UMC’s Democratic Process Dismissed as “Rigamarole”
When an organization’s executives approach a corporate change consultant, one of the very first things the consultant asks is how they want the organization to change. The consultant asks the client what kind of organizational culture they envision for the future.
This means that the Apex people didn’t pull a reform package off the shelf at random, although the general outline is well established. They were told exactly what kind of operating environment the UMC leadership wanted in the future. Their goal was the creation of a new line of authority, one to bypass the Annual and General Conferences, which are reputedly guilty of debating legislation at glacial speeds.
Fred Miller, a member of FUMC in Chatham, MA, and CEO of The Chatham Group (a corporate change consulting firm), was understandably a key member of the CTA Steering Team, and very probably a key mapper of strategic goals. This plan wasn’t minted just a year or two ago. These ideas have undoubtedly been in the hopper for years, even decades. Leadership’s ”dream list” (CTA, 11) was outlined to Apex. Then Apex, the so-called “independent” consultant, packaged a report for our review, or at least our consent. The entire Call to Action Manifesto is a PR job, and we are the audience.
This is how Miller’s Chatham Group describes part of their philosophy as a corporate change consulting service.
“Our diversity of expertise produces innovative, holistic solutions to external and internal barriers.” (emphasis added)
Organizations face many more internal barriers to change than exterior. And it is people who resist change. Changing structures means changing how people function and relate to one another. Orangutans are skeptical of changes in their cages, as bards of old used to sing. “Internal barriers” — that’s us, or some of us.
An organizational change expert at Harvard Business School has developed what is called Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model.” Step 5 is to “Remove Obstacles.” One commentator described step 5 this way.
• Identify people who are resisting the change, and help them see what’s needed.
• Take action to quickly remove barriers (human or otherwise).
The obstacles in Kotter are identical to the barriers in Apex. The main institutional barriers to stream-lined authority are the General and Annual Conferences, all of which are dominated by people who…talk for a living. The fact that the “Call to Action” views the UMC’s democratic structures as barriers and obstacles to change is clear.
Bishop Palmer described the UMC’s democratic process as “rigamarole” that interfered with the “capacity to make certain maneuvers, decisions, movements, that may not happen in the timely, every-four-year cycle that’s outlined in the Book of Discipline.”
Forgive me, but the persistent vagueness regarding what, exactly, can’t be done under the present “rules” is not reassuring. Please, let’s address that uneasiness and worry that accompanies change, uneasiness and worry that were anticipated by the the Bishops, the Steering Team, Towers Watson, and Apex. Help us out a little here.
Please give us some examples of the kinds of “maneuvers, decisions, movements” that require a rule change and the authority to do. Provide some examples of “maneuvers, decisions, movements,” that you wished you could have done in, say, 2000, things you couldn’t do because you were hamstrung by rules. And I have to confess that I am not reassured by your explicit exhortation to courageously break existing rules. (But then I’ll bet that reassuring everybody isn’t a goal, is it? I’m reminded of Thin Lizzy’s hit, “The Boys are Back in Town.”)
The Apex Appendix says that “the Church will eventually have many real estate assets to redeploy,” and that there’s a “question of whether to do this proactively or reactively.” (CTA, 174) Do the “maneuvers, decisions, movements” for which you want authority include the “proactive redeployment” of real estate assets before the real estate market bottoms out again? Closing churches with 100 members when your property management people say, “Now would be a good time to sell the bottom 2%”?
Let me clarify something. The following sentence does not appear in the “Call to Action,” but legitimately belongs to the follow-up process. “Take action to quickly remove barriers (human or otherwise).” Remember The Chatham Group claim that inspires confidence in prospective corporate clients: ”Our diversity of expertise produces innovative, holistic solutions to external and internal barriers.” Does this mainly concern “sanctions” against underperforming bishops? (CTA, 22)
I don’t know whether the UMC will be relying on Apex or The Chatham Group as this process unfolds, whether someone is on retainer for the next ten years or what, but can anyone describe the “innovative, holistic solutions” to the problem of “internal barriers” vis-à-vis human assets? Current, existing human assets? These are problems you should have discussed in your meetings.
(I am curious about the sanctions against bishops. What form would they take? Hopefully, however, they won’t have to levy sanctions against anyone.)
But the real request is this: Please provide some concrete examples of what should have been done 5 or 10 years ago had this stream-lined executive authority been in place. The Steering Team has obviously given this a lot of thought, so please tell us what kinds of “maneuvers, decisions, movements” are anticipated in the future that require us to bypass the “rigamarole” of the General and Annual Conferences.
Obviously the UMC has pressing financial responsibilities. The Board of Pension and Health Benefits faces a grim financial picture. The 2012 General Conference looks to be short more than $3 million.
But financial pressures are secondary in the Call to Action. The “perceived distance” within the UMC is the really big problem. If the recommendations in the CTA Manifesto are implemented, the first order of business for many will be to shut down Claremont and the General Board of Church and Society. Dig a little and I think you’ll find Good News and the IRD have a hand in this.
Forgive me if this post has a little more bite than necessary, but accountability works both ways. We are being asked to surrender some serious democratic prerogatives here, the ends of which do not suffer from “clarity.” If Towers Watson and Apex earned the $500,000 that the Connectional Table anted up for this report (CTA, 32), then the ”Headline” talking points in the Call to Action should have been run past more than one focus group.
Is that the real problem? That the real motives behind the enhanced “executive function” just didn’t go over well in the focus groups?
They’ve said in the Call to Action that they want more clarity and trust, less cynicism. Can anyone tell us what they have in mind? Or have I pretty much summed it up? I keep hoping that somehow I’ve misread the documents, but you need to look at the fine print.
It’s there for a reason.
[To see a complete list of Call to Action posts, click here.]