by Hans Finzel
Recently I reached the milestone of a decade of leadership at CBInternational (CBI). It gave me pause to reflect on changes in the mission world since the early 1990s when I began my assignment. It seems like a lifetime and a world ago.
Recently I reached the milestone of a decade of leadership at CBInternational (CBI). It gave me pause to reflect on changes in the mission world since the early 1990s when I began my assignment. It seems like a lifetime and a world ago. I am disappointed by my failure to bring about certain changes at CBI. But I am encouraged that we are a different mission than we were a decade ago. We have become more relevant for today’s challenges. Though we have far to go in reinventing CBI, I thank God for our great men and women who are open to change and loyal to our team as we continue this journey.
My wife Donna and I have given a sum total of twenty-five years of our lives to missions. In Vienna we spent a decade training church leaders to serve behind the Iron Curtain before we were reassigned to the home office. Now more than another decade has rolled by in mission leadership.
I’ve made one conclusion about traditional missions: We are not changing fast enough or deep enough to meet the needs of today’s world. The opportunities for evangelism and discipleship are unprecedented. We’re just not seizing them. Our past successes are our greatest roadblocks to future fruit because what worked back in the old days does not work today.
We are trying desperately to change CBInternational. Why change? Because we want to make a greater impact on the world with the power of the gospel. Our vision is “to see people transformed by Jesus Christ as we serve churches fulfilling his mandate.” But what worked to make that happen in the 1980s and even 1990s does not apply today.
What are we trying to change in CBI? Here is a small sampling of our mega shifts:
- From leadership election to leadership selection
- From US-based launching to globalization
- From country boundaries to focus on people groups—even in our own backyard
- From territorial divisions to functional teams of ministry
- From rigid field structures to simplicity and mobility
- From lifetime mission careers to the revolving door of short-term service
- From command and control administration to decentralization and regionalization
- From using the sending churches to serving our partner churches
- From fee-based administration to funding for value added
- From recruiting on the campus to mobilizing from the church
- From classic, narrow ministry focus to 360-degree deployment
Some would say that we have brought a lot of new things to our mission agency under my leadership. But it is difficult to make real changes that last. Everything tends to revert to the old way. People do. Systems do. Habits die hard and new ones are hard to ingrain. People I work with have told me with honesty, sincerety and enthusiasm that they are committed to the new way. But often they go back to their offices and preserve the former customs. Even “core” advocates for new ways of doing things are prone to such lapses. This powerful force of human nature is what I call the Law of the Boomerang Effect. The boomerang always wants to go back from whence it came. It reminds me of wagon ruts cut into stone on the Oregon Trail. Just try to blaze a new path and see what happens. The Boomerang Effect is always there, pulling you back to the status quo—like gravity to earth.
All I have to do is look at my teenagers’ rooms and I know that everything goes from a state of order to a state of chaos. Anyone who does not believe in the devolution of humankind and the second law of thermodynamics has never raised teens!
Ken Blanchard’s 2004 article “The Seven Dynamics of Change” includes a key principle: if you take the pressure off, people will revert back to their old behavior. For change to last, it must be self-perpetuating. Managers and leaders must keep the pressure on and make it clear that turning back to the old days is not an option.
At CBI we recognize that turning around our old ship will take time. A long-term change process takes years. Change guru John Kotter says, “Until changes sink down deeply into the culture, which for an entire company can take 3-10 years, new approaches are fragile and subject to regression” (Kotter 1996, 13). I hate to wait that long. But I don’t think we can break these tried and true laws of change.
