In previous posts I defined the Design Thinking Process and talked about how it is an ideal process for churches, because it is in incremental process and because it relies on empathy.
Many struggling churches have a great number of areas in which members would like to see improvement. The Design Thinking process is not one that creates a radical overhaul of the entire organization all at once. Instead, the Design Thinking process starts with one discrete area for improvement and creates a pilot project, a temporary change or addition to organizational life that can be tinkered with or even scrapped entirely after a suitable trial period. Design Thinking helps organizations "start small" with changes because changes do need to happen, but some members need more time than others to adapt to alterations in church life.
I recently conducted just such a pilot project at an organization where I volunteer. The organization has had a decline in active participation in recent years, which has impacted several areas of organizational life. I decided to tackle one discrete project over a short span of time. I selected this task because it had been mostly neglected for a period of time, which meant that the organization was highly unlikely to mount a powerful offensive against the changes.
The organization runs frequent bake sales out of their kitchen. Over time, the kitchen had become a disorganized catch-all space. The volunteer who had been in charge for many years recently stepped down and was replaced by a revolving door of volunteers who often lacked basic knowledge, such as how much coffee to put into the coffee maker, or where the creamers were stored. I offered to take over the position for a four-week period.
I started by simply observing the sales several times. I saw a variety of volunteers cycle through the bake sale and observed how they interacted with customers. I noted that some volunteers paid more attention to customers who were friends than to other customers. Then I began talking to other members about the bake sale processes. I expressed my opinions and observations (mostly I observed a lack of consistency) and asked for their opinions. I learned that nobody liked the coffee brand we were using. Because I was a longtime member I knew that we had started selling it because they had provided it free at first, but that stopped long ago and we continued to patronize them.
I took everything out of the kitchen and completely re-organized it. I updated the displays and found a new source for pre-packaged coffee. I also sold a sweetened coffee drink and hot and cold cider, along with the usual home-baked treats. During that time period, a number of volunteers worked at the sales. Reactions to the changes varied.
Many were very pleased and expressed tremendous gratitude.
A few reacted quite negatively and emotionally to changes big and small and tried to re-re-organize--but only a little. It seemed to help them to take back a little control.
Someone went behind my back to the organzation's elected leader and insisted that I could not raise prices on bake sale items because prices are fixed and it required a vote of the entire membership.
Here are some important key to success in the process:
Pray that the Holy Spirit lead you to the best project for this time and place.
Choose a discrete area for a pilot project; ideally, it should be an area where there has been a leadership vacuum.
Create a plan. Be bold but not reckless.
Pray some more, and refine after you pray.
Determine your goals: What will success look like?
Enlist help from a few others who share your vision.
Pray together. Refine more if moved to do so.
Don't run the detailed plan by a decision-making body for feedback prior to implementation. Many people have trouble imagining changes and can only process them through concrete experience.
Acknowledge the work done in this area in the past. Be generous with praise and thanks.
Expect a wide variety of types of feedback, including criticism and attempts at sabotage.
Pray about the results.
Don't back down on the changes during the trial period, unless a serious concern is raised, e.g., safety or legal.
Do react with empathy to negative reactions [e.g., I understand your frustration.]
Develop talking points to deal with negative feedback.
Ask people to hold their objections until the trial period is complete.
Try very hard to argue. Arguing with feelings is counter-productive.
Resolve not to give more attention to negative feedback than positive feedback. This is difficult for many leaders who attempt innovation, but important. Explain that changes will be made only in this discrete area, and only during a trial period. If most people don't like it, the changes are 100% reversible.
Continue to offer praise and thanks to all for feedback and work in the area both past and present.