Lisa is frustrated and beginning to feel anxious. It’s been 90 days since the acquisition of a small competitor in a new market and progress with the new company has been extremely slow. She continues to see staff wearing shirts with the previous company name on them, staff constantly refer to “the way we’ve always done it here at …” and continue to refer to a time when they were a bigger player in the market.

Paul has been the new Pastor at his church for a little more than a year. He knew the church had been slowly declining for several years and he came with a belief it could become vibrant again. He’s amazed at the continual references to “back when …”, or referencing with pride the commitment years ago to upgrade the organ, or to the decorating of the church each year at Christmas.

Lisa and Paul are leaders dealing with the same challenge. They are each leading an organization that is stuck living in the past.

This isn’t uncommon for organizations, yet it often goes unrecognized until there is a crisis. An organization has only so much energy and resources to use. If it’s focused on preserving the legacy of the past, it can’t focus on where it needs to focus, the future.

Here are five reasons organizations remain stuck living in the past.

  1. Lack of Mission Focus – Many organizations have forgotten their mission. The mission isn’t about a location or destination, it’s about where the organization is going. If you don’t know where you are going, it’s easy to stay where you are. Imagine a chartered bus, ready for a trip. You’ll want to get on it because of your excitement about where you are going. If the bus isn’t going anywhere, why get on it.
  2. Loss of Values – Some organizations may know their mission, but don’t know what’s important, their core values. Without values, it’s hard to make decisions on new initiatives. Have you ever read an organizational value of “stay put” or “live in the past”? No, you see words like “creativity” or “excellence” which sound great, but if you haven’t created anything new, or you’ve stopped trying to get better, the words become meaningless.
  3. Pride – Is powerful. It is a strength and a weakness. When the organization does something well, everyone feels pride, whether they were closely involved or not. Pride leads to a feeling of ownership, which makes individuals feel even more invested in the organization. The challenge is, no one wants to give up the feeling of pride or their ownership by doing something new. They want to hang onto that feeling.
  4. Fear – Each of us has some level of fear of a) failure b) the unknown and c) missing out on a new opportunity. If the organization has a greater fear of failure or the unknown than missing out on a new opportunity, the organization will remain in the past.
  5. Endings = Failure – Most organizations don’t do endings well. If everyone sees the ending of something as a failure, no one will let things end. They will keep going long after it isn’t adding value. Sometimes

We can learn from our past, but don’t want to remain stuck there.

But the Lord says, “Do not cling to events of the past or dwell on what happened long ago. Watch for the new thing I am going to do. It is happening already—you can see it now! I will make a road through the wilderness and give you streams of water there. Isaiah 43:18-19 GNT

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