My Mind...or Should I Say, My Heart?

In about a month I will be speaking at the National Association of Church Business Administration in Long Beach CA. This will wrap up this cycle of presentations; a whole new one starts in the fall. Since January I’ve given an 8-hour leadership seminar, presented 6 sessions at national conventions, and made over a dozen presentations to individual churches.

I didn’t pursue this speaking gig, but I’m having a whale of a time writing, researching, and delivering presentations. I’m finding out that the old axiom is true: the more you know, the more you don’t know.

My presentation style has changed a lot as well. I am trying hard to avoid the “death by PowerPoint” syndrome. Seth Godin’s comments are probably appropriate here:

A presentation is a precious opportunity. It's a powerful arrangement... one speaker, an attentive audience, all in their seats, all paying attention (at least at first). Don't waste it.
The purpose of a presentation is to change minds. That's the only reason I can think of to spend the time and resources. If your goal isn't to change minds, perhaps you should consider a different approach.
  1. The best presentation is no presentation at all. If you can get by with a memo, send a memo. I can read it faster than you can present it and we'll both enjoy it more.
  2. The second best presentation is one on one. No slides, no microphone. You look me in the eye and change my mind.
  3. Third best? Live and fully interactive.
  4. PowerPoint or Keynote, but with no bullets, just emotional pictures and stories.
  5. And last best... well, if you really think you can change my mind by using tons of bullets and a droning presentation, I'm skeptical.

A presentation isn't an obligation, it's a privilege.

Share your heart and passion, and the information will follow.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Coaching - Is it in You?

I'm a sucker for libraries - at any given time I have 15-20 books checked out from my local library. I stop by once a week to drop off, pick up, and peruse the magazines. I'm also an easy mark for the used book sale at the front - at $1 for a hardback, how can you go wrong? I've even got it so bad that I drop by libraries of towns I'm passing through, or have clients in. One such trip this week turned up a gem almost 15 years old, but full of nuggets for the church leader. "Everyone's a Coach" by NFL coaching legend Don Shula and renowned business consultant Ken Blanchard is a great book that has a simple premise that leaders can put into practice today.

Whether it's sports or business - or the church - winning and losing don't depend on trick plays or new systems. The information your competition has is the same as yours. So what are you going to use to win? It comes down to creating a climate in which people work hard and prepare to play as a team. In a word, it's coaching.

At the heart of their book is a simple acronym that describes the qualities of an effective leader:

Conviction-Driven: Never compromise your beliefs
Overlearning: Practice until it's perfect
Audible-Ready: Know when to change
Consistency: Respond predictably to performance
Honesty-Based: Walk your talk

"Everyone's a Coach" unpacks these five leadership secrets with Shula describing how a coaching concept works on the football field and Blanchard applying that concept to your own leadership situation. A bonus feature is a self-test that helps you measure your personal coaching effectiveness.

ChurchWorld needs more leaders who:
  1. Stand for something - they are Conviction-Driven
  2. Are willing to roll up their sleeves and do whatever it takes to accomplish established goals. They believe in Overlearning.
  3. Have a game plan but are willing to adjust or change when circumstances dictate. They are action-focused but Audible-Ready.
  4. Are predictable in their response to performance. They praise, redirect, and reprimand appropriately, because they are Consistent over time.
  5. Are clear and straightforward in their interactions with others. Everything they do is Honesty-Based.

How to Build a Customer-Focused Company the Right Way

Customer service is the single most pressing problem for business managers and people in any service or sales operation. Many experts believe that you build a business from the customer up.

Ken Blanchard, bestselling author and inspirational speaker, has written or co-authored many great books dealing with this topic. In “Customer Mania!” Blanchard and co-authors Jim Ballard and Fred Finch write of the key to customer service: creating a people-oriented, performance-drive, customer-first organization. Drawing on a real-life study of the world’s largest restaurant company, Yum! – owner of KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Long John Silvers, and A&W – the authors explain how any organization can develop a unified, people-first, customer-oriented culture. Customer Mania! emphasizes four critical steps:

  • Step One: Set Your Sights on the Right Target-the bottom line grows from taking care of customers and creating a motivating environment for your team.
  • Step Two: Treat Your Customers the Right Way-determine the kind of experience you want your customers to have as they interact with every part of the company.
  • Step Three: Treat Your People the Right Way-use strategies ranging from smart hiring to training and development to managing performance and creating a recognition culture.
  • Step Four: Have the Right Kind of Leadership-you can’t do it all yourself, so let your team put their own brains to work and then support them all the way.

