Wednesday, May 29, 2019

How to make Restructuring Work

My last blog on the continuing need to restructure the Episcopal Church received the least amount of comments of any of my blogs.  I wasn’t too surprised because I know that the energy for this work was completely sucked out of the room by our current PB’s agenda of which I approve, and the folks who run TEC and General Convention are so invested in it, that they have no interest in this topic.  So be it.

However, this was the lead in for this blog where I discuss what I have learned about structure and restructuring in my many years of work with diocesan and parish leadership.  Let me start with this observation:

Many current church organizations are badly in need of revisiting their current structure with an eye toward being a more effective organization.  Indeed, many current structures keep mission mined organizations from making the mission the main thing.

 Principles for Structure and Restructuring

Let me begin with a few basic observations, and then I will apply this, at no charge, to the current inefficient, wasteful, and resistance structure of TEC.

Let me start with an observation from my mentor Lyle Schaller.  He observed that consultants in North America make a fortune by going into a centralized system and recommending de-centralization or going into a de-centralized system and recommending centralization.  He went on to observe that it usually took about five years for these organizations to figure out why these recommendations are not going to work and returning to at least what had worked in the past.

What Schaller recommended was that consultants should determine the current structure, centralized or de-centralized, and recommend ways to operate in a more effective and efficient manner.  For my friends in Calgary, this is what I attempted to do in my recent consultation with your Diocesan Council.  I have a word for this kind of work, streamlining, that I will demonstrate with my example for TEC.

I also learned from John Kotter’s writings why most efforts at change fail, namely, too much complacency with the status quo!  I have learned to ask two important questions about this.  First, how much real energy is there for change?  Second, who will be the predictable people in the organization that will resist such change? It takes perseverance for meaningful change to happen.  These are the principle reasons the attempt to restructure TEC failed; too much complacency with the status quo and two many stakeholders in the old system.  Hence, the leadership’s halfhearted support for this mean that the effort was doomed from the start. 

I also learned from Bishop Payne’s example of how to restructure a Vestry of a larger congregation that what is most needed is a way to “streamline” the structure.  So, his model would take the long overgrown and historically complex structure of a large church with its complicated committees, commissions, areas of ministry, and staff direction (or lack of it) and streamline this into a simpler structure of a Vestry and four subcommittees.  (BTW I have a paper on this and if you email me, I will send it to you.)  Once put into operation, this streamlined systems works so much better than the previous one, most Vestries embrace it quickly.

                         Implications for TEC

This brings me back to my free consultation with TEC and its historic structure, which is IMHO costly, overly complex, and inefficient.  It should be because it was designed in the 19th century when we had fewer dioceses and where the leadership of Bishops, Clergy Deputies, and affluent Lay Deputies could board a train for a two-week adventure of leisurely and informally doing the business of the church.  And remember that the Presiding Bishops of that era were the most tenured Diocesan Bishop of the Church.  They had almost no staff.  In those days, it was a de-centralized system.

Then came the first elected Presiding Bishop, now official a Primate, who had a staff that grew as did General Convention until we had 3.6 million members and nearly 100 dioceses.  These two factors centralized our current system. 

Let me remind all of us that we have had at least one major attempt to decentralize in the last 50 years and this was the Provincial System.  Some provinces have had more energy and life.  In others, the Bishops gather regularly. However, these provinces have never really developed for two reasons.  First, the provincial lines were drawn by east coast Bishops with little knowledge of the huge vastness of “the West.”  (For them, the “West” was west of the Allegany Mountains!)

Next, and more importantly, there was never any real attempt to fund these structures especially on a program level.  This remained the prerogative of General Convention with the influence of the Presiding Bishop’s Office and staff.

I have no interest in de-centralizing TEC. I do have a few suggestions to streamline it. Here they are: 

1.      Treat our structure just like any other effective not-for-profit organization.  There is plenty of information available on this topic in the literature of not-for-profit governance.

2.       So, The General Convention sets vision, policies, and procedures.  It does not run programs and it should not bog down in attempting to create the budget of the Church, just its priorities.

3.      Next see the Presiding Bishop as the “Director” of our organization who with his staff operates the programs of the Church just as most dioceses operate.  The PB is, with his staff, accountable to the interim body/board called the Executive Council who oversee all this between General Conventions.

4.      The Execute Council, with input from the Presiding Bishop and staff, should take the initiative in creating the draft budget for the next General Convention.

5.      The General Convention may approve this budget or amend it based on emerging priorities and special needs.

       There it is!  Streamlined and efficient, this structure will then allow General Convention to meet, celebrate, and set policy over eight days beginning with a Sunday Celebration of what has been done and ending with a Sunday commissioning of what will be done.  Occasionally, they will need to elect a new Presiding Bishop.  The GC continues to elect members of the Executive Council. The Executive Council becomes a more significant body with more power to make more immediate decisions; remember that GC only meets once every three years.  

      There may be a need for some committees of General Convention that manage its business to meet before General Convention starts, but all those joint house committees now have a very reduced workload, and many of them could even be eliminated.  Gone too is the myth that all those hundreds of submitted resolutions can be debated, prioritized, and voted on by both houses.  Now, they must be submitted to the Executive Committee first whose four subcommittees will determine if they need to be acted on by the Executive Council or referred to General Convention.  Three years is simply too long for a good and commendable idea to be delayed in our electronic culture.  The streamlining means that all those join committees no longer get to generate resolutions. But hey, we are not a State Church and few in our society care what we resolve and pass.  Just get over it.

