“Everyone wants to come and work in Liverpool”, an old friend and canon of a cathedral in another diocese, told me after recently meeting some of the senior staff of the Diocese of Liverpool. I have been privileged to serve in York, Portsmouth and Southwark dioceses before working here. They were all wonderful places to work, among good, holy, serious people. There does, though, seem to be a particular energy and life around the diocese of Liverpool at this point of time. I’m not sure exactly why that is but many of the people I speak to quote Eugene Peterson’s “A long obedience in the same direction.” There is something purposeful, as well as united, about the way people work together, not polarised or defending a corner but genuinely seeking the common good.
There is a sort of phobia in some parts of the church to good management. I don’t entirely understand why that is. Perhaps we should just call it ‘good stewardship‘ and the biblical language would help us get over that phobia? I have benefitted hugely from learning management skills in my career in education and I know that there is much that I still have to learn. I think one of the reasons for the energy in the diocese is precisely that the management is done well, and that frees up the energy to be creative, to do new and interesting things.
As Head teacher I always ensured that all staff at the school engaged in reading books in common. Sharing books enabled us to have a shared language, it gave us a vocabulary for talking about our work. One of those books, in the first term of my headship, was Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. His son Sean is one of the author’s of The Four Disciples of Execution (4DX), a book, in the same genre, of advice for leading and managing organisations. This book has been required reading for some of us exercising leadership and management in the diocese for the last few weeks and will be one of the tools we use on our residential conference over the next few days.
For those who suffer from management-phobia there is no doubt much to lampoon in the book. It is very American, the message is really quite simple but is repeated numerous times, each time describing in a new way or with new examples where the techniques suggested have resulted in positive outcomes. There are even QR links to little videos where the people referred to describe their experiences. These people all have better hair and whiter teeth than the average European.
It is, however, an excellent book. One of the key things that make the book so excellent is that the techniques it describes are counter-intuitive. This is not just ‘common sense’.
Four principles underly the processes described:
The book uses ‘whirlwind’ to describe all the things that have to be done on a day to day basis to keep the organisation running. Stepping out of the whirwind or, at least, not being controlled by it leads to the need for the Four Disciplines themselves:
Disciple 1: Focus on Wildly Important Goals
Of course, this gains the acronym WIG. You will either be the sort of person that likes acronyms or not …
A goal so important that not achieving it makes other achievements inconsequential.
- No team should set / focus on more than 2 WIG’s at the same time
- The battles you choose must win the war (organisational WIG)
- DON’T ASK: What are all the things I must do to win this war
- DO ASK: What are the fewest battles necessary to win this war.
- Senior Level leaders can veto but not dictate what the sub WIG’s
- The level of engagement in creating the WIG will = the level of commitment to achieving it.
- All WIG’s must be in the form of X to Y by when. (Source)
Discipline 2: Act on All Lead Measures
I think this may be the most difficult of the 4 disciplines – although the authors would probably suggest that keeping the number of goals to 1 or 2 is equally challenging. ‘Lead measures’ are those that will create the change desired; ‘lag measures’ are those that indicate where you have got to. So, in schools, exam results are always lag measures while the number of children taking up French might be a lead measure leading to the goal of improving the school’s EBacc score.
Discipline 3: keep a compelling scoreboard
A key element of the scorecard is that it is intended to be motivating rather than a stick to beat people with. The players should be involved in designing and to agreeing the scorecard, it should include relatively few measures.
Discipline 4: Create a cadence of accountability
This is very good language indeed. This should always be about what ‘I’ will do, can do. Very regular (weekly or fortnightly) and short (20-30 minutes) meetings. Tasks must be completable in a short space of time and must lead to moving the lead measures.
We are fortunate in the diocese in having a compelling vision: Bigger Church, bigger difference: More people knowing Jesus, more justice in the world. My task, having responsibility for our 119 schools, is to ensure that we deliver this vision. There is a long way to go in working out exactly what that might look like, but the language, processes and to some extent structures of this book create a means of doing that and a recognition from everyone that our schools are contributing to that diocesan vision. After all, there is little that is going to create more justice than giving the children in our schools the tools and qualifications to break out of cycles of poverty and underachievement where they exist. Sharing the language of this book helps me join in a conversation with people doing jobs vastly different to mine – vocations, congregations, finance.
I profoundly believe that God is as present in the good management of our schools, all be it in a different way, as he is when I celebrate Mass or pray the Office. Our meetings will be surrounded by prayer and worship. I know that everyone present is committed to the Gospel, to knowing Jesus and making Jesus known. Our shared management is a shared stewardship of the inheritance we have received: a long obedience in the same direction.