RESISTENCE TO CHANGE IS LIKE…
Change is so elusive. It is unpredictable, hard to manage, hard to control and hard to get a handle on. Even those who say they are committed to it wander back to the comfortable easy chair of the tried and true status quo. Consider these analogies:
- Resistance to change is like underground water seeking its path of least struggle.The gifted writer and oilfield geologist Rick Bass, in his book Oil Notes, described water’s unfailing pull towards its previous course in a way that perfectly evokes the Boomerang Effect:
The water remembers. Paths taken by the earth are not easily reversed by anything, and certainly not by man. It is hard to change the paths, really, of even the slightest of natural things: a relationship, a moth to a light, a dragonfly trying to get to a pond, a dog that chases flies. How are you going to tell an old ocean that has broken through a gas cap to stop remembering that blue sky, and go back down? (Bass 1995, 112)
- Resistance to change is like the monster lurking under your bed. We always like to come back to the familiar. The old ways are safe and secure, like our favorite shoes that fit so well. The old culture in our organization is like an invisible monster that grabs the well-intentioned and pulls us back. It is lurking in the shadows by the cubicles and water fountain. Our people will be pulled back to old relationships and structures. They will naturally go where they have always gone for answers. As the wildly successful book Who Moved my Cheese communicates, even when the cheese is gone, mice keep going back to where it used to be. It takes a long time and consistent effort to get people to make new tracks and follow the new structures.
- Resistance to change is trench warfare. We think we have won the war when we have only had small victories in a few skirmishes. The enemy we are trying to defeat—the old way of doing things—isn’t dead. In most cases he’s just sleeping. Or he’s wounded, perhaps, but eager to come back swinging. He won’t give up easily. Sustained victory requires rooting out the old ways in an organization’s deep habit patterns and anchoring the new order in the culture. An ongoing openness to change must be engendered in an organizational culture.
- Resistance to change is like weeds in the garden. If you work at it, the weeds are gone and the flowers bloom. If not, the weeds will overtake the flowers.
The companies that do not continue changing their new cultures, those that say, “thank you, now let’s get back to work,” are like untended gardens that eventually go back to weeds. It is difficult to change organizations. It is like tending the gardens. When you relax, the culture goes back to the weeds (Adizes 1988, 276).
THE QUEST FOR RESILIENCE
How can we combat the institutional paralysis of always looking inside and never changing to reach the outside world? How do we burst the traditional missions bubble that is increasingly disconnected from reality? By staying creative. By turning outward.
We naturally think that we become experts by virtue of longevity. Yet a common effect of many years of service can be isolation and conformity to traditions. We end up with the answers to questions people quit asking long ago. This “arrogance of tenure” blinds many organizations from seeing truths that are obvious to outsiders.
The person who never walks except where he or she sees other people’s tracks will make no discoveries. Creativity, on the other hand, forces us all to look at old problems through new eyes. It makes us question the status quo and constantly look for improvements and enhancements to our life’s work. It is about improving the quality of the work of our hands.
One of the best things we ever did at CBInternational was hire an outside consultant, the Pharos Group, to conduct a complete organizational audit. The audit resembled my last annual physical, the kind one gets upon reaching midlife. The physician put me through all the paces—every conceivable form of prodding, poking, testing, analyzing and stressing to produce a profile of my health.
In our case, the audit involved hundreds of hours of interviews with every type of stakeholder: board members, sending pastors, missionaries and donors. A new snapshot of reality emerged, one we could never have discovered by ourselves. We could either choose to use it to improve our future, or do what many leaders unfortunately do with this kind of information—bury it.
We chose to listen. We are using our organizational ears to move out with an action plan. We even appointed a staff member to be our vice president in charge of organizational change. Our desire is to create an environment conducive to change: a learning place. To avoid hardening of the categories, we are developing the practice of listening constantly to everyone in our environment. This can help us plan for the future. We are on a quest for resilience.
CHANGING MISSION CORPORATE CULTURE
During my days in post-graduate school at Fuller, I became fascinated with the concept of corporate culture. In my doctoral dissertation I advanced the idea that corporate culture cannot be changed until it is understood for what it is.
An organization’s corporate culture can be defined as the way insiders behave based on the values and group traditions they hold. Never underestimate the power of your group’s culture. Ralph Kilmann describes it well:
Culture is different things to different people. For some, it’s family, or religion. It’s opera or Shakespeare, a few clay pots at a Roman dig. Every textbook offers a definition, but I like a simple one: culture is the shared values and behavior that knit a community together. It’s the rules of the game; the unseen meaning between the lines in the rulebook that assures unity. All organizations have a culture of their own. (Kilmann 184, 92)
People do everything possible to resist changing the corporate culture of our mission families. Artificial heart inventor Robert Jarvik observed, “Leaders are visionaries with a poorly developed sense of fear and no concept of the odds against them.”
