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Crucial Conversations QA

Changing the System

Dear Crucial Skills,

I’m president of my church choir’s advisory council. The choir has long had a “slush fund” that is used for various choir-related expenses, but it is not administered by the advisory council. I would like to change this, but am unsure of how to approach the “owners” of the fund. These are members of the choir who make decisions on whether money can be spent without any general choir input.

Recently, they denied the advisory council’s request for a small amount of money saying it was an “inappropriate” use of funds. I don’t want to turn this into the Inquisition, but the advisory council members think we should all have more input. Any suggestions as to how to approach our colleagues and gain their cooperation?

Signed,
Looking for Guidance

Dear Looking,

This situation may seem very unique, but it isn’t. I think many of us have felt the need to change an established system that is supported by entrenched interests. How do we make these changes? And how do we involve people who believe they will lose power, money, prestige, etc. as a result of these changes?

Get the facts. I would begin by learning the history behind the current arrangement. The creation of the “slush fund,” which seems peculiar now, probably made a lot of sense at the time it was established. For example, maybe it was part of a contract the church negotiated when hiring key choir members. Determine the original rationale for the arrangement and evaluate whether those reasons still make sense.

Enlarge the decision-making group. The change you are suggesting should not devolve into a power play between your advisory group and the current owners of the fund. Instead, the interests of the entire church should be foremost. This means involving a broader group of respected decision makers who aren’t identified with your group or the current owners of the fund. This more objective group will have greater credibility with the whole church.

Involve the current owners in the decision. Don’t let them feel excluded or disrespected. Make sure they have a seat at the decision-making table. They will be the best advocates for the current arrangement, and the decision makers need their perspective.

Maintain respect. When changes are made, the people who created or supported the prior arrangement are often made to look bad. In this case, using words like “slush fund” paints them as corrupt. I doubt they are corrupt. The facts are that they created and managed a system that has worked—at least to some extent—for years. They shouldn’t be vilified for this. If the church can create a new system that works better, that’s great. It doesn’t mean that the old system was somehow evil, unfair, or incompetent.

Give time for the transition. Don’t pull the plug in a sudden way. Instead, create a gradual, orderly transition. For example, if the current owners already have a two-year plan for the funds, go ahead and approve it. Let them take their plan to completion, and then get their involvement in creating the next plan. If the transition is abrupt, it may be seen as a money grab, instead of as a long-term structural improvement.

I hope these ideas help.

David

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David Maxfield

David Maxfield is a New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker, and leading social scientist for organizational change. For thirty years, David has delivered engaging keynotes at prestigious venues including Stanford and Georgetown Universities. David’s work has been translated into twenty-eight languages, is available in thirty-six countries, and has generated results for three hundred of the Fortune 500.
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4 thoughts on “Changing the System”

  1. Ah, the “sacred cow fund” that cannot be touched expect by God. There is no simple solution and perhaps no solution to the structural decision making process. This is about “power” in the church and one of the hardest “nuts” to crack. But the camel’s nose is in the tent and it is time to deal with the issue by appealing to the “wider” ministry of the church. Times have probably changed since the fund was created. Yet the “sacred cow fund” continues to function using the same criteria for its purpose. It will require a very tactful and deliberate approach. One possible approach is to look at how all funds are administered in the church. And then write a more comprehensive policy for how all church funds are to be administered and by whom. However, I suspect the “sacred cow fund” is used for special purposes by the choir and only for the choir. Therefore, it is a lose/lose situation and you will need to “count the cost” for even suggesting a change in policy. Unless the advisory council can create a “higher purpose” for the “sacred cow fund”, I cannot imagine the “power” people being willing to change. Bottom line: wait until the “power” people either die or step down from their controlling positions. Good luck!

  2. Now if only this could be required reading- transmitted into the brains of all those “change agents” and “new sheriffs” out there. There are reasons why things are the way they are. That doesn’t mean things shouldn’t be examined and changed if they are no longer appropriate. But how about not doing it willy nilly and then wondering why things are even more messed up.

  3. I have a wonderful quote that I see every day (I don’t remember where I got it from, probably one of my military blogs I follow):

    “You have to work with what you are given, which includes the equipment, people, and existing rules of whatever organization you work for. If you want to change it, it’s going to take time, and you have to play the long game every day.”

  4. Hmmm…, to me it sounds more like the Administrators are attempting to take over the choir’s funds for non-choir use?? The “story I tell myself”, (Definitely a “Power Play”), is based on the input above where the submitter indicated they were “denied” & the reason was, “inappropriate” use of funds. And now the denied group is making a power play to take over the funds of the group that denied them. So…, I wouldn’t be so quick to support either entity, without facts. But I do agree that bringing in a larger group within the church or better yet a group of church members that are neither Admin, Choir nor associated with either should hear & “make” the decision to maintain separate funding or to assimilate it into one.

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