By Allen Haynes June 3, 2024

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Andy Stanley (00:02):
Hey everybody. Welcome to the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast, a conversation designed to help leaders go further faster. I’m Andy Stanley, and before we get into today’s content, I wanted to thank Factor Meals for sponsoring this episode Factor Meals are ready to heat and ready to eat no hassle meals. And they are absolutely delicious. And I’ll be honest, I was a bit skeptical, but I’m skeptical no longer every time Sandra is out of town. This is my dinner. So head on over to factor 50 and then use code ASLP 50 to get 50% off your first box of food plus 20% off your next month while your subscription is active. And of course, A-S-L-P. It’s the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast. So again, go to factor 50 and use code ASLP 50 to get 50% off your first box plus 20% off your next month while this subscription is active. And now let’s dive into today’s podcast content. Today we’re talking about momentum, getting it, keeping it, leveraging it, and then regaining it when you sense it’s slipping away. And of course, joining me today to unpack this important topic is my co-host Suzy Gray. Welcome, Suzy.

Suzy Gray (01:23):
Thanks, Andy. That is quite an ambitious category of things for today, so let’s really get to it. As you alluded to, momentum is something every leader craves. It’s crucial for any organization striving for greatness regardless of the industry. When we have it, we feel great, and when we don’t, it can cause frustration from the top down. Let’s talk about that.

Andy Stanley (01:45):
Yeah, organizational leaders, we love progress and momentum. Really, momentum is really synonymous with progress, or at least it feels that way. So much so that as many of John Maxwell insists, that momentum is actually the leader’s best friend. And if anybody doubts that, just wait until you lose it, right? It’s like losing a friend and you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. So anyway, so here’s why I say that. Momentum is emotional. It creates its own emotion. You feel it when you have it, you experience it, it feels good, it’s comforting. And when you have momentum organizationally, the feeling of progress, it kind of permeates the entire organization. I mean, if you’ve ever worked with a team with momentum, everybody feels it. I mean, it’s intangible, but it’s real, even though it’s intangible, right? Hiring is easier because well, you’re actually hiring, you’re growing, you’re growing.

But the challenge is there’s a sense in which momentum is seductive. It’s deceptive. It makes leaders feel like they’re really good leaders. And they may be, but they may not be. We’ve all seen poor leaders who just happened to run out front of a parade that was already moving down the street and they got all the credit and they just said, look at me, lead when actually they just dropped in the middle of something or at the front of something that was already moving, that was already good. So again, it makes leaders feel like good leaders. And again, they may be or they may not be, but the real test of leadership is not leading in a season of momentum. That’s easy. You just get up, you show up and then try to keep up. The challenge is when momentum begins to slip away, and that’s what we’re going to spend a lot of our time talking about today. But the great thing about momentum is there are always problems organizationally, but when you have momentum, the problems are good problems generally, right? They’re growth problems. Even the not so good problems are easier to navigate when you have momentum, right? Momentum makes us all look a bit better than we really are and a lack of momentum, while it can cause us to doubt ourselves and our decision-making ability.

Suzy Gray (03:44):
Oh, that is so true. Been there recently.

Andy Stanley (03:48):
Oh, really? So would you like to elaborate? Nope.

Suzy Gray (03:50):
Moving on.

Andy Stanley (03:52):
Well, we’ve all been there whether recent or not. I mean, come on, coming out of Covid. I mean, it’s no wonder that so many CEOs took the money and ran, right? Because again, you’re leading, things are going well, suddenly the whole world changes. And there are many leaders, especially founders sometimes, who have never led out of the trough. They’ve never experienced going into the trough. And again, we’re going to talk about this later, the leadership skills that are so important when it comes to starting something are often a very different set of skills than are required to fix something or to correct something. And not every leader has an infinite toolbox of skills. So we’re going to talk a little bit starters.

Suzy Gray (04:36):
What have I heard that said before? I’ve heard somebody say, you can be a starter, you can be a stoker, or you can be a maintainer of the fire. But usually not all three. Yeah,

Andy Stanley (04:43):
You’re not all three. And in different seasons of organizational life, it requires a different kind of leader of leader. And when momentum stalls or reverses, again, as I said, leaders begin to feel like failures. What’s wrong? What’s wrong with me? Boards look for someone to blame, which is generally I don’t think a great idea, but that’s just what happens because there are so many factors outside of a leader’s control, the economy, outdated systems, sometimes the weather, depending on the industry, competition. But again, that’s why we need leaders to lead in such a way to create momentum. To sustain momentum, and then to fix it when the momentum stalls.

