Change and Control: Beating the Odds and Speeding the Returns for Successful School Enterprise

Published on March 25th, 2019

So with “change” in the title, you might expect to read a quip or two about light bulbs…. all I want to really do is share the essence of the heady presentations at the recent Association of Lutheran Secondary Schools (ALSS) Conference, to enlighten you about change from the perspectives of Lutheran School leaders, and to illuminate the scepter of change from the best of organizational research.  No joke!

Jim Pingle and Gretchen Jameson from Concordia University Wisconsin headlined the first two days at ALSS with TED-style talks.  Cole Braun, CEO of the Lutheran High School Association of Greater Milwaukee closed the three days of networking with poignant anecdotes connecting mission, vision, values, and strategic planning.  Sandwiched with sage and seasoned addresses by Bishop Dave Benke of the Eastern District of the LCMS, by Greg Seltz of the Lutheran Center of Religious Liberty, and by John Nunes, Daniel Gard, and Brian Friedrich, Presidents of the Concordia Universities in Bronxville, Chicago, and Nebraska, the Conference was a feast of ideas and ideals.  While each is deserving of review, the essence of this post is to concentrate upon change keynoted by Pingle, Jameson, and Braun.

Pingle, as co-author of the newly released Imagine the Possibilities: Conversations about the Future of Lutheran Schools, surveyed Lutheran Schools thriving in diverse settings while traversing divergent terrain.  Though the eleven narratives in the book are uniquely distinct, the underlying thesis of these “possibilities” is change.  Jameson cited motivation as a conditional element of successful ventures through the gauntlet of change, noting that 70% of all change initiatives fail.  For those of you who are customers of Chick-fil-A, Braun recounted that the cheery, “It’s my pleasure!” took eleven years to trickle down from the boardroom to fastfood counters of service.  So much for the state of change as presented at ALSS.

In your school setting, how can you flux with the future, besting the odds and expediting the dynamics of change in your school?  Assuming that you know why your organization must change, this antecedent then moves this essential question to the forefront:  How do you control and manage change, where do you begin?  Consider the research of Charles Perrow and the Third Order!

In extensive studies of complex organizations for four decades, Perrow (1986, 2014) proposed three perspectives regarding function and control in organizations: first-order control is maintained by administrative supervision and directives, while second-order control is manifested by human resource procedures, rules, programs, and standardizations. Yet he maintained that most critical to the culture of an organization is the third-order level of control, those assumptions and the meanings individuals make of organizational change.  Coherent, meaning-making actions lend an individual, self-sustaining dynamic to the workplace. Weick (1995) observed that organizations “make sense, literally and figuratively, at the bottom [and] that is all the design that is necessary” (p. 117).  Underscoring both Perrow and Weick, Rosenthotz, (1989) asserted, “the ultimate social organizational variable is the meaning that the organization has for those who work within it” (p. 3).

Thus, initiate change by working from a perspective at the bottom of the organization, a vista grounded in the workplace for positive outcomes.  Skirting the defaulting penchant for top-down and/or legislated initiatives, now consider the question, “How many does it take to change a light bulb?” (I just couldn’t resist!)

Answer 1: Lutherans don’t change (that’s avoiding the issue).
Answer 2: None.  Lutherans use candles in church (that leaves you in the dark).
Answer 3: A committee will study the matter and report next month (that’s typical)
Answer 4: One hundred and one.  One to change and the one hundred who will gab about how they liked the old one better (meaning the old, usual way).

Correct Answer: One. One who knows the way through change is the Third Order, and soon all those around can warm up in its glowing!  Kumbyah!

PS:  The title of the upcoming post in this series about change is “From Kumbyah to Kaizan!”

Perrow, C. (1986). Complex organizations (3rd ed.). New York: Random House.

Perrow, C. (2014). Complex organizations (4th ed.). New York: Echo Point.

Pingle, J. and Bull, B. (2019). Imagine the possibilities: Conversations about the future of Lutheran Schools.  St. Louis: Concordia.

Rosenholtz, S. J. (1989). Teachers’ workplace: The social organization of schools. New York: Longman.

Weick, K. E. (1995). Sensemaking in organizations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.