Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Off the Shelf: Good to Great for the Social Service Sectors

Many of you have read Jim Collins' teriffic book Good to Great. Following on the heels of his success Built to Last, it showed the qualities and disciplines that companies needed to transcend being good at what they do to achieve enduring greatness.

A quick recap of the book -- to achieve greatness, companies need:
1) Level 5 leadership (a humble tenacity to do what it takes to make the organization -- rather than the individual -- great)
2) First Who...Then What (get the right people -- ie dedicated and disciplined and self motivated people -- on the bus, THEN figure out where to drive the bus)
3) Confront the Brutal Facts - But Never Lose Faith (Be honest about the current conditions, but have dogged belief that you will find a way to persevere!)
4) The Hedgehog Concept (what is the intersection of the three questions: What are you best in the world at? What drives your economic engine? What are you passionate about?)
5) A culture of discipline (a culture of freedom and accountability filled with self disciplined people -- the key to greatness is more perseverance than brilliance)
6) Technology Accelerators (don't invest in technology for its own sake -- carefully select technologies to advance the hedgehog concept)

He closes the with the image of they flywheel or the doom loop. Companies in the doom loop spiral slowly from disorganization to chaos until they spin out of control. The flywheel, on the other hand, is the picture of success -- it isn't turned by one big push, but by an accumulation of consistent pushing over time. Once it gets going, the pushing becomes easier, but you don't stop.

One of the challenges of the book was applying it to Non-profit sectors (like the church). Many of the concepts resonated deeply with nonprofit leaders, but they centered around economic metaphors and a business structure that doesn't necessarily apply in the nonprofit realm. Now, Collins has released a 36 page monograph that applies his concepts to the social service sectors.

Here's the main points:
1) Measuring greatness -- non-profits can't measure greatness in purely economic terms. You have to define your inputs and your outputs -- then measure greatness in whatever your outputs are, even if those outputs cannot be quantitatively measured. For instance, the Cleveland Orchestra aimed at artistic greatness (not necessarily measured by ticket sales) -- they did this by asking "are we getting standing ovations" "are we booking tours in other cities and around the world" "are we being copied by other orchestras" "do composers seek to have their work debuted in Cleveland" etc.

Applying to the church is another challenge -- are our people growing in love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control? (Galatians 6:22) Are our people sharing stories of God at work? (one measurement we use -- are our people reporting prayer needs and praises in worship on Sunday) Are we recognized in the community for how we bring the gospel out of our walls and into the streets? You can come up with many more.

2) Level 5 Leadership -- getting things done in a diffuse structure. Collins rightly recognizes that working with volunteers in nonprofits requires more tact, care, and caution than is the case in the corporate realm where executives weild raw executive power. He distinguishes between the executive leadership of corporations and the legislative leadership of nonprofits -- exemplified in a quote from Frances Hesselbein of the Girl Scouts "...you always have power if you know where to find it. There is the power of inclusion, and the power of language, and the power of shared interests, and the power of coalition. Power is all around you to draw upon, but it is rarely raw, rarely visible." (10)

And so it is in the church. We rightly see ourselves as a body, with each member belonging to all the others (Romans 12:5). We are not mere appendages of some power broker leader, functionaries executing his will. Rather we are an organism. Presbyterian churches exemplify this with a plurality of elders and a system of checks and balances among congregations and higher governing bodies.

3) Getting the right people on the bus -- this is a challenge in the highly volunteer driven social sector -- Collins suggests getting around it by having high standards for new people coming on the bus. Don't fire the tenured folks (because you can't), but raise your standards for bringing new people on -- build a coalition of highly competent people and let the change organically develop.

This is challenging, for quite honestly in the presbyterian church, our nominating process encourages satisfaction of constituencies, rather than assessment of character and theological commitment (sure, we charge churches with providing officer training, but in many churches, that training is a mere formality, rather than a true process of discernment of calling). San Diego Presbytery has done some interesting work with their "essential tenets" documents for officer training, and yet there is still so much more that congregations could do. Let this one percolate in your brain for a while, for I have no easy answers.

4) The Hedgehog concept without a profit motive -- Rather than asking what drives your economic engine, ask what drives your resource engine -- what gets volunteers out of bed in the morning, what brings grant dollars, what compelling stories motivate people to voluntarily give of their time and talent? Sounds like Stewardship to me, and not just an annual fundraising drive, but real whole life stewardship. This is the kind of stuff we ought to excel at.

5) The flywheel -- building your brand. Every organization has a brand, like it or not. It is built in every interaction, every deed, every day. Congregations (and denominations) have to be aware of this.

So, now that I've summarized the main points of the book, why go out and buy it? Because Collins gives real life illustrations that breathe vitality into the concepts -- he makes it possible to say "We can do that" -- his writing crackles in the imagination and inspires us to dream greater dreams for our congregations.

One thing he skipped, that I think is a spot of hope: the concept of "Face the Brutal Facts -- but never lose hope" has special application to churches. This is our great gift as Presbyterians -- we believe in the soveriegnty of the Living God. In the face of adversity, we can have hope and confidence that our trials and challenges will not completely crush us -- the kingdom will endure. It's Psalm 121; it's Heidelberg Catechism question 1 "What is your only comfort, in life and in death? That I belong -- body and soul, in life and in death -- not to myself but to my faithful savior, Jesus Christ...." And that's a comforting thought indeed.

For your edification, here's more Christian Commentary on the monograph:
Tony Morgan
Bill Kinnon

Soli Deo Gloria