Why is change so difficult?
My grandmother had a red couch in the living room of our apartment. It was made of a red material and to protect the material she put plastic on it. It was one of the most uncomfortable couches I had ever sat on. What’s worse was that when it got really hot over the summer, you would sweet profusely and then be stuck to the plastic.
I’ll never forget when the day my grandmother finally said,
“I’m getting a new couch;”
The plastic had some holes. It has been about 12 years since we bought this couch.
My response in my head was, “Finally!!!”
Soon after that, this strange man walked in to measure the couch and then he left. I was a bit confused when he returned 3 days later without a new couch. He then proceeded to take the current plastic off of the couch and place new plastic on it.
My grandmother turned to me and said, “See? It’s as good as new.”
WE STRUGGLE WITH CHANGE
Many leaders, much like my grandmother, struggle with change.
We make cosmetic adjustments and call it change when really, only the outside appears to be different. Change is hard for us for many reasons but here are a few I’ve observed:
- We Hold Fast to What We Create
Whether it is a system, ministry or ‘thing’, we often feel like changing something is equivalent to killing the thing we love. I once had a conversation with a leader who had created a table for our resource area. When it had run it’s course I told him we’d be changing it. His reply was, “Why??!! I made this and it’s as good as new!” For him, there was an emotional connection.We experience nostalgic moments that we don’t want to lose and so we resist change. If this is true and we feel that we must hold onto what we’ve created, what does it say about the very advanced world we live in? Much of our success as an entire human race is rooted in our ability to accept when something has been good for a time and have had the boldness to leave that thing for something new. I can think of a few people who would prefer their 21st century automobile versus the original T-model car that was so profound in it’s time.
- It Costs Less to Stay the Same
This is a bit deceiving because you can’t actually measure what the cost of not changing is until you actually make a change. I once talked with a ministry leader about change and their response was, “Why? We’ve been doing it the same way for the last 15 years.” I said to them, “Exactly. So the people who participated 15 years ago are the only people participating now, If you want to get different results you have to try different things.”We have come to a point where we realize that people and culture change. The last time you made a change was probably the greatest thing ever-to the people who were there to experience that change. What about the new people? What about the ones who have been added on your team or congregation since the last time you took a survey? Don’t they matter? Ask yourself, “Which systems or processes do I have that may be due for an “upgrade”? Oh and don’t forget sometimes there are costs to staying the same, the costs are just hidden.
- Too Much Resistance
Allow me to start by saying that leadership is lonely. There have been many times when I had to make changes and no one agreed with me. However, I had a strong hunch that the change would work, so I used a magical phrase that would allow me permission to try new things out in the midst of opposition. I said “Lets test it and if the change fails then we’ll return to what first worked.”
Understand that people are most likely going to vote for things to stay the same when they’re comfortable.
People love when things have a rhythm and are uninterrupted but that’s usually when its time to switch things up. People are often content when things are going well but challenge yourself and your team to do better than “well”. There will be opposition and it might come from the person who sits in the desk next to you but if you’re afraid to take risks in attempts to be better, then I’ve got a whole different blog post for you. I challenge you to be a bold advocate for the things you believe will work, even if it means you’re the only person standing.
Change is definitely difficult but to do it well you need to:
- Help people see why staying the same is an issue. We need a way to help people understand clearly what is not working.
- We have to figure out what tomorrow looks like and begin communicating the change today. This is so important because only then will you be able to seek feedback. There are some people who will not agree with the change but will participate in the change process. The reason is that they felt you gave them an opportunity to comment on the pending change.
- Implement change and give people an opportunity to transition. While change occurs in an instant, transition tends to be a process that happens on the inside. So, change but do it at a pace that allows for grace as we experience the tension that comes with transitioning.
I’ll close with the thought that change is important. It keeps things fresh and relevant. I admit that tradition is also important because it keeps us rooted and connected to the larger parts of our organization but tradition, while important, can very well be the hindrance for growth.
So pursue change and if you must get rid of the Red Couch.