Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Bullying, Bureaucracy, Vague Values?

Do we need a load of bureaucracy to tackle workplace injustice? At heart I am a swashbuckling Cavalier, who would like everything as easy as possible. Too much bureaucracy can actually foul up a process with excess semi-relevant information, and procedures that paralyse action. Ask any police officer. Maybe Bureaucracy is just a standard human activity, like politics, cooking, sex, or religion. If so, there’s good bureaucracy and bad bureaucracy. Small and effective beats big and cumbersone every time. At its best, like electricty in a home, you should be unaware of bureaucracy as a thing in itself. It should just be working away in the background. Ye shall know how good or bad it is by its fruits.

There’s something disturbing about playing off trust against audit trails. Up to the 1850’s you could be a doctor in England by self-definition. Today doctors have to go to medical school and pass exams. There’s far more than a bit of paper involved in the healing art, of course, but the paperwork actually increases, not reduces, my trust when I go to the surgery, as well as reminding my doctor of the story so far. Medical standardization mustn’t stifle creative research, or, even more importantly awareness of the patient as a person, but without some standardization we’d be back where we were in the 1850’s.

How vague are the positive values I suggested were the antidote to cultures of fear and intimidation — diversity, equality, respect? Call them anything you like, but
  1. the logic of the Day of Pentecost implies the Church isn’t meant to be definitively homogenized around any particular culture, but incarnate in many cultures. It takes a whole world truly to know Christ.

  2. Jesus had strong views on equality: “call no man Father, for you have one Father and you are brothers.” This was no incidental soundbite, but the cornerstone of a new philosophy of leadership that was not optional. Where the institutional Church has not been wholehearted or disciplined at implemeting that philosophy, it has suffered.

  3. Respect, or the Golden Rule, is the centrepiece of the Sermon on the Mount. Niceness and good intentnions are no kind of substitute for justice. Ask the prophet Amos. His standard is the plumb line, and applying that standard doesn’t happen by accident.
Actually, I don’t see anything vague about these values at all. Life is full of practical opportunities to apply them. What’s truly vague is assuming “anything we do is bound to be OK because we are, after all, the Church, and we’ve been doing it for years...” A Church that is always being reformed has to be healthier than one that thinks it’s arrived.

I think the best way of defending the Church is for it to be authentically and recognizably walking in the way of Jesus Christ.

That means putting in serious, intentional work to focus on and apply these simple gospel values, in ways that can be measured. This involves rejecting deceit, self-deception, corruption and manipulation in our life together, in any practical way that presents itself. And a Church which is always being reformed will, by grace, come closer to being what it was called to be. It will be more missionally attractive than one that is content simply to coast on, with occasional kicking and screaming when it’s caught out.

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Sam Charles Norton said...

"That means putting in serious, intentional work to focus on and apply these simple gospel values, in ways that can be measured..."
Can I raise a gentle question mark about this? A management consultant friend of mine is fond of saying 'what gets measured gets done' - which I think is true, and is useful in a business context. Yet how to measure growth in grace? I'd accept that measurement has a place, eg looking at growth or decline in numbers, but it cannot be the final marker. A healthy church will grow, but a growing church (good measurements) is not necessarily healthy; and also, sometimes, a church has to experience a loss of growth before growing again (John 15)

Anonymous said...

from Adrian Copping
Very helpful blog I think - I often wonder whether we get the bureaucracy we deserve by our attitude to it - compare the French bureaucratic culture to ours (and I speak as a former NHS 'bureaucrat') - over there it may be held to be infuriating in some respects but it is also well paid, well trained for, clear that its function is of service and, perhaps most importantly, well respected.
I agree with everything of what you say in relation to church life but just one little phrase rang my loudest alarm bell - the bit about applying Gospel values 'in ways that can be measured'. As an ex-NHS bureaucrat and someone interested in how church works I am always conscious that, if we are not careful, we forget that some things are more easily measured than others - and a lesson from both public and private sector bureaucracy is that that which is most easily measurable IS most meaured - and since pleasing measurements are often what makes bureaucrats smile, it is upon these such measurable things that activity tends to focus - sometimes at the expense of equally important but less quantifiable activities.
That's no argument for not holding up the plumb line - just a plea for caution!

Erika Baker said...