Suzy Gray (05:20):
Yeah. Well, and that actually surfaces another deceptive facet related to momentum. It’s easy to become enamored with here and now, what’s right in front of me? Or so busy managing the current success leaders stop looking around at all. Stop anticipating the future. And that’s a problem too, isn’t it?

Andy Stanley (05:39):
Yeah. Because again, it’s seductive. I mean, things are going our way and things will always go our way and everybody’s coming to learn from us and who’s got time to look too far into the future because the assumption is it’s always going to be this way. So warning to the leaders out there, especially the young leaders, it’s not always going to be that way, whatever that way is, it’s just not always going to be that way. That’s just the reality. We experienced this in our organization in 2016 and 17 because we had extraordinary momentum for so many years, and then things began to change, but we had just like organizations do, we had kind of settled into a why fix it if it’s not broken mentality? We had less innovation, we had less experimentation. We were just riding the momentum and trying to keep up with the growth.

And then things began to change. The point being to fuel, and we’re going to break this down in a few minutes to fuel or maintain momentum. Organizations have to evaluate constantly and refuse to fall as we talk about all the time, to refuse to fall in love with our models, to refuse to fall in love with the way we’ve always done things. But that’s so hard to resist when your model is killing it, right? Why begin to evaluate? Why look too deeply? Why do an autopsy on our success again, especially if you’re really growing fast, you’re just trying to keep up. But if you fall in love with your model, the momentum clock is ticking backwards because every model has a shelf life.

Suzy Gray (07:06):
And really that is why it’s so important, as you just said, for organizations to do an autopsy of their success.

Andy Stanley (07:12):
Because if you don’t know, we say this all the time, if you don’t know why it’s working, when it’s working, you won’t know how to fix it. When it breaks and everything breaks and everything eventually breaks down, it’s just the way life works, right?

Suzy Gray (07:25):
It is. Well, I’ve actually heard you say there are three components for gaining and sustaining momentum. So why don’t we talk about those three components. What are they?

Andy Stanley (07:33):
Yeah, new, improved and improving,

Suzy Gray (07:35):
Getting right to

Andy Stanley (07:36):
It. Yeah. New, improved and improving. And I will go ahead and admit to our podcast listeners, that is a bit simplistic, but it is memorable, right? New, improved and improving. And the reason I came up with that many, many years ago is I wanted some sort of formula to keep in front of our teams and to keep in front of me because we were experiencing momentum. And again, I’m just a fanatic when it comes to stopping and saying, it’s working great. Why is this working? We’re going to give an illustration of that later on. It actually happened this morning. Things are working well. Why is this working so well? We have to document this. We have to pay attention to this because if you don’t know why it’s working, when it’s working, you can’t fix it when it’s broken. So I came up with these three words, and I actually got this idea walking through a grocery store when I was thinking about this.

This was many, many years ago. But its momentum is the formula is anything new creates momentum. Anything new and improved has the potential to sustain momentum. But in terms of long-term, sustaining momentum, it has to constantly be improving. So that’s kind of the formula. And early on we had momentum because what we were doing was new in terms of the kind of church we created, and it was also in the eyes of many people, an improvement over their church experience. We didn’t create church, we didn’t create a category. We just came up with a new and improved version of an existing product. And for most of our podcast listeners, and for most innovators, that’s what most people do. Very, very few people have the privilege or the brilliance to create a brand new category. Essentially, we’re dropping into industries and markets, and we’re looking for new ways to do things that in most cases have been being done for many, many years, or just a different way just to doing it a different way. So it’s new, a new approach, an improved product or improved approach, and then constantly looking for ways to improve. And I knew we had to keep improving on our improvement.

Suzy Gray (09:36):
So let’s unpack those and what that actually might look like.