EIGHT LEVELS OF THE BOOMERANG EFFECT
Let’s consider another way of viewing reactions to change, this time as levels of the Boomerang Effect. When you begin to tamper with the old way of doing things, you’ll provoke one of these reactions. In some ways, these can be seen as the intensity level of the Boomerang. Which one describes you?
- Ritualist—“Whatever. I am not really here in spirit anyway, just in body, so let them do what they want.”
- Retreatist—“I will do what I can to prove that they are wrong with quiet resistance.” This is the passive-aggressive employee.
- Rebellious—“I will actively do what I can and aggressively sabotage them to prove them wrong.”
- Conformer—The compliant one. “I will do whatever I am told. Never rock the boat.”
Complainer—“Those people in management are nuts! I will let them know it at every turn.”
- Early adopter—“I see what they are proposing and it makes sense. I will push the boomerang in the right direction and try to keep it from going back home.”
- Late bloomers—These eventually come along when they have warmed up to the new ideas and their minds and hearts are convinced. They are from Missouri: “Show me.”
- Innovator—These people say, “I can improve what they are talking about and make it even better. I’ll help throw the boomerang!”
GETTING EGYPT OUT OF THE PEOPLE
As in the case of the children of Israel leaving Egypt and heading to the Promised Land, you can take the people out of Egypt but it’s hard to take Egypt out of the people. The Israelites constantly asked their leaders to take them back to Egypt.
Whatever the old system may have been, it always “follows” people and tries to pull them back, just as Pharaoh’s army did. In the case of a technological change, the old machines try to pull people back; in the case of strategic change, it is the old strategy that holds onto people; in the case of a reorganized work force, it is the old reporting relationships and the old peer groupings; in the case of cultural change, it is the old values, symbols and ceremonies that exert the pull on people. (Bridges 1987, 7)
Moses knew that the pull of the past had to be broken. He called on God to part the Red Sea. After the people went through, Pharaoh’s armies drowned. When Cortez landed on Mexico’s shores to settle a new land, he burned all the boats as a statement that there was no turning back.
People always want to go back. This is not a condemnation, just a fact. Reckon with it and don’t declare victory too soon. Keep the pressure on.
Human nature compels us to revert from change back to the old ways of doing things. It’s the Law of the Boomerang Effect. We must be fully aware of how strong a pull this is and take actions to break its force.
- Team assessment: How much does your mission need to change on a scale of one to ten, with one being not so urgent and ten being red-hot necessary? What are the five most critical areas that your team thinks need changing? Do administrators agree?
- Have an outsider audit your mission team. If you are overseas, have an experienced layperson from one of your churches give an honest appraisal of your ministry. Do you have the courage to listen?
- Try to articulate a list of the characteristics you want to leave behind and the new ones you would like to develop. Remember that culture is the shared values and behavior that knit a community together.
- You have to find breaking points with the past: seas to part or boats to burn. Remove the structures, policies or people pulling you back to the former way of doing things. List your biggest barriers to permanent change.
- Be careful to honor the past. Do not denigrate the past even as you remove barriers to change. What they did back then was right for their time, just not for yours. The past is a foreign country. They did things differently back there.
- What new habits will you develop to replace the old ones? Think about new traditions that can replace the old ones. Come up with new things to celebrate when you see short-term gains.
Adizes, Ichak. 1988. Corporate Life Cycles—How and Why Corporations Grow and Die and What To Do About It. New York: Prentice Hall.
Bass, Rick. 1995. Oil Notes. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press.
Blanchard, Ken. 2004. www.ken blanchard.com/highfive/seven.cfm.d
Bridges, William. 1987. Getting Them Through the Wilderness. Mill Valley, Calif.: William Bridges and Associates.
Kotter, John P. 1996. Leading Change, Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press.
Kilmann, Ralph. 1984. Beyond the Quick Fix, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Hans Finzel is president of CBInternational, Littleton, Colorado, with ministries in over sixty-five countries. His newset book is Change Is Like a Slinky, Northfield Press.
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