7 Bad Decisions in a Declining or Plateauing Organization

By November 13, 2014Church, Leadership

Recently I wrote a post about 7 tensions in fast growth situations. I have had the pleasure of leading (and am today) in churches and a business in fast growth mode. Thankfully. As exciting as those seasons are, they do produce some tension.

But, I have to be honest. Equally important, in the formation of me as a leader, is that I’ve had great experience in leading through difficult days also. Mostly in the business world — although I’ve entered a church in the midst of these days — I’ve led on the other side of the equation too. I’ve been in the decline. I’ve let when we were stagnant. It hurts. It isn’t fun.

I talk to churches every single day that are declining or plateaued. Apparently, according to some statistics, that represents about 75-80% of churches these days. And, I know there are many struggling businesses also. (I’ve been there.) So, a post addressing organization in this season is equally — if not more — needed.

And, much of what I’ve learned in this post I learned through suffering through my bad decisions. When we are in decline, or feel as if we are about to enter that season, we make some bad decisions — out of a natural reaction — during those days.

Here are 7 bad decisions in a declining or plateaued organization:

Rejecting the vision. You’ll start to question the reason you once existed. That’s normal. And, maybe it was an ill-conceived or short-sighted vision from the beginning. Something tells me, however, that’s not true and you’d be offended that I even made the suggestion. If that’s the case, maybe you just need to get more passionate again about that which you were once very passionate.

Playing the blame game. Declining hurts and our natural tendency is to blame someone for the pain. Who wants to own this — right? But that game never has a winner. And produces a whole lot of losers. Eventually, as leaders we’ve got to own the problems — their ours to deal with now — regardless of how they started or where the original fault rests.

Trying a 1,000 bad ideas. We scurry. We scramble. We anxiously move from one idea to another . And, it’s not that the ideas themselves are bad, it’s that we go into them with no real plan and we never really locking down on anything solid. We are just punching in the air looking for any blow that lands. We will try anything and everything — if we hear it was successful elsewhere let’s do it — but we never really implement any of them well. People get confused. Staff gets frustrated. Nothing moves forward.

Not taking any risks. The opposite is also true — sometimes at the same time, but in different areas of the church or organization. We lock down. Everything. We play it safe — afraid of losing what we still have. We stop investing in anything new. We go back to the same bad ideas we left years ago. We stand still hoping the earth will eventually stop shifting. It doesn’t. It just permits the earthquakes to keep trembling and eventually get bigger. People get bored. Tradition sings loudly as a tired, worn out system, but we are too afraid to change it causes further decline.

Failure to admit there is a problem. We make excuses. We pretend everything is awesome. We label everything amazing. Even when it’s not and we wish it were. Listen, if everyone knows there’s a problem own it. Don’t run from it. That never helps. Own it.

Not addressing the real problems. We get rid of the low hanging fruit, but we never tackle the real roots of the issue. Leading towards revitalization requires hard choices. Good leadership with full punches. There’s no time to waste.

Focusing only on the losses. Things are bad, aren’t they? You know it and so does everyone else. Some days it seems nothing could go right and you go home many days feeling defeated. (I’ve been there leader — it’s tough and I’m praying a general prayer for you as I type this.) But, that may be the loudest story but it’s not the only story. There are likely some wins occurring. And, not everyone is seeing things as bleak as you are — most likely. There are people who still believe in you and the vision and they just need a leader who will re-energize them, create a good, strong, healthy plan and lead them out of the mess. Start by celebrating something. Make it genuine. Don’t overkill. But look for some half full glasses. They’re hidden behind the cloudy ones. Maybe it’s simply the good vision and foundation upon which you were formed. Celebrate that. Maybe it’s that there are some people who have weathered lots of storms and stayed in the boat. That’s worth shouting victory about — isn’t it? Focus on a win! Now! Do it! Then let’s get the rest of this party started. This is not a time for belly-aching. This is a time to get busy again!

Have you been — or are you in — a declining situation?

Please take note of these. Good days can be just around the corner if you stay faithful, don’t act stupid, and hold on for the return. I’m pulling for you leader!

(And, for the one who says, “You didn’t use any Scripture or talk about prayer at all.” I say this — having been in a declining situation before, I’d say prayer is not absent. And, most pastors in a declining setting know the Scriptures as well as in a growing setting. This is a leadership post (and mostly a leadership blog). And, that’s what this post is addressing.)

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Ron Edmondson

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