Andy Stanley (09:39):
Yeah, new, improved, improving. Let’s start with new. You may push back on this or resist this, but just think about it. Anything new creates some sense of momentum. Yeah, it doesn’t have to be good. It can be bad, but new triggers, momentum always, because anything new triggers interest, it gets attention initially anyway, and that has its own sense of momentum. So new by definition generates some kind of momentum. It can be positive or negative. This may be a terrible illustration, Susie, so you may edit this out later, but just go with me. Imagine if Chick-fil-A announced the Chick-fil-A burger, and they marketed this new idea around the chickens get their revenge as

Suzy Gray (10:22):
They would. Yes.

Andy Stanley (10:23):
Right. Okay, so this is probably a terrible idea, but it would create momentum. Initially, people would try the Chick-fil-A burger. They would sell a ton of Chick-fil-A burger. Even if they were terrible, they wouldn’t even have to do much marketing. Word would get out. There would be all this interest in the Chick-fil-A burger, even if it tasted terrible, and it was a terrible product. I just say that to say anything new again carries its own sense of momentum. This is the power of new. Now, here’s an actual example. Some of you listening can remember this. Do you remember the new Coke? Ah,

Suzy Gray (10:58):
Yes. You’re staying with the Atlanta thing in my sea. That’s

Andy Stanley (11:00):
Really good. Yes. The new Coke, right? Yes. I remember new Coke. And that wasn’t even the name of it, that was just the nickname. Because what they did, for those of you that don’t remember this, what happened around 1985 or so, the mid or late eighties, Coca-Cola had been losing market share to diet soft drinks actually for several years because consumers began to prefer the sweeter taste of other products, especially, I hate to even say this, in the city of Atlanta, Pepsi-Cola, Pepsi. Yeah, Pepsi, right? So if you remember this, they actually changed the recipe, the formula. They changed the formula for Coca-Cola, right? And it got so much attention. There was initially all this Pinterest and hype and momentum, but the Coca-Cola fans hated what became branded as the new Coke. And the company reintroduced the formula. This was shocking. I looked this up because I couldn’t remember.

They reintroduced the old formula in three months. Yeah, it was that quick. It was that quick. I remember it was quick. I didn’t think it was that quick. They only let the new formula run for about three months, and there was so much backlash, but there was so much interest. There was in a negative sense momentum. Again, everybody paid attention. Everybody sat up straight. And then here’s the, I dunno if this is an irony or not, but then when they went back to the original formula, Coca-Cola sales skyrocketed. In fact, the sales went up so much. People began to wonder if maybe this was a marketing scheme.

Suzy Gray (12:33):
This is a ploy.

Andy Stanley (12:34):
This was a ploy they had actually messed with, which I don’t think that’s possible. They messed with the formula on purpose in order to do all this. I don’t think so. No.

Suzy Gray (12:41):
The reality is probably they got the new part. They just didn’t get the improved part. Right. Well, there

Andy Stanley (12:45):
You go. Exactly. Hey, what a great segue, right? They got new, but it wasn’t improved, but it still generated interest because new creates its own momentum.

Suzy Gray (12:57):
So in this case, they got the new part, but they definitely did not get the improved part, right?

Andy Stanley (13:01):
Exactly. The new coat created its own momentum, as in it got attention, but it did not increase sales because it wasn’t improved.

Suzy Gray (13:09):
So while we’re on new doesn’t actually have to be a new product, right?

Andy Stanley (13:14):
Because a lot of people aren’t in the product business. That’s right. Products, their services. Organizational momentum actually is triggered just as I’ve studied this, by usually one of three new things. It can be new leadership, it can be a new direction for an organization, or again, it can be a new product or a new line of products or a new service. So it can be new leadership, it could be a new direction or a new line of products and services. But momentum is rarely triggered by, and this is one of the things that I think we struggled with when we found ourselves losing momentum. Momentum is rarely triggered by, maybe never, but I’ll just say rarely. Momentum is rarely triggered by tweaking something old. It’s always creator generated. By embracing something new again, doesn’t have to be a new product or service. It could be new leadership, new direction, but tweaking doesn’t create momentum, even though that’s necessary from time to time. It needs to be something that at least is experienced as brand new.