                 But Who Said Anything About Restructuring?

Now, if you are a General Convention Deputy or a member of Executive Council, don’t worry.  None of this is going to happen.  There is way too much complacency and resistance in our current structure to lead to any of this being done. Your privileged position along with all its costliness and inefficiency will remain in place.  However, one thing could be done that is now struggling to emerge out of simple necessity.  This is the preparation of the next proposed budget by the Executive Council in consultation with the Presiding Bishop and staff.  The logic of this strait forward and commendable.  In the current structure, the GC passes resolution after resolution with budget amounts that get dumped on the desk of the Budget and Finance Committee who must in the closing days of GC sort this all out.  This should make sense to even the most long-standing Deputy.  (Oh, did I mention term limits?  Well, I am not that stupid!) 

                    Let's Forget About GC!

Now, turn to your more local situation.  Ask this question of your congregation and diocesan structure.  When is the last time we streamlined it to be a more effective missional organization driven by our stated priorities and on-going strategies?

Clarify your mission, then streamline your structure, and you will become a more effective organization.  This has worked for thousands of businesses and hundreds of not-for-profit organizations, and it can work for the Church too.    

Monday, May 20, 2019

Restructuring the Episcopal Church

Do you remember the attempt under our former Presiding Bishop to restructure the Church?  There was a great deal of discussion and energy put into this, but nothing came of it.  In this Blog, I am going to talk about the need for restructuring, and the primary reasons it failed.  In my follow up Blog, I will suggest a way forward and what could be done in the future.

The primary question is should TEC be restructured regarding General Convention, the Executive Council, and the myriad of Commissions and Join Committees of the General Convention.  The answer is very strait forward.  The current structure is the same one that emerged when TEC was almost 2/3rds larger than it is today.  I am a consultant to congregations and diocesan organizations, but you don’t have to be a consultant to figure out that this is an impossible and extremely complex structure for a Church now our size.  It would be very fruitful to take the lead of our current Presiding Bishop and combine his image of the Jesus Movement and his strategy of the Way of Love to aim our corporate life primarily at these missional goals and create a structure that serves these. 

Within these missional priorities would it also be possible to reduce the time and expense of General Convention not to mention the over 500 resolutions that are processed each time it meets?  Of course, we could.  So, why don’t we do it, and why is there no will to carry this out?

The first answer to this for me has to do with leadership.  When Michael Curry was elected our Presiding Bishop, he immediately did what good leaders should do.  He made the main thing, the main thing.  He contextualized our life and mission in the framework of Jesus’ movement.  Did you notice that from that moment on, talk of restructuring just stopped?  This leads us to the two primary reasons this effort at restructuring failed.

First, Curry’s predecessor did not have the energy, interest, and I would add the leadership ability to persevere with this restructuring.  Most of the energy for the restructuring was coming from good leaders who saw the need, but there was clearly no buy in by the then President Bishop, and there was almost no buy in from the Executive Council.  There was no sense of urgency and just like most efforts at organization change, this effort was doomed by too much complacency with the status quo.

Second, and there is no kind way to say this, there were too many people invested in the various committees and commission.  Having been elected a deputy, now folks had earned the right to sit at the table where actual decisions were made.  Why would they ever support a movement that would cause them to lose the power they had or the power at least they imagined they had?  Having served as a deputy for 4 times, I can tell you that the process of General Convention is largely controlled by the senior deputies through the apparatus of the current structure such as the Committee on Resolutions.  But if you are on one of those committees, you are a small group of the Deputies who can hear debate, discuss resolutions, and prepare them for a floor vote.  When I was on the Evangelism Joint Committee, we consider some 20 resolutions.  Only two of these got to the floor of convention and neither made it through the Budget Committee for funding.  Yet, we did a lot of work! 

Now let’s be fair.  We don’t usually see democratic organizations voting to have members of its deliberative body give up their perceived power.  Our deputies are no different and each person on one of those committees represented resistance to change. And since many are second, third, or fourth time deputies, it represents considerable resistance to change.  This too fits my first point, too much complacency with the status quo along with no sense of urgency.

Let’s go back to what would drive such a restructuring.  It would be leadership, missional priorities, and a sense of urgency.  All of this would be necessary to overcome the predictable resistance to change.  And what would be the benefit of doing it?

First as I said, the current structure served a much larger Church and in the economy of scale, we are paying way too much money for structure and organization.

Second, by streamlining our decision-making process, we could create a Church better able to respond to change and issues that emerge and areas that need funding while dropping areas that have lost energy.  Notice that I am for streamlining, not decentralizing.

Third, we could create a greater coherence in what we say is important and what we do.

Lastly, we could eliminate the immense cost of General Convention as a deliberative body.  If you add up the cost of General Convention meeting for two weeks and the cost to individual deputies, quite frankly we are squandering resources that are now needed badly for our mission, our dioceses, and our local congregations.

Next time, I will suggest a way forward in restricting that would enrich our community and its effectiveness.  The good news is that I am paid by the Church Pension Fund so I won’t be billing anyone.