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You or Your Organization May be Plateaued if… (Part 3)

September 17, 2018 Leave a comment

You or your organization may be plateaued…

  1. If you’re trusting your programs to drive your growth.

If you’re like a lot of leaders, you’re getting a bit weary of words like vision or mission. After all, what are words when you actually need to produce something. High-minded talk is just that…talk.

Still, there’s no denying that a loss of vision in a church or an organization is the primary cause of plateau. People who forget why they do what they do usually stop doing it very well. In truth, vision can be on the wall, but if it’s not in our hearts, things will stagnate. The “why” turns out to be the key ingredient in re-energizing our efforts, and it’s amazing to see how easily its place of importance is given to something else.

Programs.

Depending on your setting and the nature of your organization, the word “strategies” might feel more familiar. These are the mechanisms we use to bring about the realities our vision longs for. Programs are the steps we take to get where we long to go, but they are not the destination or the dream, and they make a lousy substitute when we slip them into the wrong place.

I see it all the time. Leaders who perceive that their group is plateaued start looking for that strategy piece, that magic bullet that will get the machine humming again. Conferences promise the answers, books chronicling the successes of others pile up in the corner as the search for “what we must do” takes over the leader’s focus.

Most of us have experienced the disappointment of “doing what they did and not getting what they got.” Someone else’s journey seldom lays over ours like a tight-fitting template. Elements like setting, resources, capacities, and opportunities rarely match the environ that brought someone else’s brilliant moves. Their program fit their moment and isn’t likely to fit ours.

AND…since programs are a means to fulfill vision, programs require vision to be fulfilling. Think about that with me. By design, programs are intended as the mechanism for achieving the goals of our dreams. But when there’s no clear dream, what will programs aim for and how will they be motivated. Programs without vision are just a lot of work. And new programs in the hands of folks with no vision have little if any prospect of effectiveness. Our search for that magic bullet comes up empty, not because the ideas are bad, but they fail because what they need to succeed is lacking.

The answer isn’t a “what,” it’s a “why.”

If lost vision, in the organization or in the pew, is the principal cause of plateau, then rediscovering it or finding a new one must be the way forward. Plateaued organizations typically don’t discover this until decline has brought us to our knees. Our struggle isn’t that we’re doing the wrong things, it’s that we aren’t doing them for the reason with which they were imagined.

Now vision is a struggle for many of us. After all, only about 20% of leaders are natural “vision leaders.” These friends look for answers in the vision drawer first, but most of us are looking somewhere else. As “values leaders,” we believe that doing what is right and always doing it right should bring results. Excellence in our processes and our programs becomes its own destination, and we struggle to acknowledge that our goals aren’t being met.

Fresh vision that rings clear in the hearts of our people is the catalyst to break from the bonds of the status quo. A new day starts in new hearts before it can be shaped into new ideas. “What should we do?” is never the first question to consider. Instead, discover your “why” and the “what” will be easier to find. Never forget that without strategy, a vision stands still, but without vision steps in any direction are unlikely to bring success

You or your organization may be plateaued if… (Part 2)

September 10, 2018 Leave a comment

You or your organization may be plateaued

  1. If you’re better at why we can’t than how we could.

A common characteristic in plateaued and declining congregations is the ease with which they reject new thinking, new ideas, new vision, and just about any other “new” mindset that presents itself. A culture of “no” often arises when we are stuck, not because we’re negative people, but because the status quo has become deeply entrenched and we often lack the kind of people that can help us think our way forward.

Plateaus typically come at the end of growth, not decline. It’s near the top of the closest hill where we can most easily find that settling place, and when we do we can find it equally easy to stay there. Plateaus are most commonly caused by lost vision among the rank and file. People are pleased with yesterday’s victories and are prone to bask in them until the momentum they provided slips away. Without vision, forward movement ceases and soon the pond from which we once fished out great ideas and efforts begins to grow stagnant.

People who join the leadership ranks in times of plateau are often a different breed than those who stepped forward when we were climbing. These friends, good people all of them, tend to be more managerial types—they can help us consolidate the previous gains and build systems that sustain them. These folks are good at doing what we’ve done and even adding some efficiencies to how we do it, but they’re not typically good at doing something new. In fact, the status quo that led to their leadership slot becomes something to subconsciously protect and taking chances on new ideas feels threatening.

I’ve worked in more than one organization that was trapped in this quicksand. New ideas, new product designs, new ministry foci, were typically met with “why that won’t work” or “why we can’t do that” type of responses. Often in such places, salesman or others responsible for the frontlines of customer engagement bring ideas that are quickly shot down by those who must produce them. In the church, it’s the ministry leaders who dream of new approaches only to have those governing the purse strings easily dismiss them.

A culture of “no” doesn’t always feel like a negative culture. Usually those who create it believe they are acting responsibly, avoiding careless spending, following the rules, or maintaining good stewardship in their efforts. This is simply who these leaders are and how the world they have created works most comfortably. Unfortunately, their sustaining motivation can lock an organization into zero growth mode.

Some have made a big deal of the difference between leaders and managers, and this is the arena where that difference makes sense. Surely, every entity needs both, but if your organization is quicker with the “no” than the “yes” it could be because you have managers in chairs where leaders should sit. Frustrated leaders call these folks “bureaucrats” or other less than attractive names, but what they have identified is a culture that hears “no” before it considers the possibilities ahead, a culture that’s better at setting up camp than going into battle.

Truth is, in the church this culture can grow out of frustration over what we really can’t do. When we see other ministries scale the mountain and celebrate the successes we long for, we want to take their climbing tools and join the fun. But then we realize those tools weren’t meant for our ascent and we add to our list of what we apparently can’t do. As that list grows, so does our tendency to greet future new ideas with the “no” we’ve learned from experience.

So…what do you do? Well, that conversation is yet ahead of us. But the first and necessary step is to say “yes” when someone asks, “do we need to change?” Plateau is so easy to deny and inaction is equally easy to justify. Now, the road out doesn’t come with just any new approach or idea, but it will never come at all until we recognize that a plateau has us in its grasp.