How Many People Can One Pastor Supervise?

Friday, July 14th, 2017

Only the largest congregations have the resources to hire full-time supervisors. The average congregation employs a “head of staff” who also preaches, teaches, provides pastoral care, leads mission and ministry, and guides the work of the board. Given this breadth of responsibility, how many employees can a pastor effectively supervise? What happens when a supervisor has too many direct reports?

Supervision is performance management. The effective supervisor manages a simple, but challenging communication loop between the employee and the organization. She sets clear expectations for each employee and provides ongoing feedback about whether those expectations have been satisfied.

Let’s examine the components of effective performance management and determine the time it takes to supervise well. Only then can we speculate about the number of employees that a pastor can manage.

Setting Expectations: The primary tool used to set employee expectations is the job description. The job description outlines the core duties and tasks associated with the role. These are called the essential functions. The job description also outlines the skills, abilities and attributes that we expect an employee to demonstrate as they engage their duties. These are referred to as the core competencies.

In addition to defining essential functions and core competencies, a supervisor helps to create two or three performance goals for each employee. The goals shape the employee’s focus in the current performance cycle. The performance goals link the employee’s efforts with the immediate priorities of the congregation. For example, congregation A is focused this year on getting 50% of its active members engaged in small groups. Every member of the staff team has a performance goal aligning their energy with this congregational goal.

Setting expectations requires time beyond creating a job description and performance goals. The congregation operates in a dynamic environment. Employees need regular check-ins around shifting expectations. Should this still be my priority? Given limited time, should I focus primarily on this or that?

The ongoing clarification of expectations happens best in one-on-one meetings with our employees. We bring emerging priorities to their attention. They check assumptions about priorities with us and they bring concerns about things that stand in the way of their performance. We help shape their decision making so they can satisfy our shared objectives.

Providing Feedback: Accountability in employment relationships happens through conversation. We hold employees accountable by reminding them of expectations and discussing how their performance measures up. Did the employee meet, exceed, or fail to satisfy our expectations this past week, month and year? We affirm their good work or we ask them to step up their performance and close the gap.

Fairness and justice require that we provide feedback frequently, not storing up resentments and disappointments for the annual performance review. We give employees opportunities to correct their performance and satisfy our expectations on an ongoing basis.

Evaluating the Whole: Effective supervision also requires a periodic evaluation of the whole person in the whole role. Typically, a full performance evaluation takes place once a year.

Throughout the year we focus on individual components of the job as they arise. Annually, we pause to consider how the role is evolving, how the employee is shaping the role, whether the employee has been neglecting aspects of the job, whether a salary adjustment is appropriate because the role has significantly expanded.

The supervisor must take primary responsibility for leading the annual employment appraisal. Others, including the employee, may provide input. A personnel committee or human resource function may assist with the synthesis of feedback, but the supervisor must shape and deliver the message.

The Role of the Staff Meeting

Regular staff meetings are an important component of performance management. Staff meetings serve several important supervisory functions.

Staff meetings help with mission alignment. The clergy leader can regularly ground the team in the larger vision and mission of the congregation and emphasize the core values of the congregation.

Staff meetings help to develop community and resolve conflicts. They provide a venue for sharing information, so that team members share a common base of knowledge about what is happening in the life of the congregation.

During staff meetings, we work on the oversight of joint work. The supervisor helps the team negotiate shared boundaries of work, identify overlapping responsibilities, and coordinate efforts that involve multiple team members.

Staff meetings are also effective for developing the culture of the team. We establish acceptable group norms and challenge unhelpful group behaviors. We proactively shape attitudes.

The staff meeting is NOT an appropriate venue for individual performance management. We should not use team meetings to set individual expectations, establish individual priorities or offer corrective feedback. These things are best accomplished in individual conversations.

Intentional One-on-Ones

Ineffective supervisors rely only on group meetings and an “open door” policy for supervisory work. They trust employees to ask for help when needed. This shifts the burden for expectation setting and feedback to the employee.

Unless we are intentional about one-on-one supervisory sessions, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Our best supervisory energy goes into our most problematic employees. Effective employees rarely interrupt our work to seek guidance. They get the least amount of our attention when, in fact, they should get our best energy.

In a strong performance-management culture, every member of the team has a regularly scheduled and honored appointment with their supervisor. For most employees, this one-on-one conversation happens weekly or biweekly. Employees may require more or less frequent meetings depending on the nature of the role, the length of time the employee has been in the position, and the extent to which the employee and supervisor share a common mindset. Effective employees value the time and energy invested in oversight of their work.

Protecting these appointed one-on-one meetings shows respect for the employee and their contributions.

Managing Your Limits

How many supervisory relationships can you maintain and still tend the rest of your responsibilities? It depends. You need to have enough time with each employee to guide the full communication cycle described above. If you can’t sustain the necessary schedule of individual and group meetings—and get the rest of your job done—you have too many direct reports.

In general, pastors cannot effectively supervise more than five employees. Some pastors should have fewer direct reports because of the needs of those employees and the other demands of the pastor’s role. A pastor with five direct reports will generally have to spend 25 to 30 percent of their time on supervisory related activities. Senior pastors of large congregations must limit their direct supervisory relationships to a smaller number.

Supervision doesn’t just happen while you are busy doing other things. Effective performance management requires intentionality and time. Only you can determine whether there is enough time in your day for effective supervision. If not, it’s time to develop other supervisors on the team.

 

This post originally appeared at congregationalconsulting.org on 07/03/2017

Photo Credit: “Organization Chart”, © 2011 Luc GaloppinFlickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

 

Remaining Non-Anxious in Anxious Time

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

f296f98f-e13d-4304-b061-964fc6394179I’ve been watching and listening to pastors these past few weeks. They are bone weary. I can hear it in their voices and see it behind their eyes. It is challenging to marshal a calm and steady presence in the midst of our national political turmoil.

