The One Insight That Makes Change Happen

Can you remember the last change initiative you experienced? Maybe you led it. Perhaps someone led you through it. Maybe you chose it, or maybe you didn’t have a choice.

Did this surface a good memory? Most likely not. Sorry about that, but it’s the unfortunate reality of most change efforts. Change efforts rarely produce real change. Instead, people leave the experience bruised and battered with the scares of attempted change. More on this in a minute.

As leaders, we believe that people resist change. At least that’s the pervasive belief. Sure, change can be problematic. Change introduces new, and new is often uncomfortable. But have you ever resisted a promotion or pay raise? I’m guessing not, even though it caused a change in your job or in your bank account. You see, it’s not change that people resist — it’s the process that’s the problem. You didn’t resist the pay increase because the process and path were clear. People fear the unknown; therefore, people resist the process of change, not necessarily change itself.

KEY IDEA

It’s the process of change that determines whether people (and therefore organizations) will change.

I recently completed my doctorate in ministry. Specifically in church revitalization. The study of church revitalization is, relatively speaking, a study in change. Churches that need revitalization need to change. Ironically, they need to revitalize because they most likely have resisted change for quite some time. Books, articles, and content on change are readily accessible, but one paragraph from one book deeply engaged my heart and mind over the past two years.

It was in a book called Leading Major Change in Your Ministry by Jeff Igor. Overall, the book was good, but one paragraph caused me to ponder every change effort I’ve experienced throughout my marketplace and ministry life.

“Foundational to helping people through major change is this seminal idea: change is different than transition. Change is the new circumstances introduced into organizational life, i.e., a new staffing plan going into effect on a specific date. Transition, on the other hand, is the emotional, psychological, and spiritual adjustments people go through when change is implemented.”

You should probably read that a few more times. I’ll wait.

Change is different than transition.

Simple yet profound. And this delineation is the secret to making real change happen and stick.

Jeff’s juxtaposition of change and transition completely changed my understanding and leadership approach to change. Change is led, but transitions are managed. And both are required for anything (people, organizations, or churches) to grow and become better.

I’m planning to write a lot more about this in the coming weeks and months, but let me give you one insight I’ve pondered of late:

ONE IMPORTANT INSIGHT

Management and leadership are not the same. At the highest level, management is a set of processes that can keep complicated systems running smoothly. The most critical aspects of management include planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, controlling, and problem-solving. Leadership, however, is a set of processes that create organizations in the first place or adapt them to significantly changing circumstances. Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen despite the obstacles.

This difference is more than simple rhetoric. When considering any change effort, understanding the difference between change leadership and transition management makes the difference. Of course, change requires leadership, but it’s the well-managed transitions that take people from where they are to where the change needs them. Confuse the two and you’ll create chaos in the change.

People indeed resist change. The real reason?  They’ve experienced too many mismanaged transitions.

As a leader myself, I understand the complexities of leading change. That’s why I created Transformation Solutions. At Transformation Solutions, we help churches discern what needs to change and coach pastors through the challenge of change.

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