Q&A: How Do I Change an Established Culture?
I’m stepping into an established and well-oiled hospitality ministry. How do I help change the culture in areas where it’s needed?
(question submitted in a recent One-Day Workshop)
In answering this question, I’m making the assumption that “established and well-oiled” means that there are a lot of things that are going right in the ministry. At the same time, any ministry – established or new, well-oiled or rusty – needs some tweaks from time to time. (By the way, it may help to start with this two-post series: Your Alternate Agenda is Not Welcome Here.)
Here’s how I’d advise tackling it:
1. Spend some time observing and listening.
I hesitate to put a time frame, because some would say six months and others might say two years. But regardless of where you land, you should just watch what’s happening. As you watch, make a list of all the things that seem like they should be changed. But keep that at the “written list” level for now, and don’t actually change anything.
On the listening side, figure out your listed leaders vs. actual leaders. In other words, who has the title and who has the actual influence or authority? Take those folks to lunch or coffee. Hear from them. Find out what they think is working and what needs to be changed.
2. Celebrate what works.
No matter the health of your team when you take leadership, you must recognize that you’re standing on the shoulders of others who have gone before you. To roll in with no acknowledgement of the team’s positive track record is a huge mistake. And unlike #1 above, I’ll give a time frame to this one: celebrate from day one. Celebrate weekly. Celebrate both corporately and individually. As a new leader, it’s going to be hard to over-praise what’s working. Your team will take notice of that.
Related post: Share Your Spotlight
Now that you have your list, you’ve had your conversations, and you’ve celebrated appropriately, turn that list into a timeline and a set of priorities. At the top of the list, mix in both low-risk, easy-win changes (those things that will be seen as an overall good thing by the team), and higher-risk, longer-runway changes. You should have far more of the former than you do of the latter, by the way.
Related post: Q&A: Where Do I Start First?
4. Communicate medium, broad, and narrow.
Medium communication: Talk through your triage list with your stakeholders (real and perceived) from #1. Your goal is not necessarily to gain consensus, but for them to help you ground yourself in history and context.
Broad communication: Talk through it with your overall team: here’s where we’re heading, why we’re heading there, when we plan to get there, and how we’ll know when we’ve arrived.
Narrow communication: Make yourself available for dozens of one-on-one conversations with those who are struggling with the changes.
Related post: Broad Expectations vs. Narrow Conversations
5. Prepare for the opt-out.
Whenever changes come, there will be volunteers who say, “I didn’t sign up for this.” Commit now to try to win those volunteers to the new normal, but also understand when they self-select out of the team.
6. Give and receive grace as you go.
Not every change is going to be a home run. Not every prediction you hope will come to fruition will actually come to fruition. So give a lot of grace to your vols as they navigate the changes, and give a lot of grace to yourself as you lead the changes.
Oh, and make sure to acknowledge that road bumps will come, and talk about them with they do. Because they will. And you should.
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