In the weeks ahead our leadership bodies will be making many of the hard decisions that come with wrapping up a calendar year. Many of you will be negotiating final decisions about the budget, staff raises, mission and program funding for a new year. These are difficult conversations to navigate in the best of times. These are not the best of times. How will you bring your best non-anxious self into these conversations and call that non-anxious presence forth in the groups that you lead?

A Steady Presence

We have long been taught that a non-anxious self is a critical leadership stance in the midst of anxiety.  Good organizational leadership requires someone who is non-reactive, thoughtful and steady-particularly when the things around them are spinning out of control.

Edwin Friedman, in Generation to Generation, calls this stance “leadership through self-differentiation”.  A differentiated leader takes non-reactive, clearly conceived, well- defined positions that seek to define the leader as the “head”, distinct from but committed to relationship with the body.

Peter Steinke in Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times calls it the non-anxious presence. Steinke describes this presence as a steady and calm way of being that acknowledges the anxiety, but does not let the anxiety drive behavioral choices.

Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky in Leadership on the Line call it holding steady. Holding steady is about learning to take the heat rather than fleeing or retreating back to the status quo. It involves focusing attention on hard issues and letting those issues ripen.  It requires the ability to observe and learn from resistance and factions that emerge.

It is one thing to describe this kind of leadership presence. Embodying it is an entirely different matter. How do we offer a non-anxious leadership presence when we feel shaken to the core? How do we help an anxious leadership body engage in tough conversations when the environment feels so precarious?

Wonder: The Antidote to Anxiety

Wonder trumps anxiety. We cannot be filled with wonder and remain anxious at the same time. Wonder is the ability to feel amazement, admiration and curiosity about something. Wonder invites our best, most creative thinking. Wonder connects us with God. So how do we move from anxiety to wonder?

Otto Scharmer, Senior Lecturer at MIT, speaks of three internal voices that stand in the way of wonder; the voice of judgement, the voice of fear, and the voice of cynicism. In anxious times these voices dominate our thinking and reasoning and they keep us from engaging our best, God-centered selves. In times of anxiety we must learn to release these voices.

The Voice of Judgment is intellectual.  This is the voice in your head that knows many things and has already reached conclusions about decisions at hand. It likes to label things “That approach is flawed and won’t work.” “He won’t support my idea because he is risk averse.” The voice of judgment tries to seal off the mind and protect the status quo. It shuts down creativity.

The Voice of Cynicism is born of mistrust. This is the voice in your head that is skeptical and certain that everyone is out to protect their own self-interest and violate yours. “He’s never supported any of my ideas and certainly won’t support this one.” “Just try to get the governing board to approve that idea!” The voice of cynicism tries to protect the heart from becoming too vulnerable. If I close myself off to the possibility of cooperation and success, I won’t be disappointed.

The Voice of Fear seeks to prevent us from losing what we already have. This is the whiny voice in your head that is certain you are in danger of losing ground. “Let’s just quit while we are ahead” “If we don’t raise this money, our very future is in jeopardy.” The voice of fear gravitates towards extremes. It shuts down the open will by keeping us in grasping mode, which works against the spiritual stance of surrender.  Grasping at what you are in danger of losing keeps you from experiencing God’s abundance.

The voices of judgment, cynicism and fear run amok in anxious times. They cultivate a closed mind, heart and spirit. They fight against wonder. If our desire is to adopt a non-anxious leadership stance then we need to release these voices.

Releasing the three voices begins with acknowledging their existence. At least initially, we have to create some space to attend to the voices as they express themselves.

Create a quiet space to reflect and attend to your inner thoughts. Sit with a blank sheet of paper. Think about a specific issue or decision that you are facing. Attend to each of the voices one at a time, with regard to that specific issue. What is the voice of judgment saying in your mind about the specific decision at hand? Write the musings of the voice down on the paper in front of you in stream of consciousness fashion. Don’t argue with it or filter it, just write it.  Then ask the voice of judgment to be silent for a while so that you can hear from the voice of cynicism on this matter. Again, give this voice free reign for two or three minutes recording everything it says to you. Finally, invite the voice of cynicism to remain silent while you listen for the voice of fear. Record any and all thoughts that fear expresses to you.

Once the journaling exercise is complete, read through the thoughts that have been expressed simply acknowledging their presence. And then, in whatever way works best for you, release the voices. You may want to symbolically fold and put the paper away or shred it and throw it away. You may want to pray to be released from the constraints that the voices represent. Or, you may want to simply sit in silence and listen to the voices retreat.

On the other side of judgment, cynicism and fear lives a state of wonder, mystery and possibility. “What wants to emerge here? What is likely to happen next? How can we bring the best of ourselves to the decision at hand?”

The anxiety in our culture is not likely to diminish anytime soon. Our leadership presence does not need to be captured by it. I pray that each of you, and the leaders that you lead, will find your way towards wonder in the weeks and months ahead. May God be with you in this.

Pay and Performance: What’s the Connection?

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

money-peoplePayroll expense is the largest line item in the budget of most congregations. When the budget is tight we often turn to payroll expense to balance the budget because we simply don’t have many viable options.

However, we have to ask ourselves if this annual payroll dance around budget time harms our employees. How does the recurring budget dialogue about pay increases (or lack thereof) impact our employment relationships? Does the debate hurt employee motivation or the ability to hold employees accountable for good performance?

Money matters in the relationship that we have with our employees, but perhaps not in the ways you assume.

Does Money Motivate?

Research shows that money does not motivate in employment situations, except when the tasks of the job are purely mechanical.  Contrary to longstanding organizational belief, linking pay increases to performance has negligible impact on motivation, and in some instances actually reduces motivation. (TED Talk: Dan Pink on The Puzzle of Motivation

The absence of adequate salary may keep a person from accepting a job and it may cause enough dissatisfaction for an employee to leave a job, particularly when the employee feels that he is being unfairly treated. However, if an employee finds their level of pay basically satisfactory, money does not lead to higher levels of motivation.