I couldn't agree with your more!
But isn't one of the problems that the church isn't selling a product that can be measured, but an invisible, intangible "way of life"?

In any major church dispute people of both sides have accused each other of deceit and self-deception.

How can we be genuinely accountable, in an environment where not following the ways of the world is a badge of honour?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Sorry, Erika, I'm splitting comment into three so as not to run out room. As historian, I completely agree about every Church disputant that ever was accusing the other lot of deceit and self-deception. Having said which, by a plumb line standard, with the benefit of hindsight, some did engage in more D & s-D than others, I suppose. Assessing this is another way Church Historians judge the world!

But your last question is very haunting. Christians easily fall back on the fiction we can treat others with dignity whilst hanging onto the privilege of assessing them entirely in our own terms, rather than taking them in their own terms as the people they are. That's why some exernal measure is necessary, or we simply self-deceive all the time.

I'm trying to redesign a group process to understand equality, diversity and alignment with our values for our diocese, out of our old Racial Justice Committee. It's not easy, but the work goes on, and I think it does matter and have positive implications for everybody with whom we have to do.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks for comments, as I emerge from a rather snowed under couple of days...

Sam,I puzzle over the good and bad results of working in a very low-metrics environment. I have no will to set targets for colleagues ("save 17 souls this month or face a pay cut...") and quite see the problem. Jim Collins points out in his famous monograph on Good to Great in the Non-Profit sector, a lot of metricable units (money etc) are inputs not outputs in charities anyway. The banking crisis has shown us the limits of over-metricated working environments where people play the system and pursue the detail at the expense of the welfare of the whole.

That said, having no recognised metrics doesn't banish metrics. People just make up their own, from people who meet you at a party and ask "have you got a large congregation?" to clergy who feel a vague sense of failure about everything they do, partly because they have no way of knowing how much difference it makes to anyone. There's an interesting idea in this month's HBR, suggesting high depression about work is directly related not to sales, or pay, or even recognition, but to being able to feel we are making forward progress. Banish all metrics, and it's hard to see how that basic human need can be fulfilled for clergy, thus condemning them, Teresa M Amabile, Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration at Harvard would say, to a life of perpetual depression! So what's new, you may say...

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Adrian, thanks so much for putting in a word for bureaucrats. Bishop Patrick Rodger pointed out to me years ago a growing tendency to use the designation "bureaucrat" as a dehumanising label, a means of sanitizing spitefulness that you wouldn't direct to a real individual, by making it rage against the system. The French comparison is very interesting. It would also hold for engineers. I'd hate to find us in a target-driven culture, which has wreaked serious havoc in education (and banking??!) among other fields.

Thank you above all for the point about the things most easily measured being the focus of attention. I see exactly what you mean. Shades of "If your only tool is a hammer, you will treat every job like bashing in a nail"

I share the caution, and my tendency is, if I'm really honest with you, to go along with where we are! When a surprisingly positive figure comes up, I do try to let colleagues know if the information might encourage them, but that's not really a very intelligent way of using stats; of which we have but few. I'm very sheepish about making more use of them, though...

Maybe we're measuring the wrong things, and need to find a "new accountancy" about work in every field. One which scored for social, environmental and personal impact (but how could such a thing be done?) would certainly score vicars higher...

Canon Andrew Godsall said...

There are two things that seem immensely bureaucratic in the C of E at present: one is the legislation concerning women in the episcopate which seems to have been delayed in its journey through synod again. The other is the Anglican Covenant. We simply can't legislate away those who God has called to ministry, be they partnered gay people or women.
I've tried to apply your three helpful Gospel 'benchmarks' to these two bits of bureaucracy, and find that neither of them will survive much scrutiny. The college of bishops needs women for its own health and well being and that becomes clearer. I've been impressed today by reading Rosemary Lain-Priestley (Times) and Jane Hedges (Church Times). How long can the college go on without half of humanity represented? Do away with the bureaucracy and let's move on to where we need to be please!
And the Covenant is doomed to failure when its prime intention is to exclude and marginalise. It's intentionally anti your three bench marks isn't it?

Ann Memmott said...

As a wise friend working in equality for another denomination said to me a few weeks back, outside society has almost without exception become 'church' for the marginalised and minority groups.

