“The nonprofit institution neither supplies goods or services nor controls. Its ‘product’ is neither a pair of shoes nor an effective regulation. Its true product is a changed human being.” ― Peter F. Drucker, Managing the Non-Profit Organization: Principles and Practices
Even small changes in a parish or organization, especially ones that feel arbitrary or non-consensual can prove disruptive. Priests soon discover that too much change too soon can result in significant push back that may negate any hoped for positive results of procedural, policy, programmatic, priority or behavioral changes. Yet the prophetic role of the priest is to challenge the status quo and inspire people to change. This document provides a method to assess the impact of desired but potentially disruptive changes in a parish before implementation.
However, let us not forget that some changes are worth dying for. Consider the apostles who incurred the wrath of both religious and civil authorities by proclaiming and living the gospel of Jesus Christ. In this case let leaders give careful consideration to which hill they want to die on. Is the hill worth dying on an enforced policy that there will no longer be any Halloween celebrations or festivities in the parish because of the overt pagan and “spiritualist” underpinnings of the holiday? Or that evangelization and mission will cease because too many people who are “not like us” are entering the parish? Which one are you willing to die for?
Identifying the Full Consequences of Change
Have you ever been involved in a project where, with hindsight, a great deal of pain could have been avoided with a little more up-front preparation and planning?
Assessing the initial effect of change is a useful and severely under-used brainstorming technique that helps parish leadership to think through the full consequences of a proposed change. As such, it is an essential part of the evaluation process for major decisions.
More than this, it gives the ability to spot problems before they arise, so that develop contingency plans can be developed to handle issues smoothly. This can make the difference between well-controlled and seemingly- effortless changes and an implementation process that is experienced by parishioners as confusing, uncomfortable, authoritarian or arbitrary.
About the Tool
Assessment of prospective change is a technique designed to unearth the “unexpected” negative effects of a change on a parish.
It provides a structured approach for looking at a proposed change, so that as many of the negative impacts or consequences of the change as possible can be identified. This makes the process an important tool for evaluating whether you want to run a project. Then once the decision to go ahead has been made, it helps prepare for and manage any serious issues that may arise.
All too often parishes do not undertake an assessment of prospective change. This is one reason that so many projects end in failure, as unforeseen consequences wreak havoc.
The Challenge of Assessing the Initial Effect of Change
One major challenge is to capture and structure all the likely consequences of a decision; and then, just as importantly, to ensure that these are managed appropriately.
For smaller decisions, it can be conducted as a desk exercise. For larger or more risky decisions, it is best conducted with an experienced team, ideally with people from different functional backgrounds within the parish. With a team like this, it’s much more likely all or most of the consequences of a decision will be detected than if conducted alone.
How to use this Process
Employ the following steps:
1) Prepare for Assessment
The first step is to gather a good team, with access to the right information sources. Make sure that the project or solution proposed is clearly defined, and that everyone involved in the assessment is clearly briefed as to what is proposed and the problems that it is intended to address.
2) Brainstorm Major Areas Affected
Now brainstorm the major areas affected by the decision or project, and think about whom or what it might affect.
Parishes will have different areas affected – this is why it’s worth spending a little time getting this top level brainstorming correct.
Here are three ways to brainstorm. Pick the framework that’s most relevant for the parish, “mix and match” them appropriately, and include other areas where they’re more relevant.
And remember as far as possible involve the people most likely to be affected by the decision: They’ll most-likely have more insight into the consequences of the decision than people emotional invested in facilitating the change.
A. Organizational Approach:
- Impacts on different parish organizations.
- Impacts on different office procedures.
- Impacts on different parish programs.
- Impacts on different interest groups within the parish.
B. The approach of Seven S-Words:
- Shared Values
C. The Commonly-Employed Risk/Impact Probability Chart
The corners of the chart have these characteristics:
- Low impact/low probability – Risks in the bottom left corner are low level, and can often be ignored.
- Low impact/high probability – Risks in the top left corner are of moderate importance – if these things happen, they can usually be coped with. However, try to reduce the likelihood that they’ll occur.
- High impact/low probability – Risks in the bottom right corner are of high importance if they do occur, but they’re very unlikely to happen. For these, however, do what you can to reduce the impact they’ll have if they do occur, and have contingency plans in place just in case they do.
- High impact/high probability – Risks towards the top right corner are of critical importance. These are top priorities, and are risks that leaders must pay close attention to.
3. Identify All Areas
Now, for each of the major areas identified, brainstorm all of the different elements that could be affected. For example, if the consideration is impact on organizations, list all of the organizations within the parish. If you’re looking at office procedures, map out the procedures, starting with the procedures parishioners most experience.
The extent to which this can be done depends on the scale of the decision and the time available. Give a reasonable amount of time, without getting bogged down in micro-detail.
4. Evaluate Impacts
Having listed all of the groups of people and everything that will be affected in an appropriate level of detail, the next step is to work through these lists identifying and listing the possible negative and positive impacts of the decision or new policy, and make an estimate of the size of the impact and the consequences of the decision.
Now is the time to turn this information into action.
If you’re using this process as part of the decision making process, weigh whether it is timely or wise to proceed with the project, program, decision or policy proposed. Ask whether it’s worth going ahead with the possible change given the negative consequences it will cause and given the cost of managing those negative consequences.
If the prospective change has actually be approved and is in the initial stages of implementation, then ask these questions:
- What are the actions needed to manage or mitigate potential negative consequences?
- How can the people who will be affected by the change be prepared so that they’ll understand and (ideally) support the change rather than fighting against it?
- What contingency strategies can be formulated quickly to manage the situation should the negative consequences arise?