Rather, motivation is produced by managing the more intrinsic side of the employment situation: greater autonomy, the mastery of an important skill, the ability to work in service to a larger good, etc.

Does Money Help to Create Performance Accountability?

Accountability is the obligation that an employee has to account for his or her performance, or lack thereof.  Does pay help to strengthen accountability in our relationships with employees? It does to the extent that pay maintains utility in the employment relationship.  

Employment relationships are basically utilitarian in nature; the exchange between employer and employee must prove useful to both parties. The employee offers something that the congregation values; a set of skills, and the time and energy to apply those skills to tasks and processes that the congregation deems to be important. In return, the congregation offers the employee something that she values: pay, benefits, opportunities for growth and advancement, the opportunity to work for a greater good. This is utility.

As long as both partners in the employment relationship find utility in the relationship, accountability around performance remains strong. An employee is responsive to an accountable conversation in a relationship with utility. If the employer doesn’t provide what the employee needs, or vice versa, the relationship loses its utility. When this happens, accountability is diminished.

When an employee values money in the employment relationship, then decisions about pay impact accountability. If money is not particularly important in the employee’s relationship with the congregation, pay does not foster accountability.

What Matters Most about Money?

So, money doesn’t really enhance motivation, and it may or may not impact performance accountability. In what ways does money really matter in shaping our employment relationships?

Fairness Matters: Pay matters as an indicator of fairness in the employment relationship. Creating pay structures so that co-workers perceive fairness in the workplace is important. When employees feel unfairly treated in matters of pay they will take action to restore fairness. The actions they take may not be helpful to the congregation.

According to behavioral psychologist, J. Stacy Adams, employees seek to maintain equity between the inputs that they bring to a job (time, effort, skill, loyalty, commitment) and the outcomes that they receive from it (recognition, responsibility, sense of achievement, praise, pay).

Employees continually evaluate their perceived inputs and outcomes against the inputs and outcomes of other employees. When an employee feels that the outcomes they receive from the job don’t match their inputs, or when they perceive that others have a better balance of inputs/outcomes, the employee will seek to restore equity.

To restore equity, the employee may seek to renegotiate the terms of employment. If this fails, they may reduce their energy or loyalty. They may also seek to negatively influence the inputs and outcomes of their fellow employees.

Justice Matters: As religious organizations we frequently advocate for those who are marginalized or taken advantage of by society. To maintain integrity, we must be certain that our employment practices are “just” as well.

We are not being just when we fail to pay a livable wage. It is not just to pay employees below what the market says they are worth. We promote injustice when, in an effort to avoid rising health care costs, we break full time positions into part time positions that don’t carry benefits. In these situations, our walk does not match our talk and our behavior demoralizes our employees.

Appreciation Matters: Most employees equate pay increases with appreciation. “If you are providing me with a pay increase, you must value the work that I do. When you fail to give me a pay increase you are devaluing me.”

We must handle our annual conversation about payroll increases in such a way that our employees feel appreciated. When we can’t rely on money to communicate our appreciation, we need to be authentic and creative with other appreciative techniques.

Employees are not likely to feel appreciated if they learn about their pending pay raise in a group setting, or from someone other than their supervisor. They don’t feel valued when everyone receives the same increase regardless of effort. They don’t feel appreciated when the payroll increase is the first thing slashed during the budget dialogues.

The relationship between pay and performance is complicated. This year, as you make decisions about staff payroll increases, don’t forget the conditions that actually impact ongoing performance: accountability, fairness, justice and appreciation.

Have We Failed?

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

635944741686261514734284120_success_failure_directBarb shared her decision to end the day trip ministry. “I simply can’t organize these trips anymore. We began this ministry to address the loneliness and isolation of older adults. It’s been wildly successful in terms of participation. People love going on these day outings and enrollment fills up immediately. But our funding source is drying up. I can’t find anyone to succeed me in leadership, or even to help with the organization of the outings. I’m tired of carrying the load alone. I guess the ministry is going to end when I step down. If I had been a better leader, I would have found more money and a successor.”

Barb’s comments reflect an unstated assumption at work in many faith-based institutions. A successful ministry is a sustainable ministry, one that goes on indefinitely. To sustain something is to keep it in existence, to supply the necessities that ensure continuity, to uphold or defend an ongoing practice. There is inherent value and worth in sustainability. If we value something we must do everything within our power to see that it is sustained. When something is not sustainable, it has failed or is failing. Right?

Wrong. This assumption invites us to tell a troubled story about any ministry that ends. We talk about the parts of the ministry that don’t work in order to justify the ending. The ending is announced and the ministry slips quietly off into the sunset. The leader of the final chapter bears a silent shame. “I wasn’t good enough to keep it afloat.”

We are living in an era where many things we have done in the name of Church are no longer sustainable. Does this mean we have failed? In an era of institutional decline, linking sustainability with success and unsustainability with failure is problematic in three ways:

  • We avoid sunsetting programs. To pull the plug is to label the thing a failure—or even worthless—when it is still important to some. So, we don’t evaluate or ask hard questions of the ministries that we do sustain. Is this the best use of our resources right now? Does this ministry still align with our mission, core purpose, and values?
  • We don’t learn from our experience. Failure feels painful. In order to avoid the pain, we dismiss the experience as quickly as possible. We miss a tremendous opportunity when we don’t carefully consider why a program is ending, or what we have to learn about the changing conditions around the program.
  • We stop innovating. Innovation happens best in environments where experimentation and failure are normalized. It has to be okay to fail. When sustainability becomes a core criterion for success, we avoid starting new things.

What Makes a Ministry Sustainable?

On some level, every organization must be sustainable. If we cannot afford to cover our overhead expenses over time, we will cease to exist and won’t be able to support any ministry.