I know that if person X goes into a job, they can expect by law to have reasonable equal treatment, equal pay, equal access, equal promotion prospects. And if these are refused unfairly because of race, gender, disability or sexuality etc - and the firm will not listen to gentle reason thereafter, I know that the firm in question can face an unlimited fine if person X pursues the usual processes.

If ill treatment or neglect of them occurs, in theory the heads of that firm can face a prison sentence. It is a massive focus for industry. And of course industry still is far from perfect. But it means that outside society has, by and large, gotten used to diversity and equality etc over the last years, and we as a whole church are so often lagging behind.

In a church, the marginalised or different so often truly struggle to be accepted at all, and are too often told that the church just does things in a different way to the way they need, or is far too busy to help them.

We have guidance, yes, but who reads it, and who cares? I've often been told by clergy that unless they can read something in two minutes, they won't bother. When it's vulnerable people at stake, that's not a good thing.

Two months ago, I was told that a group of people with learning difficulties was laughed at in a church in another part of the country and told they weren't welcome as they couldn't contribute financially. One example amongst so very many, alas.

I'm very glad indeed that we have a Diocese which is willing to make that difference in looking at equality issues and making them 'real' for our churches and communities.

We're told that the very least of the parts of the body is vital for the rest. So it is indeed. If we harm through action or neglect even one person, we've done that to Jesus himself, it says. Sobering stuff for us all.

Archbeship Anthony said...

Hi All,

I personally feel that Bureaucracy get in the way of constructiveness. I hope these two descriptions of events prove it.

1 Yesterday Fri 15th Jan 2010 I had something returned from my insurance company with a compliment slip saying "received in error" the very documentation that they asked me to send to them. I then phoned them up to find out why they had returned it and then sent it back to them with the info they were missing. I also made a point of rubbing in the issue of Environmental Impact bu saying "I would hope that your company would not prejudge any claimant who uses recycled paper especially as the Government (all Political Parties) are going on about Environmental Waste. I am doing my part for the Environment and reusing sheets that are reasonably clean and not over creased especially if my printer takes it" I hope this goes above bureaucratic Standards. I think that a lot of Companies are lazy, in my view. There was no need to send it back to me. With Computer searches they could have easily typed he name or address on my letter and found my file. I am sure a couple of Phone calls would have been less environmentally damaging then sending it back to me and then me sending it in the post for a third journey, even If it does not quite fit the rules It would have been quicker too.

On anther occasion one of the Directors at work wanted me not to get Credit Card Statements at work despite the fact that most of the spending on it was work related and I was having problems claiming it back because of lost statements. She went down the official "Line Management Route" and by the time I the request got to me, It was hard to understand. If she had come straight to me, the problem would have been sorted out more quickly as she herself could have to me the exact problem that I was causing at the same time listened to my challenges (the biggest one claiming Expenses) and advised me of a possible solution, which she did anyway. I have Genuine Respect for all the Director of the Company I work for because of the practice of All Speaking to All.

I on the whole have great respect for rules and the need for rules, but sometimes feel that sticking to them strictly sometimes means people are inconvenienced more then they would be if people used the rulebook as a guideline.

I will be asking a few Police Officers about Bureaucracy and action being paralysed.

Many Thanks,
Anthony Tull

I look forward to seeing a response after mine - Third time lucky

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Andrew I understand your frustration and share it — but feel as much of the delay is political as bureaucratic. John Harvey Jones used to say {you can only get shot once." Removing all questions of dogma, however kindly it was meant, I'm not sure the pace has helped the minority who object to women in the Episcopate: we seem to have contrived a way of shooting them, if that's what's happening, that takes 20 years of continuous pain. Ecclesiologically, Ithe logical way would have been to start witht he Episcopate, not finish with it. That way you consider the ecclesiology before the pragmatics.

The Covenant is fascinating. On one level, I think everyone can see some clear understanding may be needed (apart from the heritage of being what Churchill used to call "English Speaking Peoples") to give coherence to the Anglican Communion. So far so good. Three big issues follow:

(1) When we descend from the mountain top and ask what should actually go in a Covenant document, everyone's got different needs. If the Catholic creeds and Scriptures are all we have in common, why not just say so? Less can be more... Stretching these to cover questions about ministry and anthropology about which the tradition says almost nothing, but erected by Chuch politicos into major shibboleths will almost inevitably wreck the whole process.

