I’m always fascinated by the dynamics of leaders and their organizations. Some leaders are able to successfully drive major changes without a backlash and others simply can’t. This past week, there was a local organization that handled some changes exceptionally poorly. Here’s the background:

A local church implemented sweeping changes which included the firing of half of its employees and the elimination of music during services. In communicating this, the Bishop sent a five page letter to the congregation. According to the Kalamazoo Gazette, the letter “rebukes the church community for retribution, name-calling and dissent.” The letter also stated, “Some of you might feel compelled to leave the congregation and, if that’s what you choose, may God bless you on your journey.”

The result? The letter ignited a long simmering conflict and subsequently resulted in an assault charge filed with the police after a 78 year old member of the congregation claimed she was shoved by the priest. The priest has since resigned.

Certainly there are times when leaders can and must make tough calls. However, when you do, there are some steps you can follow to minimize the disruption and bad feelings, including:

Communicating the problem in advance: Chances are your employees already know what’s happening. Keeping them in the communications loop will ensure that they perceive the problem the same way you do.

• Asking for suggestions: There are several advantages to this:

1. You might just find a great idea you hadn’t previously considered.

2. People will be more willing to accept change if they have a voice in making those changes – even if you don’t pick their suggestion.

If you have to do something really unpopular, try this:

• Explain why the change is necessary
• Apologize for the necessity of the action
• Whatever you do, don’t blame the members
• Do provide an opportunity for them to vent and provide feedback (small groups or individual discussions are best for this)
• Communicate a plan for moving forward to better times

The moral of the story? When you lead or have responsibility for controlling an organization, you can’t make arbitrary decisions without negative fall-out. If you attack and blame your members, they will fight back. It’s always better to engage them in implementing the solution than to arbitrarily force a change. That’s a waste of everyone’s time and energy and just might be enough to force your calmest employees to lose control.

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