However, under the umbrella of a sustainable organization we should be free to experiment with programs that may or may not be individually sustainable. We need to be able to innovate, reflect, learn and adapt. We can’t do these things without some better language about sustainability. There are at least four types of sustainability that we ought to regularly consider:

  • Economic sustainability: This approach to sustainability seems to get the most attention, maybe the only attention, when we are talking about the viability of a program or ministry. Will the program eventually pay for itself? If not, will we have the funds to sustain it on an ongoing basis? These are important questions, but not the only questions related to sustainability.
  • Leadership sustainability: What kind of leadership presence will this program require? How many staff and volunteer hours will be devoted to its sustenance? What kind of leadership succession plan do we have for this program? Is more than one generation of leadership likely to support this ministry with time and talent?
  • Social sustainability: What difference will this ministry make in the world? What environmental condition does this ministry seek to resolve or improve? How will it improve lives and which lives will it improve?
  • Mission sustainability: How does this ministry promote the unique mission of our organization? Does it draw upon our unique strengths and passions? Does it meet the needs of a constituency that we are meant to serve? Is this what God is calling us to do or become in this season?

When a program satisfies all four types of sustainability we should certainly include it in our portfolio of ministries. When a program fails to satisfy any of the four types it should clearly be discontinued. The tricky landscape to negotiate is when a program satisfies several categories but fails to satisfy others. Then we need to have thoughtful conversations about whether the program should end.

Learning from our Endings

When the decision is made to end a program or project, we need to learn all we can from the ending. Rather than letting the program quietly disappear in the hope that no one will be upset, we need to stop, reflect, learn and adapt. This is how healthy organizations grow and thrive.

Ask yourself these questions: When the program was first begun, what condition in the world was it was meant to address? How has the original condition changed? What impact has the program had on this condition over time? How have resource requirements shifted over time? What outcomes did we experience then and now? Which forms of sustainability are no longer viable for this program? How can we celebrate the success we had? How can we honor the leaders who have served? How might we talk about the legacy created? How does the end of this program ensure other new beginnings for this organization?

It’s time to examine the assumptions that you and your organization carry about sustainability, success, and failure. A program is not a failure because it ends. It is only a failure when we ignore the powerful invitation to reflect, learn, adapt, and innovate.

She Looked So Good…On Paper

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

Nancy is failing in her new role as the Director of Education.  The hiring committee carefully chose Nancy from a pool of six candidates.  Everyone on the team was delighted with Nancy as their candidate of choice. She was articulate, well-educated and had experience as the principal of a private school. On paper and in person she looked like a great fit for the job.

Now, only twelve weeks into her employment relationship it is apparent that Nancy isn’t going to succeed. She has wonderful rapport with students and their families, but she struggles with the coordination of volunteers, the management of projects, and overseeing a budget.  She makes administrative tasks much more difficult than they need to be, adding layers of complexity to tasks that are simple and straight forward.

In retrospect the team realizes they were taken in by Nancy’s charisma and credentials.  They made numerous assumptions about her previous organizational experience. They assumed that someone who had served as a principal would have outstanding administrative skill.  They assumed that she must know her way around church volunteerism because she grew up as a pastor’s kid.

How did the team miss Nancy’s shortcomings?  They suffered from the halo effect. The halo effect is our tendency to think someone is good in many areas because they have impressed us in one area.

In church environments we often hire based on gut reaction. We make employment decisions based on how the candidate makes us feel during the interview, instead of designing a careful process to ensure that the candidate can do what needs to be done. We pay attention to pseudo cues like appearance, confidence, and charisma, instead of attending to the actual competencies required in the role.

Here are four important practices that you can employ to avoid this troublesome interview trap:

 

  • Get clear about the requirements of the role: Before you begin the interview process develop a set of essential functions and core competencies that describe the role. Essential functions are the duties and tasks required. They address the “what” component of the job.  What am I be expected to do in order to satisfy your basic expectations?  For example, one essential function of the Education Director might be: Responsible for the recruitment, training and coordination of volunteer teaching teams.

 

 

Additionally, create a list of core competencies that describe the person needed. Core competencies address the “who” and “how” components of the role. For example: Attention to Detail, Time Management, Volunteer Management, Team Orientation, Delegation, etc. It isn’t enough to simply create a list of competency labels. Each competency must be defined by the specific behaviors that comprise that label.  For example:

Delegation: Clearly and comfortably delegates both routine and important tasks and decisions; appropriately shares authority and responsibility; creates accountability; sets clear objectives and measures; monitors process, progress and results; builds feedback loops into the work; trusts people to perform their own work.

  1. Focus on behavior, not personality traits: Candidates applying for a job are likely to use all kinds of labels to describe themselves: outgoing, proficient, effective, team-player, creative etc. Your job as an interviewer is to get beyond the usage of labels to determine if the candidate has actually mastered the skills and abilities.

Behavioral based interviewing is an effective technique for evaluating competencies. In a behavioral-based interview you ask the candidate to describe how he actually did behave in a particular past situation, rather than how he might behave in the future. Behavioral based interviewing rests on the premise that past performance is the best predictor of future success.

 

In this form of interview, you ask an initial question and then follow up with several probing questions. The probing questions ask the candidate for details so that the candidate cannot theorize, fabricate, or generalize responses.

 

For example, if you are trying to assess a candidate’s delegation skills you might say, “Tell me about a time when you assigned a piece of work to someone and they failed to complete the assigned task.” Additional Prompts: When and how did you follow up? What kind of consequences did the person experience when they failed to complete the task? Did the task eventually get done; how? In what ways did you stay involved? What would you have done differently in retrospect?

 

  1. Watch them do part of the work: As part of the interview process you can create scenarios of real work for the candidate to perform. For example, a potential choir director can be asked to lead a choir rehearsal. A youth leader can be asked to facilitate a weekly youth gathering. A maintenance worker can be asked to evaluate a particular space to point out what needs attention. An administrator can be asked to observe and evaluate a staff meeting.