Suzy Gray (14:13):
But in organizational life, I feel like when momentum lags, organizations tend to default to replacing the leader with a new leader or leaders. Why do you think that

Andy Stanley (14:24):
Is? Well, it’s the easiest thing to do. Yeah, that is true. Fixing an actual problem,

Suzy Gray (14:28):
That’s too much

Andy Stanley (14:29):
Work is so much work. It’s so

Suzy Gray (14:30):
Much work. Well,

Andy Stanley (14:31):
Discovering the actual

Suzy Gray (14:33):

Andy Stanley (14:34):
Is so much work

Suzy Gray (14:35):
Then having the courage to fix

Andy Stanley (14:36):
It. And two, in the fifth discipline, Peter Sge, I think that’s how you say his last name, he talks about that it is human nature when it comes to blame to begin by blaming a person. Then number two is you might blame human nature. That’s just how people are. And then number three, you actually blame systems and he says, you got to flip it. You should always begin with systems, human nature to the person. But in organizational life, especially corporate life, it’s like, let’s just fire this guy. Let’s fire her. Get somebody new here. At least path of resistance. Yeah, he or she has to be the problem. So it’s just human nature to blame a person. Again, replacing a leader is easy compared to real systemic change. It’s quick. It feels like progress. We’re changing things around here, and while changing out, the leader can certainly be the right move.

It isn’t always the right or the wisest move, right? Sure. Things flagged on their watch. A wise board or manager is going to pay attention to factors beyond the control of any individual leader. But when it’s apparent that a leader is out of tricks, they just aren’t going to be able to fix this thing or turn it around that maybe they appeared more competent than they really were because of all the positive factors that they inherited when they got in front of this parade that they had no control over. It may be time to make a change. Again, I don’t want to downplay this. There’s obviously a time and a place for a new leader, and when you bring in a new leader, there’s going to be some momentum. Even if you bring in the wrong leader for a minute, for a minute, right? New leadership will create some momentum.

New leadership causes everybody to sit up straight and pay attention. That’s always a good thing. But they better have more to offer than a new last name on the door, which if I can, I think this is important. This brings us to something I know we talk a lot about on the podcast, but it so intersects with this topic. We say all the time that organizations do what they’re organized to do. Organizations do what they’re organized to do, not what the leader of the organization tells the organization to do. The point being that new leadership, even good new leadership, isn’t enough to create momentum or fix the momentum problem if they’re not willing. As you alluded to a few minutes ago, to dig down deep and make the systemic change. That is usually the problem related to that. And then here’s the bad news. A dose of reality to all of your organizational leaders out there, or department managers, and you may want to write this down later.

I used to have this written somewhere where I looked at it all the time, but I replaced it with more positive things. Your organization is perfectly designed to get the results you are currently getting. Isn’t that a depressing thought? Unless you have momentum? I mean, unless you have momentum and things are great, this is the reality check, and this is why it’s generally not enough to just bring in a new leader unless they’re willing to dig down and make the difficult decisions. Your organization. Our organization is perfectly designed to get the results we are currently getting. So if there’s a loss of momentum, your organization is perfectly designed to maintain your loss of momentum. Exactly. If I wanted to lose momentum in your industry, I could just study your company and go, hi, there’s how it works. Right? Again, a new last name on the door isn’t going to change.

That new faces combined with existing systems and products, they generally yield the same results. And this is a big topic when considering a leadership change in an area or organization that lacks momentum owners, boards, decision makers, they need to decide ahead of time what they’re willing and not willing to give up or change or throw out or abandon. Otherwise this, otherwise, the new leader isn’t going to be empowered to lead or make the changes that are necessary to fix the problem. It wouldn’t work anyway. Exactly. They won’t have the leverage. They need to pull the org out of the nose. Dive. On a previous podcast, years ago, we talked about the old couches. People fall in love with things about the organization. They bring in the new leader. We want to change things. It’s all, but you can’t change that. But not that thing. Maybe I’m hypersensitive to that because in our industry, my industry, the church industry, this happens all the time.

