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Reconfiguration and the Challenge for Leadership

Reconfiguration, consolidation, and unification are terms common to leadership these days. The concept of consolidation, however described, is being discussed routinely by those charged with leadership in religious institutes throughout North America. Conferences sponsored by LRCR, LCWR, CMSM, and NATRI, have been increasingly devoted to providing information to assist members with this topic. The rationale for consolidation consistently revolves around a few key issues, i.e., finance, leadership capacity, and ministry. The ability to establish priorities for the new institute, to develop a framework to support identified priorities, and to execute a well-conceived plan is essential to a successful consolidation.

In most cases, the decision to consolidate is driven by a specific need; typically, at least one of the parties no longer has:

  1. The financial resources to support future operational, retirement, and ministry commitments
  2. A large enough pool of potential leaders

When institutes find themselves in these situations, they will commonly seek out another institute with a similar charism and operating philosophy. Integrating the combining institutes, given distinct cultures, values, and operating practices, while minimizing the day-to-day impact on the members, is a significant challenge for leadership.

Increasingly and importantly, leadership in these situations is beginning to appreciate the need to define the priorities and values that will inspire and shape the combined future. In doing so, it is essential to reflect upon a number of questions:

  1. What is the future we intend to create?
  2. What will be different as a result of our efforts?
  3. How will we know if we are successful?
  4. By what values will we operate?

When considering these questions, it is important to recognize the distinction between the aspirational and the operational elements of consolidation.

There are, of course, the practical realities of legal structure and financial systems that need to be addressed. The execution of an operational plan, however, should be conducted in the context of the aspirational values and priorities of the new institute. The resources of the whole should be aligned with these goals and priorities. The work of examining values and defining priorities is difficult and challenging at a personal, as well as an institute level. It becomes easy to delay addressing these in the face of the structure and process issues that demand immediate attention. The pull of the operational plan is great.

Being driven by the temporalities associated with short-term decisions necessary to execute a transition plan for the new institute is understandable. It is also understandable that those engaged in that process of implementation tend to retain an operational focus rather than adopting a strategic perspective with respect to the alignment and use of resources. The challenge of leadership is to provide the strategic long-term perspective that will guide the work of the competent, executive-level managers charged with implementation. Separation of these roles ensures that both receive proper attention and recognizes that there are talents unique to each role. Leadership that becomes highly involved in implementing operational plans, reviewing house budgets, and approving individual member requests is not able to focus on the work of adapting to the higher purpose that should inspire the members and shape the new institute.

The context that is provided by establishing aspirations for the new reality enables leadership to provide effective guidance with respect to the prudent use of resources. It begs the question:

How do we use our limited resources to further our priorities and meet our internal responsibilities most effectively?

This context enables leadership to work with management to create a plan to unlock the value of the assets of the institute so that they can be applied actively and intentionally. This typically means resources should be considered from a different perspective because priorities, needs, and time horizons have changed. For example, the two largest assets of an institute are investments and real estate. At this point, in beginning a new life cycle in the new institute, it is appropriate to reevaluate how to apply these resources to maximize their value and impact. Potentially transitioning real estate to an alternate use, in particular, takes time and requires thoughtful, creative, long-range planning. In this process of reevaluating all available resources, considering all of the combined assets of the new institute from the perspectives of new priorities, new time horizon, and new realities could, and should, lead to creating something new and vibrant.

An integration plan that simply attempts to maintain past asset utilization policies and operating practices foregoes the opportunity to reshape and reinvigorate the mission and ministry of the new institute. In coming together, institutes have the opportunity and responsibility to leverage and apply the value of their combined resources, in an intentional way, to create a new reality and define a future that respects the past and extends their rich legacies of service to those in need and advocacy for those without voice.

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Jerry Gumbleton

877.622.2257, x33459