 

 

  • Check employment reference earlier in the process: Too often, we wait to do reference checks until we have selected our final candidate. At that point we have already made our decision and we don’t want to be dissuaded from making the hire. We are seeking confirmation that the wonderful person we have settled upon is real, and we do not want to be disappointed. So, we end up asking questions that seek to confirm the halo. Instead, consider doing reference checks when there are still multiple candidates being considered. This way you will ask tougher questions and be open to more critical feedback.

 

 

It is easy to be trapped by the halo effect when hiring people for your team. We are all easily drawn in by appearance, charisma and good interviewing skills. Getting clear about expectations, focusing on behaviors, watching the candidate perform the work, and checking references earlier, are just a few of the ways that you can become more intentional in your hiring practices.

 

Working Around Incompetence on the Team

Monday, May 11th, 2015

We aspire to build staff teams of competent, motivated individuals who work in dogged pursuit of a clearly articulated vision. What most of us have are teams with some outstanding staff and some not so outstanding staff, working side by side towards a vision that seems clear, on some days.

Most of you are grappling with some incompetence on the team you inherited, or incompetence you managed to hire yourself.  You spend your time accordingly.  Sometimes, it is abundantly clear that a member of the team just isn’t able or willing to adequately fill the needs of the role, but the political dynamics of the situation don’t allow for making a transition now.  How do you manage in this environment?

Maintain Clarity of Expectations: Effective performance management of the team requires clarity in three areas, for each staff role: the essential functions (duties & tasks of the job), the core competencies (behavioral attributes, skills & abilities required), and the performance goals (area of focus for the current year).

Oftentimes, as a supervisor comes to terms with the incompetence of a team member, the supervisor abandons performance expectations, settling for whatever the employee delivers.  The supervisor grows weary of communicating failed expectations over and over. So, he scales back the expectations. Each time that expectations are lowered, the underperforming staff member reduces effort and performance degenerates even further.

Working with incompetence on the staff requires vigilance around role expectations. If we cut the underperformer slack, we teach the larger staff system that excellence is not important. We set up an unhealthy dynamic where high-functioning staff burn out as they over-compensate for the underperformer. We lose sight of effective staffing structures because we keep re-assigning responsibilities to newer hires that are brought in to pick up the slack.

Maintaining clarity of expectations requires a commitment to ongoing communication about what the role requires, and communication about the gap we observe between actual performance and the ideal. Maintaining clarity of expectations means that the under-performing team member bears the discomfort of their own under-performance. We don’t create a comfortable environment for them to settle into by displacing responsibility elsewhere.

Be Honest with Yourself: It is easy to tell yourself that it isn’t in the best interest of the congregation to move the incompetent member off of the team right now.  You imagine the level of conflict that such a move might produce. You exaggerate the level of social support that the person has in your congregation.  You empathize with the drama the employee is experiencing in his personal life. You nurture all of your worst fears about how badly this could unfold. You tell yourself that people of faith are invested in redemption and that you are giving this person one more chance.

If you are honest about the situation, you may have to acknowledge your own conflict avoidance.  You may have to admit that you haven’t moved on the situation because you simply haven’t engaged the hard work of expectation setting, and you haven’t invested the necessary time in performance feedback. You may have to admit that this season isn’t any better or worse than a future time for addressing the problem; in fact, to allow the situation to continue will only make things worse over the long term.

Have a Long-Term Plan: Now may not be the right time to move the under-performer off of the team. What conditions would be evident if it was the right time?  How can you create those conditions?

Recently I spoke with a pastor who vowed to me that she would not pass her incompetent employee onto the next senior pastor. So I asked the pastor, “If you are ultimately going to deal with this, why not now, so that you can enjoy the benefit of the improved environment, along with the next senior pastor?”  She didn’t have a response.

If we decide to live with continued incompetence, we should have a clear picture of the conditions we are trying to produce that will ultimately birth a healthier team. For example, a pastor decides that she needs eighteen months to bring a new staff member fully onboard, so that the new leader can step into the gap as we let the problem staff member go.  Or, a pastor targets a six-month period of time to help lay leadership become more aware of the performance gap, and to build a cadre of lay leadership supporters before moving the incompetent team member out. The pastor should have a specific action plan in mind to justify inaction now.

Having a long-term plan also means creating a five year staffing plan, so that each time you make a staffing change you work towards a long-term solution that resembles your dream team.  Don’t structure around incompetence.  In other words, don’t create new positions to shore up an under-performer. When you eventually move an under-performer off of your team, you don’t want to be saddled with a patchwork of positions that no longer make sense.  Design roles and hire new people only because they move you towards your long term vision of team health.

You may not have the staff team of your dreams, but there are concrete steps that you can take to eventually live into that dream.  It requires persistence and hard work. You can move in the right direction by maintaining clear expectations, being honest with yourself, and having a long term plan.

Bridging the Staff Team Divide

Saturday, February 14th, 2015

4929686241_05a2e2dc5cWe are one team! Except that the administrative team often feels like a lesser partner in ministry. We do our best to honor and incorporate all voices in communication and decision-making, but somehow the administrative members of the team feel undervalued and marginalized.  Are we doing something wrong? Or, is this just the nature of staff team life in congregations?

Ministry is our reason for being. The ministry of the congregation is orchestrated by our program staff.  The administrative staff is an invaluable partner in the work, but not central to the work in the same way as the program staff. The program staff would be crippled without the admin team, but the admin team without a program team is meaningless.

Tension between the two parts of the staff team will always exist on some level. However, there are several factors that aggravate the marginalization of the admin team. These factors can be managed and mitigated to create a more unified team experience.