The church says, oh, we want to change. We want to reach young families. We want to reach new people. And they bring in the young pastor and the young pastor and his wife and Oh, we’re just so excited. We want change. And everybody wants change until you change something, until it’s something they care about. Exactly. Everybody loves change until change begins to happen. So an organizational life, sometimes there’s a little bit more leverage and church life, it can be a disaster. But if momentum is a problem and if a new leader is the solution, the leader has to have the leverage or be given the leverage to make the changes. Because tweaking something old does not create new momentum that never ever works. But there’s always the temptation, because tweaking is less expensive, tweaking is less disruptive, and tweaking is far less risky, risky. But overall change or overhauling an organization making big change, it’s usually very expensive and very painful and very, very emotional.

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Suzy Gray (21:13):
Let’s talk about the second component of momentum, which has improved, new and improved. How can leaders ensure that their initiatives are significant improvements over the old ones and not just different for different sakes?

Andy Stanley (21:27):
Yeah, we just touched on that a little bit. A tweak never works, and that’s the key. How

Suzy Gray (21:32):
Do you know when enough

Andy Stanley (21:33):
Is enough? Yeah, different isn’t always an improvement. Sometimes different is just different. I mean, the new Coke was new, it just wasn’t an improvement. Improvement. So the new must be and must be effectively marketed to be an actual noticeable improvement. Lemme say that again, whatever the new is, it must be an improvement. But more than that, it has to be marketed as an improvement, and it has to be an actual noticeable improvement. When people pick up the new product or the new version of the product, they need to come away thinking, wow, this really is an improvement. It’s an improvement over what you used to sell, and it’s an improvement over what the competitor sells. It’s not a new category, but it’s a new improved version of whatever it was that I was using before a service that I was using it for. Again, this illustration has been used in so many ways. I almost didn’t put it in my notes, but I mean, the iPhone wasn’t a tweak. No, it wasn’t like, oh, it’s a better flip phone. It

Suzy Gray (22:35):
Was, what is that

Andy Stanley (22:37):
Exactly? It was not a tweak. Well, eventually it became a new category. It did, but initially it was just a different kind of phone, but it was new and oh my goodness, it was improved. It was essentially a new and vastly improved product. So looking back on our own organization, our approach to church 30 years ago, hard to say that 30 years ago was new, and we were convinced anyway that it was a significantly improved version of church. Church wasn’t new. Again, we didn’t create a new category, but our approach was it was new and it was improved our approach to children’s environments and communicating new and improved. Again, we didn’t create a new category. We created a new and improved version of an existing category, again, which is the context that most of our podcast listeners are working in. So new and improved, but it has to be noticeably improved. It has to be marketed as improved, and then it has to be experienced as improved, new and improved.

Suzy Gray (23:35):
So we’re leading a department or an organization and we’ve introduced something new and we’ve confirmed that’s a noticeable improvement over the old, but we’re still not done yet. Continuous improvement is so crucial for sustained momentum. Which brings us to the third component that you mentioned at the top, which is improving.

Andy Stanley (23:53):
And this is the harder one. I bet. Yeah. This never ends, right? Yeah. It’s always the treadmill For many people, if we’re lucky enough, we get to ride the momentum maybe once in a lifetime of something new and improved, right? I mean, it is rare and it’s difficult, but even if you have new and improved, it has to be improving. So let’s talk a little bit about that. And here’s a field trip suggestion, and this is where I got this idea all those years ago. Go to the grocery store and look for the following on boxes and packages. New and improved, new and improved, and what you discover, you’ll see new and improved on products that have been around for decades. Decades, especially detergents.

Suzy Gray (24:38):
Yeah, cleaning products.

Andy Stanley (24:38):
Cleaning products, actually cleaning products. New and improved, new and improved, and they are probably actually improved, but who knows, right? But even putting that on the label is effective. You think as a, and they know that marketers know whether it’s actually that new or that improved. If it says new and improved, I’m more prone to pick that up than even the same brand that doesn’t say new and improved. It’s true. And what it communicates to the customer is this. We’re still working on it. We’re still working on it. We’re still working on it. We’re still working on it to make it better. Stick with us, stick with us, stick with us. We care

Suzy Gray (25:12):
About you. We’re trying to make it better for you. Exactly. We’re

Andy Stanley (25:15):
Not just riding our past success. We’re constantly trying to make this better. Consumers are unaware of the exact value offered by new and improved, but we want it, but we want it. And then consequently, we stick with our brand. So there’s something emotional and mental about that phrase, new and improved. My point is, even the perception of new and improved helps sustain momentum. So new, improved it’s best if it’s actually improving, but even if customers think it’s improving, there’s something about brand loyalty and the idea of they’re making it better. They’re making it better.

