The Catholic Church has in recent times, been faced with a large number of challenges, and as with many organisations in turmoil, many of its key stakeholders have believed change was overdue. When an unlikely opportunity presented itself with the resignation of the incumbent leader, I believe the Church set a great example for many organisations when it seized the opportunity to introduce cultural change.  The determined nature of the selection, the boldness of the choice, and the opening moves of the new Pontiff have inspired many to believe that positive change is imminent.

The ‘recruitment process.’

I challenge any business to emulate the speed and decisiveness in the Vatican’s latest appointment. The incumbent announced his resignation on 11th February 2013 with it being effective 28th February. On the 12th March both the shortlist of candidates and all decision makers were locked in a room knowing they would not leave until the 266th Pope was appointed. At 7:08pm the next day a plume of white smoke announced to the world that a successor had been chosen. How is it conceivable that arguably the biggest and most influential leadership role known to man, heading an organisation of 1.2 billion members, could be appointed in under two days?

It’s understandable when you consider the process:

·         Each of the decision makers had the time ‘blocked in their diaries’ to review, debate and decide on their preferred option. Nothing else mattered.

·         The candidates had all been comprehensively screened and vetted prior to the meeting; no additional information was needed to be able to make a decision on the day.

·         The appointment was being selected from the most robust shortlist available at the time, rather than candidates being drip-fed into the process over time. To be fair, their succession planning program ensured that, in the Cardinals, they had a strong talent pipeline of 207 potential successors.

This quick and deliberate process ensured a swift leadership transition with no void in which speculation, rumour and disengagement could thrive.

The choice.

Many organisations seek to replace like for like, either appointing a ‘clone’ of the predecessor, or selecting from a similar environment. Often the reasoning is that it’s about risk mitigation or needing to have an understanding of the business.

Understanding that the risks of status quo were greater than those of change, the conclave cardinals made a statement in choosing outside of the box, the first non-European in over 1200 years, the first Jesuit, the first from the Americas.

Surely many businesses would benefit more from taking a similar risk –  injecting a different way of thinking, ideas and experiences from other environments and presenting a fresh image to its key stakeholders whether they be employees, customers or members.

The new leader: quick wins and early stakeholder engagement.

As inspiring as the process of the appointment and choice of appointee have been, the murmurs of potential cultural reform have come about due to the early actions of the new leader, little things that signal big change. He has recognised and displayed humility to both the key stakeholder groups; the cardinals whom he insisted on greeting at the same level rather than from a raised platform, and the congregation whom he asked first to bless him, before blessing them. In other moves he chose to wear a simple cassock rather than the papal cape, and took the bus rather than the papal limo.  Seemingly small yet engaging gestures, quick wins. But it is the break from millennia of tradition and his humble engagement with all stakeholders that is powerful and revealing, and which forecasts significant change.

Time will tell whether the early promise will evolve into welcomed long-term change for Catholics, but the recent events have surely provided some lessons to us as business leaders; quick, robust recruitment (amongst other) decisions, fresh candidate choices, and humility and stakeholder engagement can only help improve our organisations’ cultures.

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