Missional Ownership

Clergy leaders have the strongest tie to the missional identity of the congregation.  The tie is so strong that we often speak of ordained employees as being “called” to the ministry of the church.  We expect our clergy leaders to model ownership of the mission for the rest of the congregation. Non-ordained program employees are also expected to demonstrate deep resonance with the mission of the congregation. The programs they lead are meant to embody and strengthen missional identity.

Administrative employees have different levels of buy-in to our mission. Some are members of the congregation and may demonstrate strong missional ownership.  Sometimes we intentionally hire non-members for key administrative positions, because we believe that non-members are able to keep better boundaries around money and membership issues.  They may think of themselves only as employees who exist to get a job done. They may feel no personal ownership of the mission of the congregation.

I believe that every member of the staff team, regardless of church membership status, needs to demonstrate a base level of missional buy-in if they want to be on the team.  They do not have to agree with our theology, but they do have to understand and honor our polity and our basic reason for existence. No staff member can be allowed to exempt him or herself from the vision casting or mission clarification work of the team.

Is it fair and appropriate to expect that non-member employees participate in the worship or devotional life of the staff team? Prayer is a foundational part of who we are. To remove one’s self from the spiritual life of the team creates division within the team. It is incumbent upon leaders to design devotional experiences that appropriately reflect the full spirituality of the team.  Many teams accomplish this by rotating responsibility for devotional leadership, so that every spiritual perspective on the team finds voice.

Sunday Morning Participation

The Sunday morning experience is the bread and butter of a Christian congregation.  Those who participate in leadership on Sunday morning build their work week around that day.  They have a lived experience of the whole church each and every week, an experience that is both energizing and exhausting.  The work week that culminates in Sunday morning is fundamentally different from a work week that is lived from Monday through Friday.

Those in the office during the week encounter key players in the church, but don’t share in the whole experience of the congregation.  The rhythm of the week is different, often culminating in deadlines that peak mid-to late week.  They don’t share in the energy buzz or the exhaustion of the Sunday morning experience. They rarely see the congregation fully gathered.

We can minimize this difference by being more respectful about how we impose our work on team members functioning with a different work cycle. We can also create meaningful opportunities to invite administrative employees into the Sunday morning experience, so that they can experience our work cycle and the energy of the church fully gathered. To do this we need to respect admin time off, paying employees or offering compensatory time off when they are asked to be present on a weekend.

Accountability for Hours Worked

The administrative team, by design, is composed of people who are good at organizational detail. Tracking and balancing are a natural part of who they are and what they are expected to do.  Additionally, many of our admin workers are non-exempt employees.  This means that they must be paid overtime if they work in excess of a forty hour work week.  Consequently, they are required to prepare time cards, track the hours that they work, and get approval to work over-time.

Most program team members are exempt employees.  This means that they do not get paid overtime for working more than a standard work week. Accordingly, exempt employees do not need to track hours worked and are not required to keep time cards. Many full time program staff work consistently in excess of forty hours per week, and so we grant them latitude to schedule their work as it makes sense. They may take off in the afternoon or come in late in the morning to compensate for evenings spent in church meetings.

This difference in accountability for time and attendance creates tension. We can manage the tension by being respectful of the differing practices around work hours.  I believe that it helps the tension in the office when every member of the team is expected to report time worked, regardless of exempt or non-exempt status. It doesn’t restrict the flexibility of program staff to ask for a weekly accounting of hours worked. It does create a culture of accountability and actually encourages program staff to be more thoughtful about self-care and about building intentional periods of non-work into their week.

We can also be more careful about honoring the tracking systems that help us know who is in and out of the building. An administrative employee is frustrated by the need to track down a program staff employee, who is nowhere to be found and non-responsive to email or voicemail messages.

The division that many congregations experience between program and administrative employees does not need to exist. In many congregations the divide is exaggerated by unexplored assumptions about mission ownership, accountability for time, and a lack of regard for differences in work cycles. Simple respectful practices can help us to bridge the great divide.

You Disappointed Me

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

A volunteer agrees to complete a task but fails to deliver, or delivers a less than satisfactory outcome. A leader violates an established behavioral standard. What do you do? How do you redeem the situation?

Disappointment is inevitable when people are involved in ministry; but disappointment doesn’t have to be the final word. Delivering an effective feedback message in the face of disappointment can turn the situation around and introduce accountability into the volunteer relationship.

Many of us have learned to blindly accept less than desired or agreed upon outcomes. Often we choose to simply redo or complete a task ourselves, or work around a problem player. After all, congregations are volunteer organizations. What can you expect? We take what we can get.

Each time that we fail to addresimagess a disappointing outcome with one volunteer, we send a harmful message to all of our volunteers. We communicate that the ministry itself isn’t important enough to warrant excellence and accountability. We communicate that the overarching mission of the congregation is not as important as the volunteer’s feelings.

I suspect that we fail to confront because we fear that the conversation might get away from us. We aren’t sure how to start the conversation, or how to respond if the volunteer gets upset, denies that there is a problem, or blames others for the outcome. It is easier to say nothing, and if necessary, to do the task ourselves.

Describe the Situation-Behavior-Impact

The Center for Creative Leadership Feedback_That_Works_How_to_Build_and_Deliver_Your_Message offers a simple model for giving specific feedback that is time tested and works.

Situation: Describe the Situation. Be specific about when and where the behavior occurred, or was supposed to occur.

Yesterday morning, I passed you in the hallway and you were having a conversation with John Q about the new building plan

Behavior: Describe the observable behavior. Don’t use generalities and don’t assume you know what the other person was thinking.

John said that he thought the plan was poorly conceived and downright stupid. You responded that you didn’t like the plan either and had never supported it.

Impact: Describe what you thought or felt in reaction to the behavior.

I was surprised to hear you lack of support for the plan, because you had never indicated those reservations during Council discussions on the topic. I was also hurt that you were not supporting a decision that we as a Council had all agreed upon together. I felt like you were being disloyal to me and other Council members.

