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Your Organization May Be Plateaued If… (Part 7)

October 29, 2018 Leave a comment

You or your organization may be plateaued if…

  1. If you lead primarily through processes and policies.

Organizations that are driving forward with great success tend to do so because they are principally driven by vision and by the new relationships that are forged through that vision. Along the way, various organizational decisions must be made, processes must be set in place and policies must be established to help the organization run effectively at expanding levels.

But something occurs in the life-cycle of every organization. Vision fades…

Sometimes it’s the successes that encourage complacency or the feeling that the largest mountains have been scaled. But more often an organization’s management needs and administrative practices tend to outgrow its ongoing leadership focus. Information processes and policy manuals expand, usually at the expense of the entrepreneurial flexibility of earlier days.

As teams enlarge, it makes sense that we hire more process managers than program leaders. But soon the room is dominated by those who are better at managing our current levels than growing us to new ones. And when decision-making shifts to process and policy people, the big picture is often compromised.

Some years ago, many organizations recognized their own drift and tried flattening their organizations. This “re-engineering” sought to eliminate a lot of the managerial layers that had been added through the years, narrowing the gap between the “frontlines” and the leaders who made the decisions that propelled them. Some organizations succeeded in these efforts while others simply eliminated jobs and watched their organizations shrink to the size of their scaled-down teams.

The question a leader must ask is, “who (or what) is running our organization?”

Is the vision, the “why” that explains our existence, the primary factor in decision-making or are we being led by individual department or program agendas? Has efficiency replaced effectiveness as our priority?

Perhaps a quick glance around the conference room will help us. When we look at who is at the leadership table, do we see leaders of people or leaders of processes (normally called “managers”)? How far down the organizational ladder will we find leaders? At what level in our organizational structure do managers dominate? You see, an organization that will continue to grow needs to grow leaders along the way. A single leader and a team of helpers may have been sufficient in the early years of our organization, but if those at the top haven’t included other leaders at other levels to help drive the organization, then those who master process and policy will fill the decision-making conference room.

In a church setting, I had a staff member who was hard-working and provided much-needed organization to our efforts. But I quickly learned that this person was principally-driven to master her current load, organizing every process to its maximum efficiency. Wow! I needed that kind of help…but not in the decision-making efforts of leading that church. A person who can effectively organize the status quo is motivated to maintain that status quo. To such friends, growth is a threat, not a dream.

Make no mistake, processes and policies are much-needed and they can open the way for new levels of growth for any organization. But these efforts and their masters cannot be leading an organization or plateau is virtually guaranteed. Vision and the new relationships it brings must be in the driver’s seat. Programs and policies must serve these priorities, not drive them.

You or your organization may be plateaued, if… (Part 6)

October 15, 2018 Leave a comment

You or your organization may be plateaued…

  1. If departments and people blame others for lack of organization’s results.

There’s a significant environmental difference between growing organizations and those that have plateaued or begun to decline. It just feels different…

When organizations are growing, there is an aggressiveness that marks its culture. People feel like winners and their confidence in those who lead is typically strong. Even in places where growth demands a great deal from the team, there is still a sense that it’s worth the effort because we are experiencing the results we want.

In a plateaued organization, such feelings have faded. People who aren’t seeing results are far more likely to become sensitive about the effort required of them. If victories don’t seem within reach, the passion for great effort diminishes. Ultimately, the frustration of working hard without the desired reward takes its toll…and we begin to look more for excuses to explain our struggle rather than seeking answers to bring about its end.

In such settings, where it’s not uncommon for folks to respond quickly with why something can’t be done, they are also more quick to draw tight boundaries around their own responsibilities. “Not my job” or “if marketing would just get its act together” or some similar refrain undercuts any real effort for change. If someone else can be blamed, then I’m not the one that needs to act.  

One of the most common blame games in a plateaued occurs between those who produce a product and those who sell it. Marketers want a better product, noting that the best ones practically sell themselves. We can’t sell products nobody wants! Production types defend their product and insist that marketing’s effort or investment is lacking. After all, if the product sells itself, why do we need a marketing department?

In the local church, the blame game can occur between departments, like when the children’s ministry blames parents for the declining interest of children, or the youth ministry blames the school system for competing with its slate of activities, or the church as a whole blames its culture for no longer supporting its place in the community…and so on. As long as someone else is to blame, then it doesn’t feel like it’s my responsibility to act.

Starting to feel familiar now?

I’ve found that a typical meeting in such places may start with a problem we need to solve, but the conversation will usually end up identifying the real problem as something we either aren’t able to solve or believe someone else has to solve. So we blame executive leadership for their lack of whatever we need or we blame entities not in the room for their failure to do their part. Such conversations often will stir unresolved frustrations or devolve into reminiscing about days when the organization was moving forward.

While the “what to do” conversation is still yet ahead, never forget that the principal cause of plateau is lost vision. When we take our eyes off of the priority destination or the desire that once drove us forward, it doesn’t take long to land here…in the flat and barren lands of plateau.

Your Organization May Be Plateaued If… (Part 5)

You or your organization may be plateaued…

  1. If you say “no” more easily than you say “yes.”

Organizations on the rise are always looking for ways to climb higher. Organizations that are plateaued think differently. Most will either look for ways to solidify the height they have climbed or be certain that no decision will precipitate a descent. This shift of thinking is at the very core of their plateaued reality.

One of the necessary elements of a growing organization is the management activity that must grow alongside it. This is the skeletal framework that provides for infrastructure and has the potential to allow continued growth. Unfortunately, when forward movement slows, management typically doesn’t. In fact, management processes can very quickly assume the driver’s seat and take the reins. And when this happens, the wrong people are now leading.

In such a place, “no” becomes an easier answer than “yes.” You see, managerial types are motivated by getting their worlds organized and under control. Management means “manage” and more change doesn’t respond to such an agenda. “Let’s solidify where we are…” becomes the internal mantra. So systems and processes lock in their places and are guarded by these friends who are most at ease when they can manage their loads.

Among the first evidences of this shift is a “protectionism” of what we have done to reach the current pinnacle. Rather than seeking new ways to climb higher, it’s the path we’ve walked that must be guarded, even if that path has reached its zenith. Now, guarding the values that have led us this far is important, but it is also the trap that locks us into existing levels. Without vision, values don’t serve us as well. They are intended as the guides for the climb, but can become our prison at the rest stop.

Only vision and the new people or new ideas it generates can drive us forward.

Having worked with many plateaued organizations, I can say from much experience that “no” is more common than “yes” when new approaches are offered. Why we can’t do something is clearer to managerial types. For them, it is much more difficult to figure out how to integrate new ideas and directions into the world they are trying to get under control. So…committees make decisions, additional organizational layers are added for supposed efficiency, and ultimately the path for a new idea becomes blocked with numerous boulders.

Ask yourself, “How easy is it for us to engage a new idea or a new direction?” Or maybe ask, “why don’t new ideas get implemented easily in our organization?” When other similar organizations are finding a path forward, we need to grapple with why our team can never find their way to similar choices. Usually, it’s because “no” or the reasons we can’t are right at our fingertips.