Friday, June 1, 2012

Getting Your Board Through the Wilderness

Nonprofit ministry and church boards are always facing changes—planned or unplanned (the economy, CEO transitions, shifting loyalties of donors and much more). Yet I’m sensing that none of us invest enough time in discerning how to prepare for changes. 

So I was reminded this week of the succinct wisdom and practical next steps in the classic bestseller by William Bridges, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change.

He writes, “Imagine that the change [you’re planning] is a cue ball rolling across the surface of a pool table. There are lots of other balls on the table, and it’s going to hit a few of them, some because you planned it that way and some unintentionally.  Try to foresee as many of those hits as you can.”

One of my favorite seminary profs once told our class, “We’re nonprofit, but we didn’t plan it that way.”

When this book was first published in 1991, it was recognized as the definitive guide to dealing with change. Now one million copies later—it still holds that position.  If it’s not on your board’s reading list, it needs to be.

Bridges writes, “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.  Change is not the same as transition. Change is situational: the new site, the new boss, the new team roles, the new policy. Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation.  Change is external, transition is internal.”

Change is a given—but how thoughtful board members and CEOs handle the psychological impact of transitions requires both understanding the problem and understanding and executing three critical steps.  

In Step 1, you must understand that transition begins with letting go of something. (Do your board members resist term limits or do they spiritually embrace them?)

In Step 2, you enter the neutral zone (the no man’s land between the old reality and the new).  Some will abort in this zone, not wanting the pain. But it’s also the place where creativity, renewal and development will often occur.  “The neutral zone is thus a dangerous and opportune place, and it is the very core of the transition process.”  (What is God saying here?)

Step 3 is the new beginning, but it’s often torpedoed because leaders don’t mark an appropriate end to the neutral zone (or skip it altogether). The new beginning can only be effective when your board goes through the first two steps.

How much training have your board members had on the psychological effects of change and transitions? Would you invest two to three hours to read a book or listen to an audio book on “Managing Transitions?” Before you announce the next big change in your board or organization (like moving to a new governance model), read the book!

Note: To download a 21-page article (PDF), “Getting Them Through the Wilderness,” by William Bridges, describing how Moses transitioned the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, click here.

QUESTION: Think back over some of the more significant changes your board has made in the last 18 months.  How did those changes affect you: physically, emotionally and spiritually?  Were you surprised at the effects of those changes?

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