Faith Works! UNITY AND CHANGE, WHICH COMES FIRST?
There are times when you have two goals, and while they don’t appear to conflict with each other, there may be a question about whether there is an implied order in working toward those goals. Goals of building unity within your organization and also changing your organization are often complementary. But is there a better path to accomplishing both of these? I would argue there is, and that the best path is to build unity first and then take on change management.
Both unity and change are important goals. Aligning your talent into a unified workforce is the dream of most executives. Organizations which are aligned have the characteristic where every individual understands how their unique role contributes to the success of the organization. Their individual goals are clearly linked to one or two of the top organizational goals. Their individual success and the organization’s success are tightly connected.
Change is also a necessary characteristic of organizations. John C. Maxwell, author and pastor said it best: “Change is inevitable, growth is optional.” I won’t go as far as some who say that your mandate is to either grow or die, but the evidence is compelling that organizations which struggle with change lose their market positions over time as competitors out-innovate them.
There are only two options in setting a path toward unity and change. One is to drive for change first and hope to unify the organization as you build support and ownership in change and the emerging outcomes. The second builds unity first. Let’s look at them both.
Many change management approaches start by recognizing the levels of difficulty in making changes. This approach appears scientific in that you start by assessing the level of difficulty you think you may encounter. To do that, you build a model which identifies the people and factors which you think will be supportive, those which are neutral, and those which will create barriers. Force-field analyses allow you to score and compare these factors and help you understand and measure the gap between supporters, neutrals, and those who may be unwilling to change even through your best efforts. But a force-field doesn’t tell you what you need to do—only how challenging it might be to do it.
If you choose a “drive for change first and then unity” approach, you usually have to accept that some people will not buy in no matter what you do. There’s an adage which states this outcome clearly: sometimes to change people, you need to change people. Is replacing some of your people an acceptable outcome? Are you comfortable removing 10%, 20% or more of your workforce because you cannot get them to accept change? In today’s tight labor market, that might seem like shooting yourself in the foot. You don’t need to go out of your way to make your talent management challenges even more difficult. Maybe driving for change and trying to build unity along the way isn’t an effective model today.
What about the second option of working on building unity first? This can take some time, so you may have to delay your change initiatives until you develop stronger unity. A unified workforce supports growth and diversification. Everyone can understand when it’s time to enter a new market, bring a new product or service to market, or to accelerate growth, or just to do something different that the historical way of working. And because they understand, they are much more likely to act in a coordinated and collaborative way in moving forward—whatever the change represents. Think about those schools of fish which seem to act in unison as they all change direction in milli-seconds. That’s what unity looks like.
I have found that many organizations realize, as they try to address growth, they need to change their priorities to successfully do that. Their first step is to introduce growth as a unifying and positive concept. Before they started identifying and building out new growth plans, they help their people understand why growth is critical, and what is means to each of them. They often have to dispel ideas that growth means that everybody has to work harder and longer.
There’s a strong biblical basis for the “unity first” approach, too. It’s pretty hard to miss or misinterpret the benefits of unity. What’s needed is a commitment to your people most of all, and then a unifying theme. Unity first is your best path forward.
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”
“…To bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”
“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them together in perfect unity.”