In developing each of these concepts, Blanchard introduces his “dream” of how they should work. That is followed by Yum!’s reality and a scorecard of how they are doing.

Yum! Turned out to be an excellent choice; the book chronicles their journey from being a lackluster division of PepsiCo to a standout independent company. Along the way, they moved from giving lip service to focusing on the customer to diving head-long into creating a “customer mania culture” throughout the organization. And it worked.

Yum! Doesn’t merely have a purpose; it has a passion. Can you say the same about your church or organization?

Questions for ChurchWorld
What is your target?
Who is your “customer”?
Who is on your team?
Who are your leaders?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Everyone's at the Center of Their Map of the World

Alan Webber, founder of Fast Company magazine and author of the recently released book entitled “Rules of Thumb”, made an observation 20 years ago on a Japan Air Lines flight: the center of the world on the map you are reading depends on its maker. In his worldview, the U.S. was the center of the world; on JAL, Japan was. His newly discovered rule of thumb? We’re all simultaneously living at the center of the world.

And it’s getting smaller every minute.

Talent, technology, and power are reshaping the “maps” of the world. Talented people no longer have to go to the center of their industry to get noticed. Technology connects people wherever they choose to work and live. Power, in terms of business, has been diluted so much that “indie” describes where the most creative work is being done and where the most dynamic people are working.

It’s a big world getting smaller all the time. Yes, the world is “flat” – but more than that, it’s that we’re all connected. That makes you right in the middle of your map; but so is everyone else.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Not Just for Techies

The May issue of Inc magazine had a fascinating article on how a organizations – even those decades old – can work more like a new start-up and tap into the creative potential of the whole team. Agile development – a process that promotes flexibility, speed, and teamwork - may have been designed for software engineers, but it can be an effective way to complete almost any kind of project – if you follow some key guidelines.

Build small, cross-functional teams
Putting employees from different departments on a single team helps them finish projects faster. Plus, getting employees to work closely with co-workers in other departments fosters teamwork and innovations company wide

Break large projects into smaller tasks
Some challenges don’t become apparent until a project is already in progress. By breaking the project into smaller pieces, a company can more easily change direction if needed.

Set short deadlines
Instead of waiting to see if a project is hitting the mark, set weekly or monthly deadlines; this allows the company to rapidly evaluate progress.

Hold daily meetings
Every morning, teams gather briefly to discuss progress, voice problems, and set daily goals. That way, all employees know what is expected of them, and problems are promptly dealt with as they arise.

Invite customers into the design process
Having a few customers test new products and services as they are being created keeps employees from veering off too far in the wrong direction and allows them to quickly scrap ideas that don’t work.

Questions for ChurchWorld
  • Are your decision-making processes agile – or ancient?
  • Is your leadership team a forest of silos – or an interconnected web
  • How often do you communicate – real stuff, not just the same old, same old?
  • Do you involve your constituency and target audience into the design process?
  • Do you focus on the one big goal – or do you have some milestone targets?

Even when we are moving so fast in so many different directions, if we focus on communication and transparency, we can control the chaos. Ed Scanlan, CEO of Total Attorneys, a software and services firm that practices agile development

Friday, June 12, 2009

Reverse Mentoring

When I discovered Earl Crep's Reverse Mentoring, I had good intentions to read though it quickly and post several days of comments. That plan is out the window, as I find myself "undone" by what I am reading. The best I can offer is the remaining broad sections of the book.

Cultivating Spirituality
Vision: Seeing beyond ourselves
Wisdom: Knowing beyond our information
Relationship: Befriending beyond our peers

Experiencing Practicality
Evangelism: Learning from outsiders
Communication: Learning from listeners
Leadership: Learning from followers

Developing Reciprocity
Protégés: Developing reverse-mentoring relationships
Processes: Embedding reverse-mentoring in organizations

There is so much depth and change contained in the possibilities of this book that I need to process. It's not a simple intellectual exercise anymore. Two generations, one insight: the almost unexplored power of real collaboration.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Facing Reality

Earl Creps - pastor, ministries consultant, university professor, and church planter - has written an extraordinary book entitled "Reverse Mentoring." The principle is simple: instead of the traditional mentoring relationship of older to younger, flip it upside down: the younger person now mentors the older person.

Growing in popularity throughout the late 1990s, it now continues to spread the business world, especially as technology seems to outpace our ability to understand and apply it. But it is not just about gadgets and geeks, it's about generational barriers as well. And the church is not latching on to this vital area of learning opportunities.

