Can The Pope Clean House?



Current actions in the Catholic church offers insight on what some are calling “the Francis effect.” Jorge Bergolgio, 77, is the recently appointed Pope Francis. He is the man responsible for rebranding the Catholic church in the past year.

The Situation

Many would agree, as the Economist suggests, the “world’s oldest multinational was in crisis.” Competitors were gaining share in emerging markets. In traditional markets, scandals were keeping out prospects and the staff were disengaged. Despite guaranteed lifetime employment, recruiting new priests was difficult. Finances were in disarray and insider leaks indicated the bank was riddled with both corruption and incompetence. In addition to poor and fractious governance, the last pope was forced to resign.

What has Pope Francis done so well that suggests great new potential in the Roman Catholic church? Clearly, he is popular. Polls indicate that one of his roughest market segments, American Catholics, are high on him. Both attendance and membership are on the uptick. Analysts say he has focused on some key levers.

Decisive Actions

First, mission. Pope Francis is clear about the Church’s primary aim: helping the poor. He’s demonstrated personal alignment by choosing simple congregate housing (instead of a regal papal apartment), took the name of a saint affiliated with the poor and animals, and ditched luxurious transportation (the loaded Mercedes), clothing and shoes for utilitarian options. He also has avoided lavish displays in official events and spoken with credibility about the mission. These choices set culture and attracts followers.

Second, repositioning. There are new and more inclusive messages which are more accepting on controversial topics. These actions tackle what and how to communicate.

Third, restructuring. A newly appointed group with expert external help will review organization structure, internal processes and the troubled bank for improvements. These moves signal discontent with the status quo.

It’s too soon to say whether or not these efforts are right or enough. But, it appears that intentional decisions have been made to recast a worldwide enterprise. What does this example tell us about change management?

Pope Francis may be the leader who shows how to manage crisis, shake up a stodgy organization and deliver growth.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See:

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