(This one is a bit longer than my usual post.)
One of my favorite experts in the field of Strategy Planning is Verne Harnish. I have been using a slightly modified version of his One Page Strategy Plan for years to help churches get a grip on planning for the future. I was recently going over a brief paper of his called “Four Decisions” http://www.gazelles.com/articles/four_decisions.html . I find a lot of good information here for churches. Here is the first of his four decisions, followed by my applications for church leaders:
People challenges impact your happiness and can be either a source of energy or an emotional drain. People issues can include conflicts with a partner, a customer with too large a piece of your business, a supplier delaying your success, a key employee or two that’s disrupting the rest of the organization’s effectiveness, or challenges at home. Or you might simply lack enough employees to serve your customers, though I caution executives to avoid tossing employees at problems.
Until you settle these relationship issues, they’ll continue to consume a tremendous amount of emotional energy, making it difficult to focus on the other three main decisions. Focus on getting the right people doing the right things with clear accountabilities and metrics.
Of the four decision areas this one is the most immediate to church leaders. We are in a “people business”. Like he says people can be “a source of energy or an emotional drain”. Some of the areas that need attention are: internal conflict issues, individual employee problems and lack of enough employees. As church leaders we can readily identify with each of these.
Internal conflict issues can sap the life out of a church. It continues to amaze me how ugly people can get in church. And how far away from the mission they can try and steer the church just to get their way. Traditional Church Strategy Planning tools wisely recommend that a church resolve any internal conflict before engaging in planning. Often this has been done through Conflict Mediation. However, Paul Borden, in “Hit the Bullseye” recommends against this. He says:
“We believe a focus on conflict mediation, which on rare occasions is needed, breeds more conflict mediation while not promoting either health or growth.” Paul Borden, Hitting the Bullseye, p.33
“Conflict mediation does not produce healthy congregations, since it is focused on conflict within the congregation rather than control of the congregation. Conflict mediation assumes that the fighting parties will come to the process with some degree of integrity. In dysfunctional congregations the lack of spirituality inhibits people from possessing such integrity, plus the mediators are seeking resolution in what is already a dysfunctional situation. When the real issue of the conflict is control of the congregation (this issue is never the stated issue), those with control will never give it up unless forced to do so.” Paul Borden, Hitting the Bullseye, p.72
It also amazes me how long church leadership will put up with a conflict situation before confronting it. It has been my experience that putting off dealing with conflict never helps. In fact, typically more damage is done by waiting – and that damage cannot be recovered. I have watched churches lose good people because they were unwilling to deal with people acting badly. Unfortunately, once those good people are gone, they don’t come back.
Individual employee problems are also prevalent in the church. One of the main causes of conflict between lead pastors and their staff is often just that – the pastor treat them like employees and not like partners God has called to serve alongside of the pastor. When a staff member is under-producing, the pastor needs to ask these questions:
- Are role expectations clear? (Does this person clearly understand what you expect?)
- Does this person need training/equipping? (Is there a resource that would help them?)
- Should your role grow from supervisor to include coach/mentor? (Does this person want to produce, but simply lacks experience?)
- Is this the right person for the position? (You know – the Jim Collins “right person in the right seat” thing.)
- Does this person have the “capacity” for the position? (Is this a 1, 2 or 5 talent person?)
When conflict exists between the pastor and a staff member, these questions need to be considered:
- Is this a “chemistry” issue? (Do the two of you just not click?)
- Is this a “character” issue? (Is there a flaw or blind spot that must be confronted?)
- Is this a “competency” issue? (Are you expecting more than this person can deliver?)
(A good discussion of this can be found in Bill Hybels’, “Courageous Leadership”, pp. 80-85.)
The issue of not enough staff is a challenge for the vast majority of churches. There are occasions when a church is over staffed. In these situations, one of two things tends to happen. Being overstaffed with the “wrong” people leads either to under-producing or conflict (see above). The church is pouring resources into an unproductive or damaging situation. Or, the church is overstaffed with the “right” people – which are a good thing because the church’s capacity to grow is increased. When they can afford to do it, churches tend to confront a challenge by hiring more staff. This can be the right strategic move, or not.
However, being overstaffed is not the norm – most churches are understaffed. The problem is in our definition of “staff”. If we broaden our thinking to include non-paid staff the challenge becomes one of recruiting/training/releasing the people who are already within the church. Some of the healthiest, fastest growing churches have a large unpaid or slightly paid work force.