Decision-Making for Productive Change by Priscilla Hammond
Productive decision-making designed to foster change is modeled throughout the Bible in a variety of ways. For example, the Apostles exercised prompt decision-making when a justice issue arose in the fledgling church, responding to a need through discernment (Acts 6). Moses followed his father-in-law’s advice and learned the value of delegating in decision-making (Exodus 18). But as many great examples as there are in scripture of how to make decisions – and how not to make them – most decision-making doesn’t carry implicit moral ramifications.
Church growth consultant and author Carl George provides lasting insight into the challenge of weighing options and making difficult decisions that don’t fall into ethical categories but rather into discernment categories. He observes,
Many Christian leaders are handicapped because they almost inevitably think in moralistic terms only: rightness versus wrongness. “What’s the right thing to do? What ought to be done?”
I keep reminding leaders there are other modes to consider: effective versus ineffective, good versus best, safe versus risky.
Virtually every decision has a moral aspect, either in its consequences or in the way the decision will be implemented. And most of us carry an intuitive desire to reach for the godly, to hear the words of God on a given issue and line up with him rather than against him. But not all church administration deals with Mount Sinai issues. Many decisions are more mundane and subtle.
Questions leaders need to be asking are: “What are my options? Who should be involved in the decision-making process? How do I know when I have enough information? When is it time to bite the bullet and decide?”
These are the questions that aren’t asked often enough. (1)
The change theorist’s job is to understand and explain how or why change happens. Your job as an organizational leader is to anticipate and plan for change and to react to unanticipated change. (2) When as a leader you understand change theories and models, you’ll be equipped to create change, not just to watch change happen. But for any church leader, productive decision-making must be practiced before effective change management can take place.
For example, the balanced scorecard model highlighted the challenges to change management when there’s a heavy reliance on measuring one or two areas of the organization to the exclusion of others. So a church leader might encounter this dynamic in a scenario like this: if the budget of the church is well-funded due to the generosity of members, and no one has complained that the music is too loud, we can believe that we’re on mission and no change is needed.
However, in this scenario, both internal processes and organizational capacity are ignored as important factors in moving the mission of the organization forward. Without developing systems and investing in the growth of our human resources (leaders and participants, staff and volunteers), we will not successfully navigate change, regardless of whether it is initiated by us or just happens. And when change “just happens,” it never happens to move the organization’s goals forward.
Since change will inevitably happen, part of a discerning church leader’s calling is to initiate and manage the change process. Yet the failure rate for change initiatives is close to 80 percent. (1) This means it is essential for leaders to discern the best change strategy, for their leadership style, in their organization, at this time.
Unfortunately, researchers have proposed at least 80 different methods for organizational change! So not only do leaders have to make decisions in the midst of change, they have to make decisions about how to initiate the change, how to manage the change, and how to measure the change in order for the change to be productive and aligned with explicit organizational goals.
Sound, strategic decision-making is key in this change management process. Confronting any lingering personal fear of failure can provide the necessary resolve to make quality decisions. Several common team dysfunctions may also be the same reasons leaders find it difficult to make decisions. There may be an absence of trust, a fear of conflict, or the avoidance of accountability; those dysfunctions lead to an inability to make decisions, and the inability to make decisions will halt the change management process.
Soon I’ll cover a few change theories and models and how they can be applied by church leaders in congregational settings. You and other leaders likely are wrestling with questions like, “What are my options? Who should be involved in the decision-making process? How do I know when I have enough information? When is it time to bite the bullet and decide?”
But for now, practice confronting any fear of failure that is hampering your resolve to be decisive about change; practice trusting leaders and participants in your setting with the change; be ready to encourage, not fight, for change; and take responsibility for decisions about systems, processes, and people that will encourage productive change toward your shared, stated goals.
- George, C. F. (2007). Weighing Options: Few Decisions in Life Are Clear-Cut. Leadership Journal. Retrieved from http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2007/july-online-only/day56.html
- Black, J. S., & Gregersen, H. B. (2008). It Starts with One: Changing Individuals Changes Organizations (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.