Managing the Decline


“She was hired to manage the decline.” I heard those words over a year ago and they have haunted me ever since. I have lived a life where advance, growth, opportunity, were the words used to describe the next idea, product or ministry. I was hired once to turn a money-losing summer day camp around and within 2 summers we had tripled the enrollment and had enough profit to cause an internal fight on how to spend the excess cash. But I could never imagine being told to manage the decline.

Typesetter managing the decline

The more I learn about people, businesses and ministry, the more I run into people who are managing the inevitable death of their organizations, product lines or even entire industries the best they can. These are not lazy or bad people. While some are smart enough to know that the end is inevitable, they are either powerless to change it or don’t have the willpower to pay the price it takes to make the shift towards something new.

Remember the typesetters of years ago? These were massive machines where fonts were created out of metal and wood and loaded in as a specialized typist created plates for the printing press. Once the personal computer hit the market, the days of the typesetter machine manufactures, typists, film developers, maintenance workers were numbered. Overnight, and entire industry disappeared. Someone managed that decline. Knowing the end was near, but holding down the fort because it was his job to do it.

I side with the old poet Dylan Thomas as he cried: “Do not go gentle into that good night. . . Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”  So I rage. I refuse to believe I’m done. I still want to learn, to grow, to run faster to work smarter, to meet new people and to dream new dreams. While I often congratulate my team on accomplishing so much, I push them toward doing what’s going to make us great tomorrow. Today’s celebration was yesterday’s victory, but we still must win tomorrow’s.

Please don’t ask me to manage the decline or to maintain the status quo. I’m not that guy. I just can’t do it. I once remember trying to do it. It lasted less than a month: “We either grow or I’ll get fired trying.” I left less than a year later on my own but there were a lot of people happy to see me go.

Have you ever been put in a position that you knew you were managing the decline?

  • Jeff Baker

    I worked for marketing company that makes outbound calls for new donor acquisition. To me that’s a dying and irrelevant way to do that. My boss knows he is managing the decline. 

    • Jeff, that’s a tough business that’s getting tougher every day.

  • 51oceans

    I’m in the middle of a multi-million dollar one in the state of California, where funding is running out for programs and projects through grants.
    This state has not see the worst of the decline.

    • That’s a difficult one. Government funding is never a sure thing.

  • Pastor K

    “Please don’t ask me to manage the decline or to maintain the status quo. I’m not that guy. I just can’t do it.”

    I am a pastor that has made this my mantra for the past four years.  there are some people who hate it, but the fruit is starting to come to a place that was afraid to admit that it was not just dying, but was all but dead!

    Thanks for putting this into words for me.

    • Glad you’re not willing to settle. Keep on pushing, brother.

    • Glad you’re not willing to settle. Keep on pushing, brother.

  • I’ve been in the position of managing the status quo, which was awful, so I imagine I would quickly run if asked to manage the decline.  

  • Andy

    “Managing the decline” – Never thought of it that way before, but yes, I’ve been in a situation where that is a perfect description of what we were doing, not because we were told to, but decline was/is happening and any suggestions/efforts to change direction fell on the deaf ears of the “leader”.  Not a pleasant place to be.  It is very disheartening and demoralizing to see decline take place, especially when it is NOT necessary. Finally left the situation after tiring of banging my head against the wall. I think there was only ONE happy to see me go! Interestingly, MANY of the things that were suggested over a few years are being implemented. Sadly, it may be too little too late.

    • Andy I was in that situation years ago and did the same. I remember years later talking with someone who pulled out my strategy plan and said, “it’s been 5 years and we’re still working the plan you created. “

  • I love this post. It is a great phrase. I am with you. I am not the guy who’s going to manage the decline. I have to believe the best days are ahead!

    • Mike, I know you well and there’s nothing but moving forward with you.

  • Great article. My call, my passion is not to “manage decline” but to chart a new course and find new territories to sail into!

  • Yes, and I am headed out now.  It is sad to watch, but I am right there with you. I am not able to stand idly by as I watch the end of something that I know has years and YEARS left.  I think this can easily mistaken as abandoning ship a little too soon, but when it is not a ship you cannot steer I want to move on somewhere that I can have a greater impact on what I care so much about.

    • Greg, I had to make that decision years ago as well. I either lived in a frustrated state trying to convince people to move forward or find a place where I could use my skills to make a difference. That was a great decision.

  • Peter

    Money is money..

    • Peter

      “Imperium sine fine”, my friend. It took 1400 years for “Rome” to fall. Omg the people from the ancient times were so bloody smart.. 

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