(2) The ancient ecclesiology of being basically autocephalous churches seems hopelessly incopherent in a mechanistic modern world. Trouble is we don't actually live in one of those any more! In a post-modern world, coral reef variety is actually a virtue, not a vice. One only has to look at the problems that beset the modern RC Church to see the virtues of travelling light. In the 1880's a lot of work went into what was called "a Lambeth patriarchate." Bad idea then (which is what was concuded). Barmy idea now.

(3) Unacknowledged motives increase the chance of unintended consequences. Historically the C of E has done intentnional ambiguity rather well. Can it do this with a Convenant? Simultaneously convince Right wing Nigerians that they are being given a big stick to extirpate gayness, and UK under 30's that the Church accepts people as the persons they are on a nondiscriminatory basis? I have always been rather inspired by"the Truth shall make you free." If we really believed this, how much of a tickbox superstructure would we need? Given our basic struggles to know how live with the norms we've got in creed and Scripture, I wonder whether we will do any better with new norms! It remains to be seen, and I hope it works.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Such good comments, it's taking me a comment a go to respond! a good problem to have. Ann, thanks for your friend's experience, which is a reall challenge to the way we would like to think of ourselves, and a reproach. There's a gap between reality and aspiration and targets, to quote a distinction Tony Blair used to make.

Jesus suggested the Kingdom was a place in which the first ard often last and the last first. That's not to suggest "do nothing," any more than the fact God knows what you want should do anything but encourage you to pray.

We had I Corinthians 12 in Church this morning, and the NT image of "body" is yet another powerful theological argument that inclusiveness is a core part of Christian tradition, not "Political Correctness run wild." The limb that says to the other limb "I have no need of you" is a prime example of getting it wrong.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Anthony, my best wishes in your struggle with excessive bureaucracy. The commercial Sector, like the legal profession, seems slightly retro about this. My question is how we draw the line between excessive and necessary.

One of the reasons a serious earthquake strikes Los Angeles and they have 72 deaths rather than the 200,000 in Haiti is, frankly, that they have the infrastructure and organisation to cope in LA (along with many other things).

So we need the kind of infrastructure that delivers benefits, but not the self-generating stuff you had from your insurance company. If I may say so, it feels as though you handled your expenses work incident as best as could be in the circumstances, and the all speaking to all policy has to be the right one. Maybe it will have a leavening effect on the whole concern as it runs its course over a few years.

PS Many Thanks for your excellent PowerPoint: I'd love to know the date of your Olney presentation. Art Beyond Belief ( have done some really interesting work with people on the Autism spectrum, enabling them to produce comic book format stories that convey graphically to someone who doesn't share their perspective what reality looks like from their perspective. I'll look forward to getting the Olney date.

Vinaigrette girl said...

You might want to consider measurement not from some external criteria but incorporating internal criteria as well, which might involve some FTF interviewing and exploring of conscience with a randomised sub-sample of those for whom you have responsibility. Results need not be particularised (I'd say get together with a well-known university's department of statistics and get some information of which methods of analysis allow you to work from small samples and what criteria need to be applied to the interview data you gather to make the analyses valid. SPSS and SAS both provide some options here, andt he whole thing need not cost the earth.)

However we dress it up to ourselves, we know when we have been unjust on purpose; and sub-sampling every year from your flock might help discern when unintentional but still wrong consequences have arisen from [mis]deeds and words. Focussing on standard metrics, which tend to be designed from the male extrovert point of view (they allow men to follow their tendency for self-advertisement), bypasses the ways in which grace operates, wherein dialogue between interior and exterior starts to occur and becomes manifest.

Re-reading the pithier comments about parliamentary draughtsmanship in the _Yes, Minister_ books (The Diaries of Jim Hacker) might come in handy, too; as well as the complete C. Northcote Parkinson. His lesser-known dictum, (that institutions focussing their spending not on people but on large shiny new buildings are signalling their imminent failure) seems to have been overlooked by a number of instiutions, some not a million miles from your diocese.

Vinaigrette girl said...

P.S.: If you don't want a strict statistical route for your interview questions, you could revert to Margaret Fell's encounter with Fox, who said:

"You will say Christ saith this, and the apostles say this, but what canst thou say?

Art thou a child of Light and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God?"

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