Getting the leverage into R&R

Who could argue with Renewal and Reform’s stated purpose: ‘the re-evangelisation of England?’

The Church ought to be passionately interested in evangelisation, Jesus did after all mandate His followers to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28, 19). According to St. Matthew these were Jesus’ last words to his apostles.

It is fit, right and proper, to paraphrase from Poldark (t’aint fit, t’aint right, t’aint proper), that Renewal and Reform seeks to honour the Great Commission. And, yes, R &R is also correct in stressing that this will require having the right resources, both human and financial, in the right places in order to achieve the stated aim, the re-evangelisation of England; that is all of England.

In order to (re) evangelize England in its entirety the C of E needs to take seriously the claims of geography, both physical and human and, demography. It needs to reach into every nook, cranny and, hidden corner in this land we call England.

The Bishop of Burnley, correctly, stressed this point in an excellent article by Madeleine Davies (‘Funding decision sharpens debate about the vision’) in last week’s Church Times arguing that: ‘We need to think very carefully about what a healthy state church is.’

I would want to suggest, once again, that a healthy state church is one that reaches into every nook, cranny and, hidden corner in this land we call England!

A national church is one that takes seriously the hard and dirty work of holiness.

Strategic development finance will be made available from the Church Commissioners to dioceses on the basis of successful bids. Now, it is true that every patch of land in England is part of a diocese but, this does not mean that the diocese is able to reach each and every person in England.

So I have a nagging concern: are diocesan bids the best way to ensure that all nooks, crannies and hidden corners are accessed? Can our prison ministry, our ministry to the armed services, to the terminally ill or those in residential education be best served through the process of diocesan bids? If not, is it too late to re engineer or modify the process in some way, so the Church of England can really re-evangelize all of England?

The Church of England also needs to develop new ways of assessing projects building in a several guiding concepts or, ‘evangelistic virtues.’

Projects should be only invested in on the basis that they are generative, that is to say they are capable of giving birth to other new initiatives, thereby maximizing the Return on Resources Employed. Projects that are only ever capable of being successful on a standalone basis should be rejected, however glossy they look and feel; only those initiatives which contribute to the meta purpose (the re-evangelisation of all of England) should be considered.

Those charged with assessing bids need to make sure that they are capable of discerning between the shiny and stand alone and, the dull yet generative. Does the C of E have these skills?

Projects should also be capable of replication. Arun Arora the C of E’s Director of Communications made precisely this point, again in Madeleine Davies’s article:

‘However, for every project, we would expect there to be either evidence that it has worked in another setting, or, if it is more innovative, a logical and well thought through rationale for how the proposed project or activity will deliver the anticipated outcomes.

Projects that are both generative and capable of replication possess that mystical quality called leverage. It is through leverage that maximum returns, in accordance with the stated purpose, may be achieved.

So the panel of assessors (does such a thing exist – if not should it?) should always seek to identify whether an individual proposal possesses what we might think of as ‘structural leverage.’ If it doesn’t all the project can ever be is successful, on a standalone basis, and therefore of limited real value to R&R’s overall stated purpose.

I would also like to encourage those charged with assessing bids to consider the project in isolation from its leadership.

Now, I fully accept the need for good leadership but, if a project is only capable of succeeding because of its leadership then it may be highly unlikely that the project will meet the requirements to be both generative and replicable because, too much of the anticipated return  is invested in the individual and, insufficient in the project itself.

Strong, decisive, alpha leadership can, in the short-term, make a project or initiative look good and, can achieve short-term results that exceed the real project potential. It is therefore vitally important that projects are judged on their own merits.

Leadership can always be deployed to manage projects and initiatives that meet the requirements for investment if required, as frequently occurs in the world of venture capital (which is R&R’s world!) but,  as already stated, ‘leader lead projects’ are best avoided. By definition they lack the level of leverage required to contribute to R&R’s meta purpose.

We mustn’t, in the C of E, allow ourselves to be seduced by the notion of the charismatic leader-led initiative; the temptation will be there! Buyer be warned! In the world of investment management, my old business, significant amounts of money have been lost in backing charismatic, high profile, leaders in the mistaken belief that they possess the midas touch, and are capable of turning every project into a pot of gold. Even if they do succeed such leaders tend not to be very good at sprinkling others with gold dust and distributing more widely the spoils of ‘their’ success.

