"If it ain't broke, don't fix it"
If you've not heard those words, you've probably said them. I'd be willing to bet that many of you reading this are shrugging your shoulders and wondering what the big deal is. Over the last few years, I've become increasingly convinced that not only should leaders avoid using these words, but that they can actually become a slow death for a leader or a ministry when this becomes engrained.
Just because it's not broke doesn't mean it's working or effective - A lot of ministries and activities happen in a church that aren't broken. They happen regularly with a committed group of volunteers, receive annual budget funds, and are mainstays on a church calendar. But they may not be working or effective. They may take necessary funds from other ministries higher on the priority list, they may no longer reach the targeted demographic, they may not have the impact on the church or community they once had. But on the surface, they don't appear broken.
"Don't fix it" kills innovative thinking - One of the things I read this summer was about Tom Brady, who had just won his fourth Super Bowl. In the offseason, he's known as a grinder in the weight room, constantly watching film and working on his throwing mechanics. In history he may be regarded as the greatest NFL quarterback of all time--the definition of "not broken." But he's always looking to innovate, to improve, to sharpen and to refine. Adopting a "don't fix it" mentality stifles the creative and evaluative processes that drive a ministry's constant improvement. One thing every ministry leader should do on a regular basis is ask "What could we change to do things better and be more effective?" In those brainstorming and evaluation sessions, very little needs to be considered "untouched." My three untouchables are weekly Bible study, regular missions involvement, and intentional small groups. Beyond that, anything and everything is fair game.
It may not be broke, but it may be sick - In a lot of ways, this goes back to the first point. Leaders who assume that not-broke is healthy are failing to look beyond the initial assessment. Carefully looking at what a ministry does and asking the bigger questions "why? and what for?" help determine if something is in fact healthy. Many activities flow on a plan where the initial push leads to growth and efficiency, which then plateaus before beginning a descent (see sigmoid chart below). A lot of times we find ourselves on the plateau or on the slow descent and don't recognize where we are because, on the surface, things look good. But deep down, there is sickness that needs to be addressed.
Taking this position is the easy fix - One of the biggest takeaways from my doctoral work on leadership development was that in many cases, leaders took the easy way out. Leading significant growth, change, and culture processes requires a huge investment of time and energy. But the fruit from that is both exponential and multigenerational. However, it's easier to do just easy to keep it in maintenance mode. That became obvious when learning to drive, that the majority of the work a driver does it keep the car straight by maintaining course. It's only when there is an urgent need for change that the driver does what's necessary to steer dramatically.
This view limits a leader's effective reach - When I worked at Starbucks in college and grad school, we had several times where we as a company would relaunch products or promotions. And then once we had a complete overhaul. Every store in the country closed to re-train employees and cast a new vision. The reason? Our CEO began asking questions and abandoned the "if it ain't broke" approach. The company was making money by the truck load and stores were expanding, but the growth wasn't sustainable and it wasn't in line with the company values. So instead of looking and doing nothing, Howard reached into the very heart of the company and led from the front lines, where his reach was felt throughout the company. As our product lineup was refined and we were able to return to the core values, the impact was felt by customers who had fallen in love with the "Third Place" experience.
What else would you say about this phrase? How have you seen it impact a ministry?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.