Ask About Intention

Once you have clearly delivered your feedback, pause and ask the volunteer to offer an explanation about why they behaved as they did. “Why did you choose to have that particular conversation?” or “What were you hoping to accomplish?” or “What was your intent?”

Inquiring about intent prevents misperceptions and clears up incorrect inferences or assumptions on our part. It also transfers the responsibility for the conversation over to the volunteer. It is their turn to explain their thinking, assumptions, action or inaction. For example:

I feel really badly about that conversation. I never meant to betray the decision of the Council. John was berating me for supporting a plan that he did not like. The whole conversation got away from me and I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I just told him that I didn’t agree with the decision, so that I could end the conversation.

-or-

I don’t feel like I can comfortably speak up and express my viewpoints in Council meetings. When I express an opinion that is contrary to the popular opinion in the room, I feel pressured to conform. I don’t know why I should defend the Council, when I feel like my voice isn’t really represented in the decision making.

Once the intent is clearer, you can coach the volunteer about how to make better choices and resolve their performance issues in the future.

Avoid Sidetracks

It is commonplace for the person being held accountable to avoid responsibility by redirecting the conversation. The volunteer may disagree with your assessment of their performance or the situation. They may blame you or others for their lack of performance. They may minimize the impact of their behavior. All of these responses are known as “sidetracks”. A sidetrack is meant to take the pressure off of the individual being confronted, and to focus the accountability elsewhere.

The most difficult sidetracks are those which are meant to implicate us in the failure. “You shouldn’t have been listening in on my conversation with John.” “I know that you aren’t crazy about the plan either, why are you supporting this initiative?” “You know that the only reason we settled on this building plan is because our Council President has a relationship with the architect that proposed it.”

It is easy to get hooked by the sidetrack. We get embroiled in a logic debate, and several minutes later find ourselves engaged in a conversation that has nothing to do with the behavior we were trying to address.

The simplest way to handle a sidetrack is to acknowledge the central truth in the statement, and then draw the conversation back to the performance issue at hand. The most effective way to do this is with the phrase, “But, right now…”

I am aware that eavesdropping on conversations is not an ethical practice. I wasn’t intentionally trying to listen in. But, right now I’d like to address your decision not to support the decision that we made together as a Council.

-or-

Whether or not I feel comfortable with the building plan is not the issue here. Right now, I’d like to talk about why you didn’t raise your concerns in our Council meeting, and why you chose to indicate your lack of support to someone who is not on the Council.

Restate the Standard

The final part of the accountability conversation should include a restatement of the standard.

I’d like to remind you that we have an agreed upon standard as Council members. We speak our personal truth to one another when we are in the midst of decision making. Once a decision has been made, we support that decision when speaking to non-Council members.

The work of volunteers is critical to the well-being of our congregations. Holding volunteers accountable for agreed upon performance standards is not as menacing as we often fear it will be. You can create a culture of accountability by modeling these conversations and training others to follow these simple conversational guidelines.

Acting on on Our Plans

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

In the world of congregations we are good at planning and doing. We enjoy thinking great thoughts and crafting lofty ministry ideals. We are fair at experimenting with our ideas, and taking tentative steps in the direction of our plans. We are great at running programs, running programs, and running more programs.

However, we are not good at learning from our mistakes, making course corrections, and fully implementing our intentions. We avoid evaluation and accountability. Consequently, we fail in our intentional change efforts and fall back into the status quo.

We could learn something from the discipline of Management, which has long embraced the plan-do-check-act process (also known as the Deming cycle), as a way of managing change and promoting continuous improvement. The four phases in the Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle involve:

  • Plan: Identifying and analyzing the situation. Setting a goal for the future.
  • Do: Developing and testing potential approaches.
  • Check: Measuring how effective the approach was, and analyzing whether it could be improved in any way
  • Act: Implementing the improved approach fully.PDCA-250

Congregations feel most comfortable on the top half of the cycle. We are allergic to the reflection, evaluation and accountability required to improve and complete implementation. We attribute our difficulties in completing the cycle to a variety of issues including: lack of clarity about priorities, short attention spans, conflict avoidance, uncommitted volunteers, inadequate resources, and frequent leadership turnover.

The net result is an endless treadmill of plan-do-plan-do-plan-do that exhausts church leaders and fails to produce meaningful change. It does not have to be this way. Here are five intentional things that you can do to quit being “that” church, and to start being a church that learns from its mistakes and acts on its plans.

Five Things You Can Do

  1. Limit your Plans.

Every congregation is limited in energy and resources. You need to focus your efforts on the one or two big plans that will make the biggest difference in the right direction for your congregation.

If you establish more than one or two areas of growth, you are basically telling your staff and volunteers that they can work on whatever feels good in the moment, without impact. You need to be clear about a few priorities if you want to get better at learning and implementation.

  1. Name the Metrics (or Observable Behaviors).

How will you know when you have arrived? What new behaviors will you witness, or what old behaviors will disappear?

We improve our odds of learning and acting when we know how to evaluate our efforts: changes in attendance patterns, giving, participation, service touch points, new members, new disciples, an increase in the use of personal spiritual disciplines, more people sharing their faith stories, etc.

  1. Clarify the Work of the Board vs. the Work of the Staff.

Generally speaking, the governing board is responsible for naming the larger priorities and outcomes that you are pursuing as a congregation, naming the metrics of evaluation, and allocating resources. The board also establishes policies that determine who is authorized to do what and with what limitations.

The staff team leads the day-to-day efforts related to experimentation and implementation, with the support and involvement of appropriate ministry teams and committees.

The board and staff work together to check in, evaluate progress and establish course corrections.

When we are clear about who does what, there is a better chance that we will engage the plan.

  1. Create a Calendar of Check-in and Evaluation

Intentionality is everything when it comes to learning and acting. Unfortunately, most congregations prepare meeting agendas in a very reactive manner. The work of the day is based on the felt needs of the moment, or the problems that seem most pressing.