I think the church is a great place for reverse mentoring to take place. Just look at generational differences alone: it would not be hard to find a church leadership structure in which 3, 4, and maybe even 5 generations of individuals would be involved in leadership decisions and actions. What a fertile ground for reverse learning to take place!

The barrier may be, as Creps points out, a humility deficit more than anything else. Taking instruction from less experienced people in a volunteer organization suggests that the insight and capability of those at the top may be eroding or missing in embarrassing ways. The first step in reverse mentoring, then, is confronting the uncomfortable truths below.

Facing Reality

Identity: I am not cool - admitting that my youth is behind me forms the first step in the process of acknowledging my lack of cool. Older leaders never received any preparation for the importance of cool as an issue - or their inevitable decline in this market. Age and experience alone were supposed to guarantee a following, but it turns out that the beauty, hipness, uniqueness, and contagiousness we once assumed can be counted on no longer. Trying to bluff by dressing or acting differently only makes things worse. Fortunately, a better option probably sits next to you at a meeting: a younger person or some other unlikely brand of friend who possesses both the knowledge you need and the willingness to share it. It is not necessary to be cool or young to lead. It is necessary to have the grace to admit it when you are not.

Culture: I don't get it - a pastor Creps interviewed had this to say: "every day I get a little more disconnected unless I intentionally work at staying connected. We live in a plug and play world, which poses a problem for many of my peers who are hard-wired. They need what only the next generation can give: connectedness." Here's the world that that generation lives in:

  • I love media, but I trust my friends

  • I am aware of broadcasting, but I trust narrowcasting

  • I spend money, but I trust art

  • I respect excellence, but I trust authenticity

  • I resist church, but I trust Jesus

Reverse mentoring requires someone at the top saying "I don't get it" but recognizing that someone else - and maybe not their first choice - does.

Ministry: I am not relevant - despite pure motives and hard work, many key influencers in organizations find themselves at the limit of their abilities long before the midpoint of their career. Their leadership models and skills simply clock out, not because they failed but but because they succeeded in a world that no longer cares as much. Practical relevance itself floats relative to the issues and the context involved. "Relative Relevance" includes the following actions:

  • Beware of large media campaigns; this year's hot promotional item becomes next year's junk

  • "Beta" is now a permanent condition, so hold on to methods loosely because most of them are transitional, just preparation for the next thing

  • The courage to admit that things have changed is the first step in changing things

  • Even when change is the oxygen of culture, you had better know what to hang on to

  • Every leader is relevant if she or he can define the appropriate relevance style

Reverse mentoring connects older leaders with younger teacher, opening a path of enhancing the elder's practical relevance while the young draw from the wisdom and integrity of those who have been sustained by principle relevance for many years.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Grabbing on to the Sandwich Generation

I find myself, at age 51, a part of the so-called “Sandwich Generation” in more ways than one:

  • With a college junior and a high school junior, I’m still very much a parent
  • With one grandson already, I’m learning that this Grandparenting thing is a cool ride
  • With parents and in-laws well into their 80s, the likelihood of their having to leave their homes for other places in the future is a distinct possibility
  • In my business, I have been fortunate to become a resource for churches seeking solutions to their problems and opportunities, working alongside them on the journey
  • I am also blessed to be a part of a national network that enables me to teach and learn with some of the brightest minds in this thing I call ChurchWorld-today’s church in all its various shapes and forms

The classic definition of the Sandwich Generation is adults who are still parents, but are also faced with the challenges and opportunities of “parenting” their parents. As I have described my personal situation above, the title definitely fits. Lately, though, I have been thinking of the term in another way – I lead and mentor others, but am beginning to realize that mentoring also works “in reverse.” There are young leaders out there that I know without a doubt could be great “mentors” for me!

This unique version of mentoring first developed in the business world in the late 1990s, with several well-known companies (GE, Proctor & Gamble) leading the way. The practice of “teaching up” has become influential in almost every field. However, in ChurchWorld, it seems to be slow to develop.

And that’s a shame.

Once again, Leadership Network, through its excellent resources, has published a resource that will become a field guide for church leaders who want to explore this idea of “teaching up.”

