Wednesday 27 October 2010

HR, me Hearties!

“If you’re a professional pirate, you don’t have to wear a suit.” I learnt that from Muppet Treasure Island. Now I’ve been reading Peter Leeson’s semi-serious exploration of early eighteenth century piracy as an economic phenomenon. Blackbeard and chums were the pioneers of participative meritocracy. It turns out they were usually less violent and more mutual than you’d think, strictly for economic reasons. They were certainly better paid than legit sailors. Treasure was equally divided, but with slightly higher shares for the really key people.

There were two particular notables
  1. The Cap’n, of course. He managed the ship’s reputation, designed bloodthirsty flags to scare people into surrendering without a fight, made hard executive decsions about where to plunder, who to shoot and when, maimings and maroonings. The Cap’n got the parrot, but was also radically accountable. If the crew felt he wasn’t delivering, they marooned him. The elected Cap’n dealt with star Exec tactics within an (illegal) regulatory framework called articles of association, which everybody signed up to, laying down the ground rules.

  2. Enforcing the articles was the job of the Quartermaster. He (and very occasionally She) dealt with the enforcement of the rules, resolved disputes between pirates so that they didn’t damage the ship, dealt with health and safety, repairs, crew welfare, discipline and supplies. S/he also handled transitional arrangements between Cap’ns if the boss went mad, got shot, or fell overboard. Cap’n and Quartermaster were entirely dependent on each other to perform at a high level, or everybody got hanged.
To stay alive both jobs related to each other and were not entirely mutually exclusive, but there had to be great respect between the office holders, and both had to work together on the basis of mutual respect and giftedness shared. It’s called collaborative ministry.

Now I notice that a lot of human enterprises need these two different kinds of functions performed well and mutually. I can even think of teams of clergy and churchwardens who divvy up the work like this very effectively. But what history does not record is the existence of a kind of Uber or Super Cap’n who could somehow perform both roles simultaneously and effectively.

Now as I read person specs in parish profiles for new vicars, I notice a tendency to try and bag everything in a one-shot genius. People brainstorm lovely things about the best vicar they ever met, and roll it all up into a Poly-Combo Super Amazing Ask. S/he will be better at boiling the Gumbo than the cook, super navigator, entrepreneurial, rational-bureaucratic, inspiring storyteller, incisive questioner, ship’s doctor, carpenter and purser. Why, S/he even has to fly better than the ship’s parrot, whilst simutaneously making fewer waves than the ship’s Cat — and all this on cabin boy’s wages.

Not surprisingly this kind of recruitment usually disappoints. How could it not, when it’s all based on fantasy? It would more effective for the crew to work out answers to few more basic questions — what kind of ship is this? what kind of crew? what are we willing to forego in our Cap’n?

OK. Here’s a particular snare. The last Cap’n was very inspiring, but not terribly good or enthusiastic about swabbing the decks. So the cry ascends for a new Cap’n who is absolutely as inspiring, drum roll, but also far more infrastructural. What we recruit is a new cap’n who is slightly more infrastructural, slightly less strategic. We think we’re all going to be happy but before long we’re disappointed because s/he is not enough of either. And s/he gets fed up too, because s/he feels s/he’s simply expected to be everything in an unfocussed way. Which of course s/he is. Result disappointment. Another perfectly good vicar is semi-successfully forced into an artificial mould that kills off their giftedness and enthusiasm. And the cult of mediocrity notches up another skull, and lumbers on in its highly effective quest to take over the entire C of E.

So, if recruiting, ask, who are we looking for here? How is our lousy job going to fulfil anyone who’s up to doing it? How realistic are we being? What are we willing to do without? How will they fit in with the gifts and skills of everyone else? If you want an inspirer who is gong to inspire them? And if you want a quartermaster, who is going resource them, and do the inspirational star stuff in a genuinely collaborative way?


Unknown said...

Morning Boss unlike my experience of the flooring trade this all sounds. I am feeling short-changed now. "Excuse me Mssrs Allied and Carpetright, where's me inspiration and stuff, innit?"

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

The thing pirates didn't have to contend with was absentee merchants owning their ships. It was ofte the experience of dealing with them inspired pirates to round up their best people and run up the jolly roger...

or become a vicar?

Ann said...

For awhile I worked as deployment officer - now called transition officer - for the diocese. The amount of unrealistic expectations in the churches was astounding. Somehow they would hire someone at half time salary who would solve all their woes and return them to the glory days of the 1950s -- my job was giving them a reality check (or bite). I found Appreciative Inquiry a good beginning -- asking questions about when they had felt and thought "this is why I love this church" -- and discovering who and what made those times happen - usually themselves and not the rector/vicar. From there looking at what was working and the direction they wanted to continue and what gifts-skills a rector might bring to their lives together.

Gurdur said...

Unrealistic expectations have always been a problem for clergy, not just nowadays. It's also a job bound up with often a high degree of intimacy and emotions, so it's always going to be a high-risk job.

Then there's the over-selling of Christianity as a supposedly easy answer for everything that ails you. Again, that pust huge burdens on the clergy.

I might do a blog post on necessary training for the clergy, though you're all going to look huge askance at an atheist like me doing that. But then, on my own blog, at least I have all the necessary pirate smilies.

Doorkeeper said...

My hero - not only do you illustrate a sound point with Kermit but also Sam the American Eagle (they're CHURCH people, you know!)

We are a couple of years on from this scenario. Our PCC wanted the Archangel Gabriel, but a bit more worldly. Thanks, chaps, that was helpful.

I and my fellow Churchwarden undertook all the due diligence stuff but tacitly agreed to rely on gut instinct. On the day of the interview it was so flippin' obvious which of the candidates was to be our new Vicar, we hardly needed to discuss it. If we were pious (we're not, we're Churchwardens) we could say that we left it up to God. But don't tell the PCC - they still think we were working to their spec!

Charlie said...

I've long thought that the running of a ship is a good parallel of running a church, though I never really thought about pirate vessels before ... certainly some congregations are as difficult to control as a bunch of pirates.
I wonder if some of your episcopal colleagues could learn a bit from studying the role of an admiral commanding a fleet - he doesn't need to try and sail the ships himself, but he does need to send out clear signals.

Penelopepiscopal said...

Thank you for this post, Bishop! It it heartening ;-)
I am grateful especially for these two statements:
"Another perfectly good vicar is semi-successfully forced into an artificial mould that kills off their giftedness and enthusiasm" and
"How is our lousy job going to fulfil anyone who's up to doing it?"
Thank you for speaking that truth, that we clergy have desires, gifts, and ideas about our own ministry that ideally work in tandem with the parish's desires, gifts and ideas rather than simply in service to them.

Anonymous said...

Vinaigrette Girl here.

Predictably, I suppose, I shall hoist the flag of Beware the Binary Division of Labour flag, and tip my hat to the underlying paradigm.

Yes to clear signals; but yes to collaborative models, too. I'd like every PCC to play "I seek common ground" and "Car car" before drawing up a job spec for their next vicar. Children's games can be very informative.

Gurdur said...

Some thoughts of mine sparked partly by your blog post:

Clergy training, Part 1
Clergy training, Part 2

So far I've done them without pirate smilies, but next week I'll continue on the subject, and I will then make sure to incorporate your pirate motif.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Gurdur, Many many thanks (in haste after a busy weekend) for picking up my stray thoughts from here, and developing them so thoughtfully and constructively. It would be good sometime to pull some of all this together to help guide parish representatives and others involved, because you've put your finger, kindly, on so many aspects of this that people often rather forget, but that get them every time! Thanks again.

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