I have been blessed to be able to spend my life investing in several Christian schools, giving my efforts to help them be a reflection of God in how they provide an excellent academic program within a genuine, spiritually nurturing culture. Along the way, it has often been necessary to implement changes, and this process has been a great learning experience for me, through failures and successes, good decisions and bad. I still consider one of my most valuable lessons to be the one in which I learned the importance of understanding history and context before rushing everyone into change (that’s a lesson I learned the hard way). Because of that experience, I am now intentionally careful to make sure I understand where I am (the culture, the history, the context) before I determine what and how to change.
As I have continued to grow in my understanding and application of this valuable principle, I have come to realize that there are generally two very important factors that must be considered when you are deciding whether or not to make a change. When you are pondering your next steps of change, you must first pause and consider the value of what is currently being done by considering both its perception and its purpose.
Perception is often something that we fail to consider because we tend to be blinded by our own perceptions. The reality is, however, that everyone around us also has his or her own perception that impacts how he or she views the current practices and policies. If we neglect to consider those, we may make changes that are resisted and rejected, because they will not see what we see. They will not see the problems with the current circumstances, and they will not see the benefits of the change.
Therefore, we must consider how the perceptions of others have been framed by three things: their own past experience, their present context, and their future expectations. When don’t first try to understand who they are and to see from their perspective, taking time to understand the impact of these three things on their thinking, we will miss seeing how these things shape and influence their perceptions. Then, when we introduce change, those perceptions will prevent them from seeing the true value of the change. However, if you have first taken the time to understand their perceptions, then you can address them and reshape them.
Purpose is often something that is forgotten, because once something has become accepted and normal practice, people generally stop thinking about why it is done that way. They may no longer realize the real meaning and intent behind it, and will blindly and thoughtlessly continue doing the same thing. It is like the wife who always cuts off the end of the Christmas ham before she cooks, because, she says, “It’s what my mother always did, and her ham was delicious.” But when her husband asked his mother-in-law why she did it, the answer was, “Because my oven was small and I needed to do that in order to get the ham to fit.” Likewise, people will tend to do what has always been done, forgetting (or not realizing) the reasoning behind it.
Therefore, we must intentionally consider the purpose of what we have been doing before we try to change it. Specifically, we need to ask ourselves three questions: 1) Why do we do it?; 2) Why do we do it like this?; and 3) Does it do what we want? Sometimes there are very valid and important reasons why something is done the way that it is, and we should not be so quick to rush into change. But sometimes, we will gain an understanding that helps us enlighten those around us, enabling them to see how a change will help us to better accomplish our overall purpose. When then happens, our job will be to help them understand how our purpose – the one on which we all agree – will best be served by making a change, either in what we do or in how we do it.
Change will always be happening, but it is not necessarily always needed, always beneficial, or always accepted. If, however, you want to enhance your ability to implement needed change, first learn to understand how the two factors of perception and purpose will affect your decisions, and the reception of your decisions by those around you. Then you can take intentional steps to manage both of them, and you will become a more effective agent of change.