‘TRANSFORMATION’ and ‘change management’ are two of the biggest buzzwords of modern management systems. When it comes to mass-scale change — of the whole organisation, or a nation, or a community spread over many countries — the challenges are abundant and there are no universal guidelines. For a daunting task to transform business as usual, the choice of the change agent as well as the game plan for success, are supremely important.
When our most dearly held opinions are challenged, our brains put up considerable fight to protect them. Of these opinions, religious beliefs are the most staunchly protected. And this was precisely the mission assigned to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) — to inspire a community to change, of all things, their religion. Remember, this was a community where pagan worship and slave trading were fundamental market forces and ferocious tribal enmities over puny arguments were known to spur decades-long battles.
The fact that the Prophet succeeded in his task in just over two decades inspires us all to learn from his example. Suggested below are some practical steps from the Holy Quran for leaders of today’s organisations and communities that can be taken to catalyse large-scale changes.
Choose a change agent from within the community with a history of integrity. Prophet Muhammad had lived for 40 years in his community gaining people’s trust. Hazrat Ibrahim prayed for a messenger from among his progeny and the Quran emphasises this fact (3:164). This choice makes the change agent more relatable to the community and makes it harder to give excuses of outside influence for resisting change.
The Holy Quran shows a path to making changes.
Prepare the change agent with hardships, test with lack of resources and train until maturity (93:6-8). The Prophet lost all his pillars of support when he was very young. Learning to live at the mercy of kinship taught him how to be self-reliant. Pulling off mass-scale changes needs the protagonist to establish alliances, to be a tactful judge of character and to work with limited resources, something the Messenger did until the age of 40 before he was entrusted with spreading the religion.
Announce their appointment vividly and establish their authority clearly (33:40). This will ensure there is no ambiguity in the chain of command and eliminate distractions from claimants who aspire a share of the glory and wish to insert themselves in the limelight.
Set clear boundaries for the scope of work. Allah reminded Prophet Muhammad multiple times of his task, and where Allah will take over. He was told to focus on spreading the message (13:40), continuously remind people (88:21), give them glad tidings, warn, and invite them to His message (33:45-46), not to control them (88:22), or to forgive or punish them (3:128). Final accountability was left unto Allah.
Use the language and narrative of the common person in all communication. Allah has emphasised multiple times in the Quran that it was revealed to locals in their own language (12:2). It was also in the literary style best loved by the community at the time, who revelled in the beauty and intricacy of poetic narrations of the Quran. Use of complicated jargon or sophisticated flow charts may seem attractive, but simplicity reigns supreme in communicating to the masses.
Advise the change agent on how to convey the message to convince people to change. Allah told the Messenger to invite everyone to His way with wisdom and suitable instructing, and if it comes to argumentation, to argue graciously, reasonably (16:125).
Empathise with the change agent. We see multiple times in the Quran that the Almighty empathises with the Prophet, assuring him of divine support while also acknowledging that the task entrusted to him is mammoth. This, in turn, establishes the enormity of the task and promotes empathy and compassion in the community to facilitate change while also boosting the morale of the change-maker.
Provide aid and resources from special coffers when the task at hand is beyond capacity for a fledgling team. This could be a one-time flying squad of consultants, some sort of refreshing break or any other assistance that is not customarily available in ordinary times. In the battles of Badr and Hunain, Allah helped the Prophet with angels, and helped with a special divine tranquillity in Hunain (9:26), at Hudaibiya (48:18) and in the cave (9:40).
Promise victory and its inevitability. The labour of making the change happen and sustaining it can be excruciating. The change-maker and the early on-boarders will benefit tremendously from a dose of positivity every so often, receiving assurance of their eventual success if they stay the course.
While these are not exhaustive steps, they can serve as an initial blueprint when instigating large-scale changes.
The writer is a freelance contributor.
Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2022