Suzy Gray (25:49):
So really the big question that’s in front of us is how can organizations foster a culture of continuous improvement?

Andy Stanley (25:57):
Well, that’s a podcast for another day. That’s huge topic, right? Mean the whole subject of continuous improvement. I mean, books have been written on, books have been written on that. So just quickly for our organization, our answer to that is orchestration, evaluation, innovation, orchestration, evaluation, innovation or orchestration evaluation, and then acting on the evaluation. Orchestrate. This is how we do it here. Evaluate how do we make it better? Innovate or activate is the other word sometimes we use is, okay, let’s take what we’ve learned in our evaluation and let’s apply it. And so it’s that cycle and building that into the culture of an organization is how you keep your eye on the ball of continuous improvement. And the other thing, and we as a group of churches, we don’t compete with other churches, but we constantly learn from other churches. In fact, our administrative teams, they go and meet with teams of people who are running similar size, multi-site churches, and we learn from each other.

It’s not competition, but in the marketplace, paying attention to competition is another critical challenge. It’s a kick in the rear end in terms of continuous improvement. I know that the Home Depot execs from time to time walk the aisles and shop at Lowe’s, and hopefully the Lowe’s execs do the same at the Home Depots, or they should, because that’s when your challenge, that’s when you realize we have to keep up. That’s when you realize if we cloister ourselves and just ride on our current momentum again, the clock is ticking backwards. And that really is the incentive and what incentivizes us to pursue continuous improvement. And when you love your product, when you love your company, when you love the people you work with, there’s something in all of us that wants to just keep making it better. So it’s new, improved in the endless process of improving.

Suzy Gray (27:47):
So as we’ve talked about, the essential elements of creating and sensing momentum are new, improved and improving. So as we wrap up today, are there some momentum inhibitors? Anything come to mind is things that leaders should watch out for as they’re thinking about this in their own organizations?

Andy Stanley (28:03):
The things that undermine momentum? Yes. Yes. Again, that’s a podcast for another day. I mean, really the list is endless. I mean, we’ve already talked about some fall in love with your business model. That’s an inhibitor, fall in love with the product, fall in love, even with a process. All of those things are going to eventually slow or kill momentum because things are changing. Launching a great product too soon. We’ve seen that launching a good product or service before it’s really ready to be rolled out, that just oftentimes kills momentum, even with a really great idea or product or service, or when the product doesn’t live up to the hype, if you overmarket overhype it, that kills momentum. And oftentimes it’s hard to resurrect even a good product if that’s the case. Organizationally, micromanaging kills initiative, which kills momentum. Organizational complexity can kill momentum. Again, another thing we talk about all the time on the podcast, a culture of suspicion kills transparency.

If you kill transparency, it makes communication difficult, which keeps important information from making its way to the top, which ultimately kills momentum. So there are so many things that we talk about on the podcast in terms of creating healthy organizations that if you don’t do kind of the trench work, if you don’t do some of those difficult fundamental things, even if you have a great idea, the momentum is going to collapse on the strength of the current systems and on the health of the organization. So all of these things are critical. The tangible and the intangible. Intangible,

Suzy Gray (29:39):
Wow, that is a really big idea. And I think that that is going to be something that we can dig in further in our reverb podcast next week. Absolutely. Because there’s a lot to unpack there. But for today, that is all the time we have To our listeners, thanks for listening. And before we leave, we have one ask, and this is the only thing that we would like to ask you on this podcast, and that is to subscribe. By subscribing, you’re going to help us grow our audience, which allows us to keep improving. There it is, and bring you great guests and great content to help you as a leader go further faster. So please subscribe to our podcast also. As always, be sure to visit the Andy website where you can download the leadership podcast application guide that includes a summary of our discussion, plus questions for reflection or group discussion. And as we just mentioned, join us next week for our reverb episode where Andy and I will dig even deeper into this topic of creating and sustaining momentum with a focus on the evaluation aspect. And that’s going to happen right here on the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast.

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