Church Life

The Professional Church: discipline (part 3)

Whatever the character trait you are looking for in a new hire, there is one quality above all that must be present in abundance. This quality is more fundamental than self-motivation, has a great impact than candor, and gets better results than efficient org charts.

This quality is discipline.

In the world of the Church we see personal discipline as the foundation stone of Christian living. After all, the word "disciple" means "One who is disciplined". In the business world, disciplined thought, action, governance, planning, and disciplined resource management is the key to profit and success. As social sector workers, instead of private sector, profit is not a measure of what we would label "Success". But even so, discipline remains the fundamental characteristic of any great parish, school, diocese, or other Catholic organization.

Quoting the influential Jim Collins:

"Mediocre companies rarely display the relentless culture of discipline - disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought and who take disciplined action - that we find in truly great companies. A culture of discipline is not a principle of business; it is a principle of greatness."

Collins wants to apply the main principles from his book Good to Great to the world of the non-profit, so he wrote a monograph called Good to Great for the Social Sectors. I draw from this small booklet because it addresses many of the problems faced in the parish.

 

How do we define greatness for a parish? 

In business, greatness would be measured in profits, revenues, market share, stock price, and the like, but that is not the case for the parish. There is a conflict between the inputs and outputs here. 

"The confusion between inputs and outputs stems from one of the primary differences between business and the social sectors. In business, money is both an input (a resource for achieving greatness) and an output (a measure of greatness). In the social sectors, money is only an input, and not a measure of greatness."

Do you want a better parish? Define what successful outputs you want to see, and understand what inputs and people will get you to those results. "First Who, then What", as Jim Collins always says, is crucial before defining mission and outputs because the right people will choose the right outputs and mission for your parish.

 

Disciplined Thought

Parish leaders need to understand the components of their parish achieving greatness. Greatness will look different for different churches or other organizations. Overall, though, this means that prayer and discernment needs to go into answering the question: How do we define greatness? What outputs, once acheived, lead us to being a great parish?

Disciplined thought is intentional and future-creating. Figuring out what your parish can be great at means not letting either the past, nor others define what greatness means for your organization. If you cannot be forward looking, anticipating changes in the community you serve, than your parish will only be mediocre. This means your employees need to responsive to those changes in the community and the culture at large. Youth ministers using 20 year old techniques are not reaching today's kids. Just because a tool, program, or talk worked in the past does not mean that it will continue to work in the future.

That is precisely why the new evangelization is so new, "new ardor, methods, and expressions" and new conditions of its targeted audience.

Disciplined thought not only means hitting the right outputs, but also being consistent enough to "rigorously assemble evidence- quantitative or qualitative- to track your progress." You have to be consistent. Evaluations are key, not only of your employees, but by your employees with one another and with their own programs. Everyone needs to know if the parish is improving, falling behind, or off track entirely.

Where is the baseline and how to build from here? is an example of disciplined thought.

 

Disciplined People

"First Who, then What." We need to understand the hiring process to have effective ministers. Hiring is hard, hard work and is probably the single most important thing you do as a boss. Here are some mistakes in the hiring process gleamed from the business world, especially from Jack Welch, former G.E. CEO.

First, do not run from patience in the hiring process. Take the time to get the references right and analyze those who seem too good to be true. Also judge characteristics of your team and see if the new hire would be a good fit.

Second, do not here those who, on paper, seem to perfectly fill your parish's "missing pieces." This is not the reason to hire someone, because you need to hire those who can carry your mission into new places. A leader does not want a person who can only solve yesterday’s problems. This goes to the "future-creating" aspect of disciplined thought.

Third, make sure you are not hiring people who are a lot like you. We are drawn to people who are similar to us, but this familiarity can blind the boss to big problems and warning signs that can be a disaster down the road. Team work does, to some degree, depend on personalities getting along, but getting along as peers and colleagues is more important than having buddies on your team.

The forth mistake is hiring someone with too much experience. "Don't hire someone because of their last job" as Jack Welch says. Too much experience may signal to you that a person has reached a dead-end in their career. They have lost energy, creativity, the drive to innovate, to risk, to try new things, to endure difficult times. Parish work is not easy. You want to hire people that desire to take whatever ministry they run or assist in running to the next level. Their past experience needs to be clearly understood as a launching pad, not a landing strip, for a person’s career.

Fifth, do not hire a person that has no emotional intelligence (maturity, poise, empathy). Conversations with people in the interview process can show whether or not they have social skills, leadership skills, and are able to understand social cues.

 

Conclusion

Building great organizations lies in great people, the right people, who are disciplined enough to understand what results matter, what does not, and how to effectively reach those goals. Parishes exist on the good will of the parishioners, on their time, treasure and talent. Hiring the right people and putting them in the right places is an integral part of stewardship. Wasting time and donated money with yesterday's ineffective programs or personnel is damaging, creates mediocrity among your staff, and can ultimately be sinful.

It ain't easy, but the cross never was supposed to be.