Reverse Mentoring” by Earl Creps, provides a guide for leaders who want to experience personal formation by exercising the kind of humility that invites a younger person to become a tutor. Beginning tomorrow, I will start a series of posts that dive into the book – I plan on learning a lot, and I hope you can join the conversation.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Table for Two, Please

The downsizing at our house this summer is noticed quickly during mealtimes (and all that goes into them). Having four children meant big meals. Even as the older two left home for school and then families of their own, it didn’t seem to alter the meal preparation that much. With a big fridge, microwave, and busy schedules, it was easy to do leftovers, or as we prefer to call them, “twice blessed.” Even when my daughter went to college, our son’s growing appetite meant we prepared for four or five, at least.

Now, it’s going to be different. I’m finding that preparing meals for two is not the same as halving a recipe I normally used. While it sounds reasonable, many times I am finding dishes don’t reheat well, it’s nice to have something fresh every night, and there’s always the question of not using up everything before it spoils.

So, in my typical fashion, I visited my local library for some help. The result? America’s Test Kitchen’s latest cookbook, “Cooking for Two.” It contains over 150 of their best recipes, reengineered from the ground up to serve two.

I’ll let you know at the end of the summer how this experiment works!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Circle of Life

Saturday morning our 20-year old daughter left for the summer to be on the staff at Caswell Baptist Assembly in Oak Island, NC.

Today, as soon as he finished his last exam, our 16-year old soon will be leaving for the summer to be a counselor at Caraway Boys Camp near Asheboro, NC.

For the first time in 28+ years, my wife and I will not have children in the house.

It's going to be different for sure. We've already started planning our weekends to visit our four children and both sets of parents. They're spread out in 5 cities across 3 states (at least our parents all live in the same city!). That will be fun, but that's still only the weekends.

There's still this thing called Monday-Friday, and coming home to a house with just 2, instead of 3 or more. There's the readjustment of schedules - as in, no more school functions or soccer games, or rugby games. There's less trips to the grocery store (figuring our 16 year old being away will be a net gain in the grocery bill for sure). There's no more friends of our kids coming by, knowing our home is theirs, too. There's a hundred more things, too.

This is all okay. It also means that my wife and I get a chance to discover again that we were a couple before we were a family, and that "couplehood" is going to be the bigger part of our life from now on. It's a chance for me to work on the first love of my life (Lord knows I need that!), to tell and show her how much I love her.

So today is a day of mixed feelings and emotions.

God has a sense of humor, though, and knows how to let us down gently. On the first day after we are empty-nesters, our 28 year old has a 2 day business trip to Charlotte. Instead of staying in the hotel with his friends from work traveling with him, he asked to come home and spend the night with us.

That's way cool.

Friday, June 5, 2009

How the Mighty Fall

Stage 5: Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death

You pay your bills with cash. You can be profitable and bankrupt. Bill Lazier, Stanford Graduate School of Business

There are two basic versions of Stage 5 for organizations: 1) Those in leadership believe that capitulation offers a better overall outcome than continuing to fight; and 2) those in leadership continue to struggle, but they run out of options and the organization either dies outright or shrinks into utter irrelevance.

By the time an organization has moved has moved through Stages 1, 2, 3, and 4, those in leadership can become exhausted and dispirited, and eventually abandon hope. And when you abandon hope, you should begin preparing for the end.

Not all organizations deserve to last. Institutional self-perpetuation holds no legitimate place in the world of scarce resources; institutional mediocrity should be terminated, or transformed into excellence.

If you cannot marshal a compelling answer to the question, “What would be lost, and how would our community be worse off, if we ceased to exist?” then perhaps capitulation is the wise path. But if you have a clear and inspired purpose built upon solid core values, then the noble course may be to fight on, to reverse decline, and to try to rekindle greatness.

The point of the struggle is not just to survive, but to build an organization that makes such a distinctive impact on the world it touches, and does so with such superior performance, that it would leave a gaping hole – a hole that could not be easily filled by any other institution – if it ceased to exist.

Questions for ChurchWorld
John Moore, at Brand Autopsy, has a long-running series of posts about various companies we encounter every day. He posed a simple thought: Would we miss this company if it were gone? Here are his questions - answer them for your church:

  • Does my church provide such a unique ministry and experience that our community would be saddened if it didn’t exist?

  • Does my church treat its staff (paid and unpaid) so astonishingly well that those workers would not be able to find another place of ministry service to treat them as well?

  • Does my church forge such unfailing emotional connections with its members and attenders that they would fail to find another church that could forge just as strong an emotional bond?

