Feedback: The Biology of Communication
4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Romans 12:4-5 (NIV)
Due to the vast size and scope of the Baptist General Convention of Texas a clear communication loop stands as a critical factor for our future effectiveness. Communication is hard enough in a small family unit like mine with a household of women (a lovely wife and four beautiful daughters). Communication on a corporate level offers a staggering challenge to the best of leaders. This is especially true in a time of change when trust has been undermined. Brian Monitor in The Power of Agreement recommends as the best way to overcome lack of trust in a system is to “communicate, communicate, communicate!
One key factor in effective communication is the role of feedback. Feedback from “the body” helps to keep the “body” healthy. For instance when the fingertips touch a hot stove and warn the brain with a burning sensation to move now! In large organizations leaders need to find ways to gather and solicit vital feedback from the people at all levels in particular from those on the front lines.
As a pastor I bought into the traditional way of evaluating performance by counting “nickels and noses.” The monthly financial report and the Sunday School attendance report became for me the church “EKG.” Although these reports provide some bits of good information they fail miserably in telling the whole story. Trusting these reports alone is very similar to looking into a foggy mirror early in the morning. You can see the basic image, but you may want to clear the mirror before shaving!
The reason “nickels and noses” fall short as the best evaluation tool is simply the fact they are results rather than the symptoms. When people start voicing their perspective by staying home or withholding their money it is often too late to reclaim the relationship. The damage has already been done. When people have to get your attention by withholding their presence or their money someone has not been listening or paying attention.
If BGCT is going to reclaim its future it is critical that our churches be able to get the attention of our leadership without withholding their money. Good churches much like the good members of your local church will simply walk away rather than create a scene. They don’t want to be trouble makers or stir things up. So when these churches or leaders feel ignored it is easier to simply walk away quietly. We have seen this financial drain deeply cutting into our strength as a convention over the past several years.
If we are going to regain the trust of the rank and file church in our convention we need to become “active” listeners. This goes far beyond listening tours that often can turn into vision casting sessions. It means a fundamental change in how we do business. It means mobilizing our intentionally scattered staff to listen and build relationships with key leaders in every region. It means that when critical feedback comes in from the field that it is not ignored or explained away but is taken seriously. Can you imagine how quickly the “Valleygate” scandal could have been stopped if we would have listened to the pastors telling us we had serious problems. Granted we looked into it, and we were lied to, but it is obvious now that there was enough “smoke” to keep probing.
We have spent millions of CP dollars on call centers and strategist scattered across the state. We are pouring money down the drain if we don’t learn to listen to our people. They want us to succeed. They are our future. Listening must be a key factor in regain our footing for the future. Who knows we might learn something if we start listening to each other.
Those of us on the front lines need to be more proactive in sharing our viewpoints with those in decision making posts. We need to build good working relationships with our BGCT staff, Executive Board members, and convention officers. Telephone and email are good first steps, but face to face is always the best. I would also encourage us to share the good news as well as the bad. If the only time our leaders hear from us is when we are frustrated one can imagine how it will color our observations.
There have been those in Baptist life that have felt the Texas Baptist Committed have had too much influence into the shape and function of our convention. There is not doubt this well meaning organization has its stamp on the face of our convention, but I believe too often they were the only ones speaking up and speaking out in a consistent way. I don’t believe we need to diminished their valued voice I just believe we need to add to the conversation with other voices and other perspectives.