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18 Sep '12

Timing and Change: They work together

Posted by T.J. Addington in change, courage

Timing on key decisions can be the key to either success or failure. A decision or direction can be the right one but if the timing is wrong, the right decision can go south - making it all the harder to move in that direction at a later time. This is particularly true with major change in an organization.

Leaders are always thinking ahead and it is not unusual for them to figure out a new direction (which may be a great direction for the organization) but in their impatience to make it happen, try to move before the organization is ready - and find that there is greater resistance to the change than they anticipated. The resulting "failure" of the effort undermines the leader's credibility and paints the direction as wrong even though it may not be.

Timing and change strategy go hand in hand. If you are a leader who desires to bring change to your organization, here are some questions that should be asked before you pull the trigger. Knowing the answers to these questions will help you determine whether the timing is right (or premature).

Do you have your key leaders with you so that when resistance to the new direction kicks in you are confident they will be your advocates?

Organizations that need change often have the wrong leaders in place. A new leader at the top may be critical but it is not enough. Unless that new leader has the support of the key organizational leaders the change will be sabotaged by the very people whose support you need.

It is not unusual that before introducing major change you need to change out leaders who will not go with you or who cannot be evangelists for that change. Wise leaders do not pull the trigger until they know that their key people will go with them.

Has the need for a major change been adequately communicated to the whole organization?

People are naturally change resistant. Entrepreneurial leaders are not and often do not take that resistance into account. Some people will never view change positively. Most people will agree to change if a higher value than their resistance can be called on and if the reason for change is properly communicated. That takes time, strategy and patience.

Senior leaders bringing change will not know whether there is adequate understanding and buy in from enough people unless they have dialogued with people throughout the organization - in person. In essence, one needs to create a crisis that is in proportion to the scale of the change needed. Crisis gets people's attention, life as normal does not.

For many ministries, the issue is simple. Unless we change and adapt to a changing world, we will no longer be effective. Ministries are notoriously behind the rest of the world in adapting to necessary change. The bottom line is that no matter what an organizational leader thinks, unless a good percentage of those he/she leads, agree, the change will not happen.

Is there a guiding coalition of folks who will champion what you intend to do?


This is the hard behind the scenes work necessary before rolling out major change. The board or governing authority needs to be with you. The line leaders need to be with you. And you need key people of influence in the organization with you.

As a leader you cannot be everywhere, all the time. You need people who are as passionate about what you are proposing as you are and who can be convincers of others at crucial moments. Major change without an adequate guiding coalition is doomed to fail.

Are you as a leader clear as to what your proposed change looks like?

It is one thing to know that change needs to happen. It is another to be clear as to what it looks like. If you are not clear you can be sure others will not be clear. While you may not be clear on everything, it is critical to be clear on the big issues so that you can clarify rather than confuse.

Many people will accept clear direction even if it is not the direction they would have chosen. Lack of clarity, however, brings apprehension rather than support.

Can you define the outcomes that you want to see and allow your line leaders and people to figure out strategies to get you there?

Your leaders and people need to have a stake in the change process and frankly, they are more likely to figure out the strategies to get you to your preferred outcomes than you will.

When the organization I lead, ReachGlobal, went through major change, one of our objectives was to move from "addition" to "multiplication" in all of our strategies. I could define the outcome, and in certain situations could give suggestions or possibilities but it was our missionaries who had to figure out what multiplication looked like in their context. They were the experts in their area, not me.

If you can define desired outcomes, giving good people a stake in figuring out strategy will go a long way in creating organizational buy in and common goals. Declaring how it must be done is rarely a good strategy for leaders.

Do you have the personal credibility to drive major change?

If you are a new leader, your coinage may be low (perhaps you came in from the outside) or it may be high (people are excited about what you bring). If you are an existing leader, your bank may be full of good will or it may be low if you have had to deal with difficult situations.

In any event, having a good feel for whether you have the personal credibility with your people to drive major organizational or cultural change is important. If you do not have the credibility or coinage - don't move forward until you do - or leave it to another leader who does not have the baggage you have.

Lack of personal credibility, whether fair or unfair, will likely cause your effort to fail. It is not worth the fallout to you or to the organization if it does. If change needs to happen and you dont' have the credibility to pull it off, do the right thing for the organization and let someone else with greater credibility do it.

If you can answer these questions in the affirmative, your timing is probably favorable for a positive outcome. If you cannot, wait! Trying to drive change prematurely hurts the organization in the long term and will make it all the more difficult to try again. In change, timing is critical. And wisdom is necessary to be able to answer the questions to determine the timing.