I am the product of Catholic schools. While I wouldn’t consider myself a devout Catholic, I do believe myself to be a devout Christian. The values and traditions imprinted on me as a youth have played and still play an important role in my thoughts and behavior.
Until recently, like millions of other Catholics of my generation, I felt that the church has lost its relevancy in today’s society... old stodgy men living in an alternate reality. Then along came Jorge Mario Bergoglio … AKA Pope Francis, or as my husband and I like to call him (with all due respect and genuine fondness and affection) Pope Frank.
One reason he has inspired so many to return to the church (for curiosity if not real faith in the institution) is his humility. He has basically denounced all the pomp that the church has embraced for the last few centuries, in favor of a more humble and hands-on approach. In business parlance, he’s a CEO who gets down in the trenches to get back to the fundamentals of the business. He's become a rock star in religious circles, so it was fitting that he recently graced the cover of The Rolling Stone.
The Pope has embarked on a massive program to reform the Vatican. While the fundamental message and mission has not changed – the change in management and expression of the church’s goals which is beginning to take shape could, if allowed to continue, mean a huge shift in the church for a long time to come. It is interesting, therefore, to take a look at his approach from a business standpoint and see what lessons we can glean for any company seeking to manage change in their organization.
1. Talk the Talk
Pope Frank keeps to the script. He continues to outline his vision of what the church’s business is about. He focuses on the poor and dispossessed, forgoing the trappings of wealth, understanding real life issues. He talks about focusing on the things that really matter, the people, not the institution. It is reported in the Rolling Stone cover article that the cardinals were inspired to vote for him at last year’s conclave after a 3-minute speech in which he said the Church, in order to survive, must stop "living within herself, of herself, for herself."
He rarely strays off message to issues which he feels are not core to the mission and vision of the church. When it seems that he touches on controversial issues, it’s actually to emphasize those core messages… it’s not that those issues aren’t important, it’s that there are MORE important issues that have priority.
Lest you think the diversions to those peripheral issues are unintentional… understand that they are very strategic. I doubt his remarks have been “off the cuff”; they were very likely well thought out in advance, in case a question was posed, which of course they always are.
- Set your priorities
- Define your message
- Stick to the talking points
2. Walk the Walk
While it is important to say the right things, you have to also set the example so that no one can mistake your intentions or misinterpret your musings.
criticizes ostentatious wealth
lives in a simple guest house instead of the papal apartment
will not tolerate extravagant spending
Suspended “Bishop Bling” and removed him from the diocese after he spent €31 million ($42 million) to renovate his residence, including a $20,000 bathtub
clergy should travel with humility
he flies coach and drives a used car with 186,000 miles on its odometer
clergy should minister to the dispossessed
sneaks out at night dressed as a regular priest to meet with the homeless
While some may say these are only symbols, Father Thomas J. Reese, a senior analyst at the National Catholic Reporter, reminds us in the RS article that "In the Catholic Church, style is substance … We are a church of symbols. … These things really matter. So Francis is already changing the church in real ways through his words and symbolic gestures.”
- Lead by example
- Take action to enforce expectations
- Live your words
3. Change the culture
A major difficulty of any organizational shift is changing the culture. You can change processes, procedures, systems and even people, but the fundamental issue is the culture. What are the values of the company? This is one of the most difficult things to change.
Walking the walk, as described above, is a great first step. If people see the CEO eating in the company cafeteria rather than at the Michelin star restaurant, it can be a significant symbol. But, when you’ve been there too long, it’s harder to see the forest for the trees.
At the Vatican administration (the Curia), longevity in those positions is an understatement with “Lifers” who adapt to the climate of whoever is in charge now, confident they'll likely outlast the whims of the current Pope. A Vatican clergyman quoted in the RS article says "If you don't go after the culture of the place, it'll be, 'OK, we're doing humility and simplicity now? Fine,' and nothing else will change." The shakeup happening now is unnerving many “lifers” who have never seen such a scale of change.
Pope Francis has taken an approach that many organizations have done and continue to do… bring in the consultants!
- He has set up a task force of 8 cardinals from outside the Vatican to reform the Curia.
- He set up a commission to advise him on how to deal with the pedophilia problem.
- He hired outside consultants to examine what’s happening at the Vatican bank, after already having forced out several officials.
- He commissioned a survey of parishioners around the world asking for laypersons’ opinions about same-sex marriage, premarital sex, divorce and contraception. Asking the "clients" how they feel? This one is particularly REVOLUTIONARY!!
Taking these steps is a very important start to determine how the culture will change, but getting opinions and recommendations from those both inside and outside is only a first step. Without implementing them and enforcing the implementation, the culture will revert back.
How many smokers do you know who after 6 months or a year without a cigarette go back to smoking 2-packs a day? It’s too easy and comfortable to fall back on what you have known.
- Get an outside opinion
- Detail what you want to change and why
- Enforce any changes
4. Clean out the attic
We all have lots of old stuff in our attics (or garages, or basements). When I moved from NYC to Florida, despite having a small apartment, I threw out or gave away so many things I had been saving for … I don’t know what.
When you want to truly change a company you need to also get rid of not only old habits and processes, but old “people”. Not “old” age-wise, but “old” as in they’ve been there too long and refuse to adapt so that they will hinder your efforts to change the company fundamentally.
This will be one of Pope Frank’s biggest challenges. The reason is simple. Not only are staffers at the Curia “lifers”, but people at the Vatican are never fired. Even the butler who leaked Pope Benedict’s papers last year causing the “Vatican Gate” scandal wasn’t fired… he was just reassigned.
Ideally, you will have employees who embrace the changes and actively participate in the shift, but as with the cigarette smoker in step 3 above, it is easy to fall back on old habits.
I remember joining a company a number of years ago that was in the midst of an organizational change, bringing in a lot of new people and making a huge shift in priorities and behaviors. We all looked forward to being part of the “NEW” company. But the change never took hold, because the base of employees who had been there for ages (some as long as 25 years) continued to drive the culture.
As difficult as it is for many to accept, sometimes you really need to make a clean sweep in order to really see the changes take hold.
- Identify and nurture those employees who embrace the new culture
- Identify those who will resist or sabotage the new culture taking root
- Be prepared to let go or reassign those who hold back efforts at change
While at the onset you may have thought of this post to be a bit off the wall, the reality is that The Vatican is a global force with a very powerful CEO, and is in need of this massive overhaul they are undertaking. So consider these tips and hits if you are seeking to re-launch your brand and change the perceptions of your business in the marketplace. You will be surprised when you talk the talk, walk the walk, and make sure your team is doing the same, at how quickly things evolve in your chosen direction.
Evelyne Oreskovich is Founder and President of Hospitality Evolution Resources, LLC. With more than three decades of accomplishments in the global Hospitality industry, Evelyne’s diverse experience with reservations and distribution systems; sales and marketing management; project management; and strategic planning coupled with her understanding of North American, European and Asian markets and cultures fosters an environment of positivity and collaboration that effectively bridges the gaps between Management, Operations, Technology, and Sales & Marketing.
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