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Orson Scott Card: Orson Scott Card: Managing people at church

Published: Thursday, July 29 2010 5:30 a.m. MDT

Many people have a misconception about management. We get the idea that it's about assignments and accounting. Managers give training and set goals; workers do their work and fill out reports. You can look at the paperwork and know just how everyone's doing.

The trouble is that, as every good manager knows, you can look at the reports and know absolutely nothing at all. Yes, productivity is down, but why? Turnover is high, but why? If anybody knew the answer well enough to put it into a report, then the problems probably wouldn't exist in the first place.

This applies as much to church callings as any other managerial responsibilities. In fact, I daresay that most of our callings deal with one aspect of management or another.

Bishoprics and presidencies have managerial assignments, of course, but so does every teacher in every organization. Because it's not just about preparing a lesson and "giving" it — you have to manage the class.

While management has a reporting aspect, in the gospel as well as in the business world, the most important aspects of management can't be charted or plotted or numbered or crunched.

Latter-day Saints know that true management, at church and everywhere else, is taught in Section 121 of the Doctrine & Covenants, where we're told how authority should and should not be exercised.

But sometimes we need help from someone who approaches the problem from another angle. I remember that on my mission, Stephen R. Covey's book "Spiritual Roots of Human Relations" illuminated the principles of leadership in ways that I could not have gleaned from the scriptures on my own.

Even Covey's excellent book leaned toward methodology — scheduling time for this, planning for that, setting goals. But much of the time, the problems we're dealing with in our church callings are not a matter of making lists or appointments.

Too often we think of "managing" as scheduling time or accomplishing tasks, but, at church especially, it's always about people more than anything else.

And people don't like to be managed.

Most of the time, numerical goals at church are pure fantasy. Too much depends on what other people want and decide. If you start doing something better, then it's true the numbers might come up. But thinking of how to "bring the numbers up" will not lead you to real improvement.

If the class you teach is failing, you can't improve it by setting attendance goals for the class members! "How many of you can commit to one hundred percent attendance this month!" You would merely look needy and desperate; nothing would improve.

And yet we use that method over and over in other areas, with the same result — the people we're supposedly managing seem to agree, but in fact what we get is somewhere between sullen compliance and smiling defiance.

I have a book for you. I read it in two hours one night — and that included stopping and thinking about the ideas in it. The book is "The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers (and Their Employees)," by Patrick Lencioni.

Lencioni is a storyteller. He could be a successful novelist if he cared to be. So "Miserable Job" is pleasant to read — even though it is a fictional case study of a natural-born manager, Brian Bailey, who has realized that pay, as long as it's adequate, is not what makes the difference between miserable, unmotivated, unproductive workers and happy, productive employees who take pride in their work.

It's all about three things that most managers don't do, though they're obvious and not very hard. They think they do the first one — measurement. But Lencioni's point is that most goals and reports measure things that are largely out of workers' individual control. Yet if there's no measurement, how can he tell whether he's doing his job well?

How can people be proud of "a job well done" if they can't figure out whether they did one?For instance, a Primary teacher's work can't be measured by attendance — kids have to come. But (depending on the age of the kids) a good measure might be how many incidences of inattention there are during a class period. This is not to identify a "problem child," but for the teachers themselves to measure how well they are doing.

Besides immeasurement (a word that Lencioni coined), the other signs of a miserable job are feelings of irrelevancy and anonymity.

A good manager helps workers figure out who they're helping and why their work makes a positive difference in their lives.

And a good manager makes sure that every worker feels individually known as a person, and is not just a cog in the machine.

Now … think about the people that you manage at church. If you're a leader of an organization, you usually manage teachers or organize group activities (including meetings). If you're a teacher, you manage the students in your class during the hour (or two) you have with them. If you're in a bishopric, you manage other managers.

As a manager, you need to help each person understand how the work they do is important to someone else — how they are blessing people's lives. You need to help them feel known and understood — by you and by others — so they feel themselves to be individually valued, and not just a fully-replaceable cog in a machine.

And you need to help them find methods of measuring what they do, so they can know for a fact when they've done it well.

Yes — that applies to teachers as well as leaders. You need to help your students measure how well they are doing at learning!

You'll be well-rewarded if you read Lencioni's book, since, like Section 121, it can apply to many aspects of our lives with other people.

But next week I'm going to tell you the story of a Primary class I taught back in the late 1970s, and how these very management principles — though I was not consciously aware of them at the time — turned a problem class into a highly successful one.

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