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Organizational Change and Strategic Thinking

Jethro followed and applied three strategic-thinking principles and leaned on God to help reveal an appropriate planned response. As a result, a whole nation was benefitted. We will do well to follow this example.

By Norm Edwards


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Leading Strategically

We often find a common misnomer among Pentecostal or charismatic leaders. This illogicality has to do with the idea that being Spirit-led is either opposite or spiritually superior to being strategically-led. I suggest that being Spirit-led and being strategically-led should go hand in hand. Both depend on each other for the best possible outcome of our ministries.

I have been in ministry and in Pentecostal circles long enough to know the claim of being Spirit-led can often be a façade meaning, “I’m too lazy to do the hard work of processing, evaluating, and planning.” Or, it could be we just do not have the tools or know how to think or plan strategically. However, as leaders and stewards of God’s work we are responsible to do what we do well. There is no room for laziness or excuses. Furthermore, I contend we can be Spirit-led in the office and boardroom as effectively as we can be Spirit-led in the pulpit. God has called us to every facet of this work, including the strategic development and execution of each task.

We instinctively value and use strategic planning or thinking regarding retirement, our children’s schooling, our vacations, and a multitude of other realities. Why not apply such thinking when it comes to the work to which God has called us? I want to introduce you to the practice of structured strategic thinking and help you see the value of this practice. Additionally, I want to help you see that strategic thinking can be Spirit-led, if we invite the Holy Spirit to the table as we work.

Strategic Thinking

Bill Birnbaum (2004) says strategic thinking is “concerned with doing the right things, rather than doing things right.” This is critical because change is inevitable. As change invades our organization or ministry, we can easily get caught protecting the way we do things, rather than focusing on what we should be doing. Change has a way of knocking us off guard and making us lose our equilibrium. Thinking strategically can help us maintain a healthy balanced posture, directing us to positive outcomes in the face of change.

Strategic thinking involves (Switzer 2008):

  1. Looking at emerging trends.
  2. Identifying whether or not they represent opportunities or threats to the organization/ministry.
  3. Developing an organizational response to take advantage of the potential opportunity or mitigate the threat.

If we follow this process, and seek the help of the Holy Spirit, we position ourselves for Kingdom impact on the world in which we live.

Working through Exodus 18:13–27, we can look at the three dynamics of strategic thinking in the dialogue between Moses and Jethro. The work was overwhelming Moses. The growth of the populace and the vast workload suggest a required change of operating procedure.

Looking at the Emerging Trends

Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, invited him to evaluate what was happening to see where his current leadership style might be heading (verses 13–18). The population was growing, as are the needs and demands on Moses; and the current system was not arranged to handle the growth and change. As a result, Moses was going to burn out, and he was not going to serve the people well. Jethro “identifies potential threats and opportunities and envisions the potential future” (Switzer 2008).

When looking at needed change and attempting to identify emerging trends that apply or affect our organizations, Switzer (2008) recommends asking questions of stakeholders (employees, church members, board members, the community). Switzer suggests asking: What trends could impact the organization in the next several years? What are other organizations with similar success factors doing? What potential external threats may impact us/them? The idea of engaging stakeholders in the process is to help create buy-in to the change efforts.

Identifying the Emerging Trends As Threats or Opportunities

Looking at Moses’ situation, Jethro identified the current and future condition as a threat unless something changed. However, as we see in the next step, Jethro also saw an opportunity. He said, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who have come to you will only wear yourselves out” (verses 17,18). Jethro then gave Moses a possible solution. It is worth noting that the interchange ends with Jethro clearly articulating the emerging trend and threat as a potential opportunity if Moses will follow a proper strategic course of action. He said, “If you do this and God so commands,” (the Spirit-led aspect), “you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied” (verse 23).

Dutton and Jackson (1987) report that “opportunity” implies a positive situation in which gain is likely and over which one has a fair amount of control. Whereas, “threats” imply a negative situation in which loss is likely and over which one has relatively little control. Though that may be a factual generalization, I would argue that a threat can often become an opportunity when we strategically analyze and address it. Here again, I maintain the value of being both strategic and Spirit-led. Often a discovered threat in the boardroom can blossom as an opportunity after allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to hearts and minds. This is apparently what God did through Jethro.

Develop a Response to Take Advantage or Mitigate the Threat

Jethro did not simply point out the problem; he also brought a potential and plausible suggestion. In verse 19 Jethro said, “Listen now to me and I will give you some advice,” (to both take advantage of the opportunity and mitigate the identified threat), “and may God be with you” (Spirit-led). Then in verses 19–22, Jethro laid out the strategic response to the identified needed change.

Through strategic thinking the response to either an identified opportunity or threat is simply a calculated change. It is a plan of action that takes into consideration the emerging trend, and the reality of this trend being an opportunity or threat. The result is a strategic response, as opposed to a reflex reaction. As we all know reactions can be emotional and not thoroughly thought through. How much better to be proactive, anticipating the change, calculated in our response, and Spirit-led.

Conclusion

The work of the ministry is far too important and demanding to rely on chance or blind decisions. We have great tools and great minds to work with. We are to be stewards of both.

The One who called us also has promised He would help us. As we have seen in the discussion above, being strategically-led and Spirit-led can and should go hand in hand. In tandem this duo ensures success in the work we have been called to do. Jethro followed and applied the strategic-thinking principles we have mentioned and leaned on God to help reveal an appropriate planned response. As a result, a whole nation was benefitted. We will do well to follow this example.

Norm Edwards, Eurasia Northwest area director,

References

Birnbaum, Bill. 2004. Strategic Thinking: A Four-Piece Puzzle. Costa Mesa, California; Douglas Mountain Publishing.

Dutton, Jane E., Jackson, Susan E. 1887. Categorizing Strategic Issues: Links to Organizational Action. Academy of Management Review, 12, no.1:76–90.

Switzer, Merlin. 2008. “Strategic Thinking in Fast-Growing Organizations.” Journal of Strategic Leadership, 1, no. 1:31–38. http://www.regent.edu/acad/global/publications/jsl/vol1iss1/JSL_Vol1iss1_Switzer.pdf

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