I hope you have been challenged by this week's look at "How the Mighty Fall". Jim Collins continues his great work with this book; as with "Built to Last" and "Good to Great" there are tremendous lessons for the church in his research and conclusions. I encourage you to get a copy today and begin asking the tough questions raised in it.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

How the Mighty Fall

Stage 4: Grasping for Salvation

I don’t have a sense of crisis. I have a sense of urgency that never changes. Louis Gerstner, IBM

Stage 4 begins when an organization reacts to a downturn by lurching for a silver bullet. They go for a quick, big solution or bold stroke to jump-start a recovery, rather than embark on the more pedestrian, arduous process of rebuilding long-term momentum.

Stage 4 grasping can produce a brief improvement, but the results do not last. Dashed hope follows dashed hope follows dashed hope yet again. Organizations stuck in Stage 4 try all sorts of new programs, new fads, new strategies, new visions, new cultures, new values, new breakthroughs, new acquisitions, and new saviors. And when one silver bullet fails, they search for another.

The signature of mediocrity is not an unwillingness to change. The signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.

Rebuilding greatness requires a series of intelligent, well-executed actions that add up one on top of another. Most “overnight success" stories are about twenty years in the making.

When we find ourselves in trouble, when we find ourselves on the cusp of falling, our survival instinct – and our fear – can evoke lurching, reactive behavior absolutely contrary to survival. By grasping about in fearful, frantic reaction, late Stage 4 organizations accelerate their own demise.

Markers for Stage 4
  • A series of silver bullets
  • Grasping for leader-as-savior
  • Panic and haste
  • Radical change and “revolution” with fanfare
  • Hype precedes results
  • Initial upswing followed by disappointments
  • Confusion and cynicism
  • Chronic restructuring and erosion of financial strength

The very moment when we need to take calm deliberate action, we run the risk of doing the exact opposite and bringing about the very outcomes we most fear.

Questions for ChurchWorld

  • Have you stopped momentum in your church with chronic restructuring and/or as series of inconsistent big decisions?
  • Do you sell people on the promises of a brighter future to compensate for poor results today?
  • Have you made panicky, desperate moves in reaction to threats that imperil your organization even more, further eroding your resources?
  • Have you embarked on a program of radical change, a revolution, to transform nearly every aspect of your organization, jeopardizing or abandoning core strengths?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

How the Mighty Fall

Stage 3: Denial of Risk and Peril

We just didn’t have enough conclusive data to convince anyone.
NASA O-Ring Task Force following the Challenger disaster
As organizations begin to move into Stage 3, we begin to see the cumulative effects of the previous stages. Stage 1 hubris leads to Stage 2 overreaching, which sets the organization up for Stage 3, Denial of Risk and Peril.

The greatest danger comes not in ignoring clear and unassailable facts, but in misinterpreting ambiguous data in situations when you face severe or catastrophic consequences if the ambiguity resolves itself in a way that’s not in your favor.

When facing irreversible decisions that have significant, negative consequences if they go awry – what you might call “launch decisions” – the case for launch should require a preponderance of empirical evidence that it’s safe to do so.

One common behavior of late Stage 3 is when those in power blame other people or external factors – or otherwise explain away the data – rather than confront the frightening reality that the enterprise may be in serious trouble.

A final manifestation of denial deserves special attention: obsessive reorganization. Reorganizations and restructurings can create a false sense that you’re actually doing something productive. Organizations are in the process of reorganizing themselves all the time: that’s the nature of growth. But when you begin to respond to data and warning signs with reorganization as a primary strategy, you may well be in denial.

Markers for Stage 3
  • Amplify the positive, discount the negative
  • Big bets and bold goals without empirical validation
  • Incurring huge downside risk abased on ambiguous data
  • Erosion of healthy team dynamics
  • Externalizing blame
  • Obsessive reorganizations
  • Imperious detachment

Audacious goals stimulate progress, but big bets without empirical validation, or that fly in the face of mounting evidence, can bring organizations down, unless they are blessed with unusual luck. And luck is not a reliable strategy.

Questions for ChurchWorld

  • What’s the upside, if events turn out well?
  • What’s the downside, if events go very badly?
  • Can you live with the downside? Truly?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

How the Mighty Fall: Stage 2

Stage 2: Undisciplined Pursuit of More

An organization is more likely to die of indigestion from too much opportunity than starvation from too little - David Packard, Hewlett Packard

Overreaching, not complacency, much better explains how the once-invincible self-destruct.
Frenetic innovation – growth that erodes consistent tactical excellence – can just as easily send a company cascading through the stages of decline.

Hubris (Stage 1) can lead to making brash commitments for more and more and more.