Alternatively, why not create an annual calendar of meetings, (for both board and staff) that covers the full plan-do-check-act cycle. Determine when the new strategic priorities of the congregation must be named by the board each year. Schedule the date by which staff must set their performance goals with their supervisors, in accordance with the new priorities. Name the month in which the board will allocate resources in accordance with the plan. Schedule an annual performance review process (with board and staff coming together to evaluate ministry areas, and supervisors evaluating the performance of staff members.)

  1. Celebrate Success

The busyness of congregational life often precludes real clarity about when something is finished. Take time to notice and celebrate when a plan has actually been accomplished (regardless of its overall success). This will help to create a culture in which people learn to finish what has been planned.

Imagine for a moment the impact that your congregation could have in the world, if it actually learned from its mistakes and implemented the plans it made. With a few intentional practices, you could become that congregation.

 

 

How to Develop Wise Leaders

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

Consider the last slate of candidates nominated for leadership in your congregation. What attributes were sought when recruiting this group? Perhaps you looked for potential leaders who were: invested, good decision-makers, strategic, prayerful, respected, effective communicators, with strong personal boundaries.

How did the actual list of nominees compare to your desired list of attributes? Did you find the attributes you were seeking, or did you default to: loyal, breathing, and willing?2 beautiful owls

Congregations struggle with a perpetual gap between the leaders they need and the pool of talent that they actually have. There are a host of circumstances to blame. However, if we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we haven’t developed our leadership base. We rely on other institutions to cultivate leadership talent in our members, which we try to harvest. And, we haven’t clearly identified or developed the most important attribute for congregational leadership: Wisdom.

Wisdom, in the biblical tradition, stands for many things ranging from the technical skill of artisans, to the art of governance. It incorporates simple cleverness, with the practical skill of coping with life, and the pursuit of ethical conduct. Wisdom is seen as derived from God, as belonging to God, as associated with creation, and as identified with the Torah or law.

Congregations are not meant to operate like other for-profit, or not-for –profit entities. We value the effectiveness and efficiency associated with institutional life, but we need to be led in ways that reflect our faith based origins and in ways that foster covenantal community. We seek leaders that can nurture institutional health, while tending to the soul of the institution and its constituents, and while listening for the guidance of Spirit. We seek wisdom.

Can wisdom be taught? Or, is wisdom something that certain people are born to, or gifted with, independent of learned skills and experience?

Two Schools of Thought

Let’s examine two viewpoints on the development of wisdom in leaders; one secular and one spiritual.

Yale psychology professor, Robert Sternberg, promotes the Balanced Theory of Wisdom to explain how wisdom can be intentionally developed.

Sternberg explains that wisdom seeks the common good. Wisdom realizes that the common good may be better for some than for others. A wise leader can negotiate the differences among individuals and groups, much like Solomon negotiated between two mothers who each claimed the same baby. Sternberg claims that we can nurture wisdom by developing the following capacities in our leaders.

• Basic intelligence (practical problem solving and verbal abilities)

• Factual & procedural knowledge

• Intrapersonal awareness (biases, skills, orientations, values)

• Extrapersonal awareness (goals, political agendas and interests of others)

• Balance and integration of competing interests

• Clarity about goals, along with the ability to recognize competing goals and to negotiate unifying goals

• Balancing short and long-term interests and needs

• Naming and clarifying core values, and using values to negotiate competing interests

• Shaping and adapting the congregation to changes in the environment

A more spiritual approach to developing wisdom is described by Cynthia Bourgeault, in “The Wisdom Way of Knowing”.

Bourgeault asserts that wisdom is a way of knowing that goes beyond one’s mind, one’s rational understanding and embraces the whole of a person: mind (intellectual center), heart (emotional center) and body (moving center).

This viewpoint sees wisdom as a gift of God, a gift that can be invited through prayerfulness. When a person is poised, balanced and alert in all three centers, a shift in consciousness happens. We become present, fully occupying the now in which we find ourselves. A state of presence is required to move into wisdom. The wisdom way of knowing stresses the fluidity of movement between God consciousness and present-centeredness. The Wisdom way of knowing requires:

• Surrender (which opens the heart directly to the more subtle realms of spiritual wisdom and energy)

• Seeing with the eye of the heart, and

• Connecting to the Divine Source

Tips for Cultivating Wisdom

We do not need to choose between secular and spiritual approaches to developing wisdom. We must nurture both. Our churches and synagogues need wise leaders with practical organizational wisdom and deep soulfulness.
Here are several practices to consider adding to your leadership development toolbox:

• Create the expectation that every member of your leadership team will have a personal prayer discipline. Create a culture in which leaders hold one another accountable for that discipline, by encouraging spiritual direction, check-ins and testimony.

• Introduce prayer practices into your meeting format, practices that extend beyond opening and closing prayers. Teach your leaders how to engage in guided meditation, lectio-divina, appreciative inquiry, theological biblical reflection, and consolation vs. desolation. Help your leaders become more comfortable spending time in silence.

• Instruct your leaders in the basics of governance and polity that will guide their work. But also ground them in the core values, strategic priorities and goals of the congregation.

• Help new leaders articulate their own personal core values and priorities and examine the overlap or conflict between their personal goals and the goals of the congregation.

• Define an intentional decision making/discernment process that includes these elements:

o Framing the issue,
o Naming guiding principles and core values that apply to the decision,
o Weighing the competing interests at work in the decision; clarifying who stands to gain or lose what,
o Distinguishing between the long and short term implications of a decision,
o Naming the adaptive work at the core of the issue, and
o Inviting silence and prayerful reflection in the midst of group decision making.

In this era of congregational life, where change is constant and adaptive leadership is needed, we must cultivate different leadership skills. We can’t simply assume that the leadership skills that our congregants have learned in other settings will translate well into the church. We need to be about the work of cultivating wisdom and developing more soulful leadership.