Aware of my fascination with Walt Disney mythology, my wife presented me with three DVDs that chronicle events that have been significant in the company’s history: Waking Sleeping Beauty, The Sherman Brothers’ Story, and Walt & El Grupo.

Over the holidays I was able to watch Waking Sleeping Beauty, a documentary that tells the story of how Disney’s animation studio rose the brink of collapse—can you imagine the Disney animation studio going out of business?— to go on an unprecedented run that began with Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and continued with The Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast, The Lion King, and Aladdin.

The general situation and overall economic forecast for the Walt Disney Animation Studio in the early-to-mid 1980s was bleak. A string of box-office and critical failures combined with stiffer competition had culminated when the story begins. After bringing in Michael Eisner the next step was finding the right person to lead the animation studio out of the pits and into a new era of prosperity. That person was Jeffrey Katzenberg. Early in the movie Katzenberg makes this statement: “You’ve got 90 days to change culture before it starts changing  you.” So Katzenberg, Eisner, and a few other key figures took the reins and charged out into the vast and unpredictable future with the not-so-small goal of re-directing the course of one of the most storied companies in American business and popular culture history.

Because it’s January and many of you are beginning new groups or starting campaigns or even looking at beginning a small-group ministry in your church, I thought it would be a good time to reiterate the broad strokes of culture and organizational change that Waking Sleeping Beauty brings to light.

Sense of Urgency – A friend of mine used to say, “It always takes longer than it does.” I have no idea what that means, but somehow it makes sense in that we must be intentional and persistent. That is, nothing manages to “just get get done.” At least in the early stages, a leader must stay on top of the details and be sure that the process remains in motion. There’s a line in the movie Elizabethtown that I love: “All forward motion is progress.” Something to keep in mind when things aren’t moving as fast as you’d like.

Cast the Vision – Included in this aspect of culture change is building consensus. In order to cast the vision you, of course, need a vision. This is accomplished through prayer and careful, diligent planning. Invite a couple of people along for the journey. Remember that change begins and infects from from the center, but also from the edges. So work from the center, casting the vision from within the inner circle. But also be strategic in working from the periphery back to the middle. There’s a multiplying effect in using this strategy.

Permeate – To change a culture the vision must run throughout the community and permeate the DNA of the organization. “Of course,” you say, “but that’s easier said than done.” I won’t dispute that. A mentor of mine put it best on the subject: “You know the message is beginning to stick when it becomes a punch line at the water cooler, in the hallways, and during meetings.” I realize that the last thing anyone wants is to be a punch line, but the point is to have the new message so top-of-mind that it becomes like “It’s a Small World”—a message with a peculiar yet endearing staying power. Take every opportunity to drill a slogan, message, key word, or visual image deeper into the cultural ethos.

Push – According to Waking Sleeping Beauty, the studio had grown soft. They were a bunch of kids with a lot of talent but lacking a force—or motivation—sufficient enough to forge them into a cohesive team with a sense of purpose. The leadership team that came in included Eisner, Katzenberg, and John Lasseter. They combined with the already-present Roy E. Disney (imagine that) and Frank Wells. Where this team was putting out only a handful of films, most of them bad, every few years, the new leadership instituted a production pipeline of one animated feature per year—a demanding schedule. Changing culture means … wait for it … change. It means pushing people. What athlete doesn’t appreciate the coach that makes him the best he can be? What teachers do you tend to admire most? The truth is we like to see what we’re made of. Change leaders can’t shy away from expectation.

Inertia – It has always fun to watch how an event can take on a life on its own when I’ve been responsible for the planning, executing, and managing events. There’s so much going on in the days and weeks and even hours right before an event begins, but once it does it is almost like it becomes greater than the sum of its parts. The same thing is going to happen when you implement new groups or a new small-group ministry. At this point you’ll want to pay very close attention to the nuances of what is happening.

I don’t know if Katzenberg is accurate with his 90-day mandate, but at some point a leader endeavoring to change culture will be, as my grandmother would often say, “swallowed whole.” For sure this is an incomplete list. There are entire books on the subject. I would recommend the Waking Sleeping Beauty documentary for any leader, though. Not only is it entertaining, but there are some great lessons for changing culture. Being a change agent or change-leader certainly not for the feint of heart—but it always makes for a good story.

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