The greatest leaders do seek growth – growth in performance, growth in distinctive impact, growth in creativity, growth in people – but they do not succumb to growth that undermines long-term value. And they certainly do not confuse growth with excellence. Big does not equal great, and great does not equal big.

Undisciplined Behaviors

Discontinuous leaps into arenas for which you have no burning passion
  • Taking action inconsistent with your core values
  • Investing heavily in new arenas where you cannot attain distinctive capability
  • Launching headlong into activities that do not fit your resource engine
  • Addiction to scale
  • Neglecting your core business while you leap after exciting new adventures
  • Using the organization primarily as a vehicle to increase your own personal success
  • Compromising your values or losing sight of your core purpose in pursuit of growth

Any exceptional enterprise depends first and foremost upon having self-managed and self-motivated people – the #1 ingredient for a culture of discipline.

When bureaucratic rules erode an ethic of freedom and responsibility within a framework of core values and demanding standards, you’ve become infected with the disease of mediocrity.
Whether a company sustains exceptional performance depends first and foremost on whether it continues to have the right people in leadership, which introduces the last point in this stage.
Leaders who fail the process of succession set their enterprises on a path to decline. One of the most significant indicators of decline is the reallocation of power into the hands of leaders who fail to comprehend and/or lack the will to do what must be done – and equally, what must not be done – to sustain greatness.

Stage 2 overreaching tends to increase after a legendary leader steps away.

While no leader can single-handedly build an enduring great company, the wrong leader vested with power can almost single-handedly bring a company down.
Stage 2 Markers
  • Unsustainable quest for growth, confusing big with great
  • Undisciplined discontinuous leaps
  • Declining proportion of right people in key seats
  • Bureaucracy subverts discipline
  • Problematic succession of power
  • Personal interests placed above organizational interests
Questions for ChurchWorld:
John Maxwell says everything rises and falls on leadership. The number one warning sign for your organization is a declining proportion of key seats filled with the right people. Here are your 24/7 questions:
  • What are the key seats in your organization?
  • What percentage of those seats can you say with confidence are filled with the right people?
  • What are your plans for increasing that percentage?
  • What are your backup plans in the event that a right person leaves a key seat?
Choose your leaders well.

Monday, June 1, 2009

How the Mighty Fall: Stage 1

Today begins a series of posts diving into Jim Collins' latest book "How the Mighty Fall." Continuing in his groundbreaking work in "Built to Last" and "Good to Great", Collins uses meticulous research to document 5 stages of decline. Sprinkled throughout his new work are references to his prior work; if you need a quick Collins primer, see here for introductions to terms like Flywheel, Hedgehog, and First Who, Then What.

Stage 1: Hubris Born of Success

It’s far better to create your own future, repeatedly, than to wait for external forces to dictate your choices - Robert Galvin, Motorola

Hubris can be defined as the excessive pride that brings down a hero or outrageous arrogance that inflicts suffering upon the innocent

Multiple forms of hubris
  1. Undisciplined leaps into areas where a company cannot become the best
  2. Pursuit of growth beyond what it can deliver with excellence
  3. Bold, risky decisions that fly in the face of conflicting or negative evidence
  4. Denying even the possibility that the enterprise could be at risk from external threats or internal erosion
  5. Arrogant neglect

Great organizations foster a productive tension between continuity and change. On the one hand, they adhere to the principles that produced success in the first place, yet on the other hand, they continually evolve, modifying their approach with creative improvements and intelligent adaptation.

When institutions fail to distinguish between current practices and the enduring principles of their success, and mistakenly fossilize around their practices, they’ve set themselves up for decline.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with adhering to specific practices and strategies but only if you comprehend the underlying why behind those practices, and thereby see when to keep them and when to change them.

The best organizational leaders remain students of their work, relentlessly asking questions –why, why, why – and have an incurable compulsion to vacuum the brains of the people they meet.

Stage 1 Markers1. Success entitlement, arrogance
2. Neglect of a primary flywheel
3. “What” replaces “Why”
4. Decline in learning orientation
5. Discounting the role of luck
Questions for ChurchWorld
  1. Does your primary flywheel (mission identity) face inevitable demise within the next three to five years due to forces outside your control?
  2. Have you lost passion for your primary flywheel?
If you answer no to both questions, continue to push your primary flywheel with as much imagination and fanatical intensity as you did when you first began. Continually experiment with new ideas, both as a mechanism to stimulate progress and as a hedge against an uncertain future. That does not mean static, unimaginative replication; it means never-ending creative renewal.