Finally we need to be realistic. Not every project will succeed. However, every project is there to be learnt from. In business the phrase ‘first user advantage’ is often used. The reality is, however, that is frequently better to be the second, or even third , participant to enter into a market. Why? Because, the ‘first mover,’ by necessity bears the full cost of innovation. Sometimes the first mover ‘lucks out,’ but not normally. The basic idea, concept or product was often good but the operational difficulties of bringing the product or service to market weren’t fully realized or anticipated. The second mover has the opportunity to watch and learn from the mistakes of the so-called first mover. The good news for the C of E is that it isn’t in the competition business and, therefore can genuinely learn from and improve upon earlier projects and initiatives, in fact it will need to develop the systems to do so in order to succeed in its objective; the re-evangelisation of England!

So if R&R is to succeed it needs to ensure that all of the projects it invests in have real, missional, leverage. For a project to have leverage it must be both generative and replicable. In a learning culture it is accepted that the first mover may fail, but, may also lay fertile ground for those following. Those assessing bids must differentiate between project and leader lead initiatives and,  methods must be found to ensure that those who reside outside normal diocesan structures are not simply ignoredFinally the success of R&R will be contingent on accepting that a healthy state church is one that reaches into every nook, cranny and, hidden corner in this land we call England! 







Management, Leadership, Renewal & Reform

Let me be upfront and honest: I believe that Church of England can, and should, draw on insights from the management sciences – with the stress on sciences (the genuinely and demonstrably tried and tested)- through the Renewal and Reform initiative. It should do so with reference to the component of the initiative which deals with mission and evangelism and, it should do so in relation to the training of ‘senior leaders.’ There: I have said it!

In fact I haven’t just said it I have written about it, in the Church Times. In my article ‘One Church’s Mission, but many opportunities,’  published on 23rd September I argued that the C of E needed to ‘craft’ its own unique approach to identifying and funding mission projects through blending insights offered by three management thinkers: Michael Porter, Henry Mintzberg and, J.B. Quinn. I argued that adopting one approach would lead to a sub optimal outcome.

I further argued that unwittingly the Church of England was likely, in the absence of other theoretical points of reference, to select a top down generic approach which by itself would not be capable of producing significant, epoch changing, returns. The desire for epoch changing returns, let us not forget, is the catalyst for R&R.

So yes, in the sphere of strategy I believe, with every fiber of my being, that the C of E can learn from the management sciences, but that in doing so it must sort out the wheat from the chaff and, must not be blinded by current, and obvious, possibilities; HTB style plants for example. Yes, carry on with such initiatives but let’s not render them ‘the strategy.’ That would be an act of lazy thinking and reckless folly.

The C of E must also look for emerging possibilities and, interesting opportunities on the periphery of the Church. In doing so it should make sure it understands the insights offered by Mintzberg and Quinn who ask for a high degree of sophistication from strategic thinkers. Strategy development is hard work and requires leaders to develop both peripheral vision and, the ability to identify, early on, emerging opportunities.

Strategy and strategy development is of course only one area that the Management Sciences can add value to the Church of England.

The C of E can, and again, should, follow best practice in the fields of governance and finance. In my view – and I know others will disagree – Cathedral Deans, Heads of Theological Colleges, Directors of Mission Agencies and, Diocesan Secretaries should have highly developed skills in the fields of finance and governance. The good news is that there is no need to send them on a ‘Mini MBA’ (NOT THAT SUCH A THING EXISTS & whoever though up the term for the purposes of branding needs taking outside and…… ever so gently put right!). A couple of short, three day, courses with a body like the I.O.D. would do the trick, at a very competitive price!

There are some folk, misguided I think, who suggest that painting a broad picture (vision) of where to take the church and, the hard task of nuts and bolts financial management are somehow opposed. I don’t accept this view.

Vision without the content of financial management and the wrap around of strong governance is in reality just a dream; a pipe dream. We don’t want, or deserve, leaders in the C of E who are, in the words of Supertramp, ‘nothing but a dreamer,’ (I used to play this song in my MBA lectures!) But strategy, vision, finance and governance alone won’t secure R&R’s aims. For R&R to really succeed effective leadership is also required.

