Friday, May 21, 2010

New job: 3 areas of focus

Four months ago I moved in to a new role (Director of Operations - Greater Northwest) with the ministry I work for (Campus Crusade for Christ), a role which for the last two years has been unfilled. As I've gotten a read on the "current reality", it seems there are three main things I need to be about for the next year on the job:

1. Clean up the messes - Last night, my wife and I were running errands while our kids were with the grandparents. As we were out until after the kids bedtime, upon arriving home we quickly put the kids to bed and retired upstairs for the night. What got missed in our evening ritual was cleaning up the kitchen, starting the dishwasher, and making sure everything was ready to go in the morning. Result? This morning we not only had to make breakfast for us and the kids (the usual), we also had to clean up the kitchen from the night before while doing so (not usual). Not a big deal, but it did create more stress to start the day and delayed getting to work this morning.

It's kind of similar with the job. Directing Operations for the region requires plenty, but even just a short period of neglect (which can partly be explained by number 2 below) creates a lot of additional work that needs to be done to even start getting after the main things. It could be financial decisions that need to be revisited, web and technologies that are withering on the vine, people that haven't had a leader to care for them the way they should, or just a lack of clarity in direction for the operations effort in our region.

2. Change the culture - By this, I mean how operations is viewed by staff and students within the northwest. The reason there are messes to clean up is the difficulty in finding people that are a) called to ministry, b) operationally capable/savvy, and c) are willing to focus on leading operationally. Most people that join staff do so to change lives by getting face to face with students and sharing with them from the Word. The word "Operations" seems to connote the opposite of ministry: mechanical, unrelational, distant (as opposed to organic, relational, and intimate). At least it did for me.

Fortunately, I don't think that characterization of operations need be true (though it certainly could). My desire is to help our staff, students, volunteers, and donors connect the dots between operations leadership/effectiveness and lives being changed and ministry capacity being expanded. Operations touches nearly everything we do in ministry (and that goes for churches, too) and has potential for tremendous innovation and impact all the way down to the life-on-life level. If we don't do it well, we'll find ourselves hamstrung, unable to grow to the point where we can realistically give every student a chance to know God through Jesus Christ. More about that in the future.

3. Increase communication - If you've played team sports, you know a warning sign for a team is when they stop communicating. Whether it's a baseball outfielder calling for a fly ball or a basketball defender calling out a screen, when there is great communication the team is going to perform at it's optimum level and be able to respond to emerging circumstances very quickly. Ministry may not be a team sport, but it is certainly a team effort.

While communication is just one area of operations, it seems like it has the most potential to provide huge, immediate wins. Social media/new technologies will certainly play a role here, but it is more philosophical. Few things build trust and a shared vision between people like good communication. And so much of ministry is communication

In a region that spans seven states and thousands of miles (from Alaska to Nevada), communication is going to be an issue. But you can just as easily not communicate with someone that's your next door neighbor. We need to learn how to communicate professionally in ways that help us all. Sharing and collaboration are buzz words right now, but I think it's for a reason. You can get a lot better at whatever you're doing a lot faster when you are not consistently reinventing the wheel. As a microcosm, I remember being in our staff meetings at WSU and having someone share about something they had been doing in ministry which was really getting results. "Why didn't you say anything?" was my thought. But then I realized: I'd never asked, and for them to volunteer and share could seem boastful. Those are two things we've got to overcome, but when we do cool things can happen. As my friend and operations co-laborer Matt McComas has said, "Get over yourself."

So those are the three things I've put my finger on so far. What do you think? Seem like they are in the ballpark?


  1. Good thoughts Darren. I love hearing your thoughts about what you're working on/dreaming about in your role.

    Helps everyone get to know you. Keep it up!

  2. Great post Darren. I love how you've couched your three priorities in leaders language, not operational-speak.

    One thing I've been thinking about is if we should stop using the word 'Operations'. It seems so many people get the wrong connotation from it. Some say, "what are you operating?" Others think we're a back office IT team or just the administrators.

    Ops has so much potential in building capacity and accelerating our mission. The words capacity and acceleration really resonate with me and are leadership words I try and use to help explain operations.

    I'd love to learn from you in how you communicate what ops is, isn't, and can do to facilitate the mission.

    Thanks for starting this blog.

  3. Thanks, guys. Really appreciate hearing from you both as two of my blogging, and operations, mentors.

    Russ, I talked to one of our national operations leaders about nomenclature, that is, why do we use such a dry word like Operations? He pointed out that, although the word doesn't carry a great deal of meaning to many of our staff (especially those that are new/young), it means a great deal to those in the fields of business and government. If you are recruiting them to become involved in the mission, either through giving or serving, talking about operations needs actually connects pretty strongly. Much has to do with context and who you are speaking with. Any business owner/leader is going to know operations is important. My question is, will they know it's important for ministry?

    So I agree. "What are you operating?" While I've never heard that question verbatim, I've certainly seen it float across peoples eyes. One person, when I told her I had moved from campus to take on the new role, asked "Is that a good thing?" She wasn't sure if I had been demoted or coerced in to the role...because who would want to do operations unless they were forced!

    Yes, I've found myself talking about capacity, innovation, and communication. I also describe the role that conferences/events have in changing lives...but even then it's a little tricky as it's the individual stories that create the vision. I'm sure I'll have additional to share on this front as I gain experience. Great to have others to share and learn from on this topic!