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You or Your Organization May Be Plateaued If… (Part 11)

December 3, 2018 Leave a comment

You or your organization may be plateaued if…

  1. If you’re looking for a “magic bullet” to bring the results your organization needs.

In a plateaued organization, it’s easy to decide that the successes others are experiencing stem from a single discovery or just that one step that separated them from us. After all, we would be winning too if we had just done

While that perception is tragically wrong, it is often compounded by our determined unwillingness to do whatever we think that one thing might be. We see their catalyst to success as compromise, or inconsistent with our values, or that they’ve become something we just don’t want to be. They took a step we would never take.

Of course, there’s far more happening in the successes of others than we want to believe, and the fact that we might magnify the less desirable elements that helped them to that success may show us something more concerning. Still, there was no “magic bullet” fired by our competitors that suddenly led them to better days. They worked hard to create a culture that would allow such a day, made the decisions and took the risks that we have yet to be willing to engage.

Magic-bullet thinking is lazy. It assumes that a simple solution will make us what we are not. Truth is, organizations that have plateaued have traveled a long journey and picked up a host of travel behaviors along the way. Adding a hitchhiker to our journey, even one that seems to have worked for others, seldom creates more than a brief buzz. Magic bullets may change some of what we do, but they don’t affect the why or even the excellence with which we do them.

Fresh vision is the means of breaking from the plateau. Visiting and revisiting the why of our efforts can lead to the realignment and purposeful pursuit that can renew our journey. A new program or product doesn’t change our culture and it doesn’t change us, but fresh vision does.

If you’re stuck in a plateau, stop thinking the next conference or trend will set you free. Instead, look at your surroundings, look at your people, look at your industry and decide where you and your team can find your best fit in the future. Then, gather your troops and rally them toward that destination. Commit to the hard work of a clear and well-defined path and empty your guns in that direction. New vision can get you moving forward, and when it does, one of your competitors will wrongly assume that one of those bullets you fired was magical.

You or Your Organization May Be Plateaued If… (Part 10)

November 26, 2018 Leave a comment

You or your organization may be plateaued if…

  1. If you are hoping for new results to appear while simply doing what you’ve always done.

Most of us are familiar with the definition of insanity—doing what you’ve always done and expecting different results. In the plateaued organization, this mindset has become a subtle mantra. Things will be different next Sunday or next month, next season, next semester, or next fiscal year. The plateaued organization often falls victim to the belief that current methods will finally pay off in whatever “next” moment is relevant to the organization’s business.

And sometimes it does…but rarely.

Sure, some efforts take time to take root. New initiatives don’t always explode into new opportunities overnight. Conditions must ripen before they produce the desired harvest. But in the plateaued organization, it’s usually not our waiting on new ideas that is unreasonable. Instead, it’s waiting for old ideas to produce the way they once did.

Ideas run their course. They rise in effectiveness and melt into obsolescence. In the rapidly changing environment our world has presented to us, “same-old, same-old” gets stale in a hurry. What brought you to the top of the mountain often can’t take you higher, especially if there are now changes in the terrain. A single idea may prove productive for a time, but often that time has the endurance of a fad and can’t sustain momentum for the weight of the organization.

If doing what you’ve always done isn’t producing anymore, an honest look is now critical. Unfortunately, current leaders have mastered their current ideas, and their leadership is so entangled in them that admitting what’s not working anymore can feel threatening. Past success almost always has us holding onto past methods longer than is effective. And the loss of momentum such clinging generates becomes very difficult to conquer—thus the plateau.

What does a plateaued organization need? New vision, new energy, new methods, new thinking—something NEW! But, as we’ve discussed in previous blogs, plateaued organizations treat what is new with great suspicion and often have a culture that makes it tough sledding for new ideas. Things will be different soon…or so we tell ourselves. But somehow, in spite of the public face we put on, we have little logical reason to believe they will.


You or Your Organization May Be Plateaued If… (Part 9)

November 19, 2018 Leave a comment

You or your organization may be plateaued if…

  1. If people don’t take responsibility for current realities.

We have already seen how people in a plateaued organization tend to blame others for their collective inability to move forward, but there’s a deeper, and perhaps less obvious, indicator of plateau in many of their conversations. In plateaued organizations, people do not do what they could do because they are expecting the solutions to come from elsewhere.

Often these friends take a new idea or a necessary decision and make it more difficult by loading down the moment and the conversation with larger issues—one’s they aren’t expected to solve. So, the moment of decision is overwhelmed by reasoning that focuses on what the board of directors, the pastor, the marketing department, or some other group that’s not in the room needs to do. Inaction continues by making every issue something bigger than my portfolio or pay grade. If you have discussions that end with something someone else needs to do, you’re likely in a plateaued organization.

Folks in plateaued organizations also tend to blame the past, or the changing marketplace, or, again, something or somebody that’s not in the room or not within their authority for the difficulties. Never mind that we were in the same marketplace or had the same production team back when we were winning. It’s just that back then, folks saw it as their jobs to find solutions and do what they could to move us forward.

Sure, there are times when the answers must come from areas beyond my responsibility, but if I tend to look more at what others need to do than I look at the difference I can make, we are probably a plateaued organization, and we’re showing little likelihood of changing that reality. Truth is, plateaus are seldom caused or resolved by a single entity in the organization. Instead, when we each roll up our sleeves looking to make a difference, we can often find solutions together.

Organizations that break out of plateaus do so with creative solutions offered by people determined to do their part. If you’re convinced that someone else’s part is the key to your organization’s turnaround, you may be part of the problem.

Your or Your Organization May Be Plateaued If… (Part 8)

November 12, 2018 Leave a comment

You or your organization may be plateaued if…

  1. If you or your coworkers have ever said, “that’s not my job.”

Imagine you’re playing football (or watching your favorite team) and your opponent fumbles the ball right in front of one of your teammates. But, rather than pounce on that loose ball, your player just stands motionless and makes no effort to make what could have been the play that kept your team from losing. Now imagine that when asked later why he didn’t make an effort to recover the fumble, your player says, “Well, my job is to tackle people, not to carry the ball.”

Of course, you (your teammates and your fans) would come unglued in frustration. Not my job? Sure, when the plays were designed it’s quite possible that we never designed a play that called on this particular teammate to run with the ball, but we’re trying to win a game and every opportunity to do so needs to be engaged by any and all of us, right?

Perhaps the sports analogy leaves you unmoved, but we all have likely met not-my-job guy. He’s the one who avoids extra effort and has never gotten within a mile of going the extra mile. Usually he (or she) sees opportunity as someone else’s responsibility and avoids the necessary effort to help his team or his organization win.

Frankly, organizations that are moving forward and experiencing growth seldom tolerate this guy for very long, but plateaued organizations have a way of tolerating him. In fact, individuals and even departments have a way of becoming “territorial” about their work. No one is allowed to touch what’s theirs and no one is allowed to expect them to touch what’s not. Such people tightly compartmentalize responsibility in a manner that limits their efforts to the minimums.

When an organization is not moving forward, its people stop moving forward too.

If you’ve been in a growing organization, you know that every day is characterized by an “all hands on deck” mentality or an “if you’re the closest…” work ethic. Now sometimes, we end up stepping on each other or acting a bit inefficiently when we don’t divide the work clearly, but such errors occur because of effort, not a desire for idleness.

If you’re people demonstrate a hesitancy to step up to assignments, if they look at others before making the play themselves, if they seem clearer on what they don’t do, then you probably have a plateaued organization. Never forget that not-my-job guy doesn’t work for a winning organization.

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.