I would want, at the outset, to stress that the Church of England, should very selectively draw from the myriad leadership theories, and theorists, at its disposal. Leadership is a relatively new area of study and much of what is offered is pretty unscientific in nature. There is a real tendency to over value what is currently in vogue; forgetting that today’s success is frequently tomorrow’s failure.

For example the businesses and business leaders cited by the likes of Tom Peters and Jim Collins in their blockbuster popular management offerings (In Search of Excellence and From Good to Great) appeared to be on top of their game, when promoted as examples of best practice, and then……..? And, then it all went horribly wrong! Such businesses and individual business leaders proved to be neither excellent or great!

Mintzberg, one of the most sophisticated management thinkers of contemporary times (his books include the Strategy Safari and Managers Not MBA’s – he refuses to each on MIT’s MBA – surely food for thought?)  has written that: ‘There is a terrible bias in today’s management literature toward the current, the latest, the hottest. This does a disservice, not only to those wonderful old writers, but especially to the readers who are offered the trivial new instead of the significant old.’

So here is a question to ponder: ‘how would we know when we are being seduced by the trivial new?’  Would those agreeing the curriculum know, would those identified for, or already in, training know? After all being seduced is, I presume, enjoyable? Seduction tickles the ego. Harsh as it sounds and,as Martyn Percy has commented, I am not sure that student feedback is a particularly good metric of value; not that I would wish participants to sit through hours of misery!

C.S. Lewis also warned about being too quick to run with the latest and hottest. This is what he wrote:

‘Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But, if he must only read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old……every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We, all therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And, that means the old books……..Not of course that there is any magic in the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But, not the same mistakes……Two heads are better than one, not because one is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction.’ 

I would want to gently suggest that a lesson we humans seem determined not to learn from is our propensity to be seduced by the ‘trivial new.’ It is a mistake the Church of England should seek to avoid.

It is also worth considering that the average length of tenure for the CEO of a Fortune 500 business is less than five years. In the U.K. the figure is even worse, with Chief Executives remaining in post for a dismal 3.7 years. The average life span of a company quoted on the US stock market is just eighteen years. In the U.K. the FTSE 100 has recently hit a new high and yet less than half of the businesses that were in the FTSE 100 in 1999, its previous high, are still members of the ‘big boys club.’

The point is this: businesses and individual business leaders  do not have a history of producing a never ceasing pattern of long-term returns. Far from it. Failure, fragmentation and reorientation are the norm. In a business reorientation, changing the core product offering, selling out to a potential buyer and other exit strategies are all viable alternatives; in the church they are not!

So we need to exercise caution when borrowing from the management sciences and, especially when considering leadership.

But, I hear you argue, we can also learn a lot about leadership (and strategy development) from executives working in the public and not for profit sectors. Yes, we can. BUT, we should also recognise that longevity is not a feature of leadership in the not for profit sector. So what I would say to the C of E is simply this: ‘buyer beware.’ 

And,we should also be realistic about our own strengths. Having worked worked in the private sector at a senior, executive, level then in a business school and, finally in the Church of England I would want to stress that the management and leadership of the Church of England is at least as good as anything found ‘out there,’ in business and, the not for profit sector. But, for some reason we, in the C of E, seemed determined to believe otherwise; I have no idea why because in fact our leadership is in many ways it is better both in terms of its effectiveness and the level of virtue involved in the leadership process.

Having said that I do hope that Brown, Trevino and Harrison’s 2005 work on good, effective and, ethical leadership is on the curriculum for those identified for senior leadership positions in the Church of England! Go on, Google it!

Accepting the notion that leadership in the C of E is at least as good (where good leadership refers to the combination of effectiveness in delivery of outcome and, virtue in the process of engagement) as anything found in the secular sphere does not, of course, mean that we, in the C of E, shouldn’t seek to continually up our skills (the Japanese have a management theory for this – it is called Kaizen). Nor does it mean we should operate in our own bubble refuting all insights from other disciplines but it does mean we should be careful, and I would add, just a little bit more confident, in ourselves as we seek to develop our leaders of the future.

In developing our own bespoke curriculum we should draw extensively on our own leadership tradition whilst also considering the most suitable insights from the ‘secular’ world (I have suggested four management theorists in this piece, and one concept.) We should also partner with the most appropriate training partners (I have suggested the IOD as well as business schools).

The C of E needs to craft its own distinct approach to both strategy development and, leadership training. The epoch changing aims of R&R demand nothing less.