Friday, June 4, 2010

Learning - The Power of Operations and Systems

This morning I was on the phone with my operations counterpart for the Great Plains Region of Campus Crusade. Andy is a veteran leader, both on campus and at the regional level. I'm grateful that we're going to be connecting regularly in the months ahead so that I can learn from him and his experiences.

We talked a little about how we each came to hear God's call to serve in operations leadership. One of his big influences was Eric Swanson. Staff in the USCM have probably encountered something Eric has written at some point , as he is a visionary, strategist, leader, and author. He had a blog post back in 2005 that Andy referred me to as having helped clarify his thinking related to Ops. I think it's worth sharing:

The power of capacity is found in operations even more than strategy. When the right systems are put in place they provide the back end operations that allow multiple strategies and tactics to be more effective. Remember Moses' dilemma in Exodus 18 that he reviews in Numbers 1. He was totally exhausted yet prayed that God would multiply the Israelites a thousand times. It was his Mideanite father-in-law that advised him correctly regarding the selection, training and empowerment of leaders. No amount of talent, drive and hard work can overcome bad operational systems. Bad systems are those where even the best people are reduced to mediocrity. On the other hand good systems allow everybody to function at their maximum capacity and ability. Because Moses was freed up from much of his sun-up to sun-down responsibilities, he had time to do that which he needed to do...write the Pentatuch!

He goes on...

Good systems cause good things to happen even if no one is paying attention to them. If you have automatic withdrawal from your checking account to pay your regularly scheduled bills you understand the power of a good system. Operational systems wedge between your vision of what you want to see happen and what actually is happening. If the behaviors or outcomes are not aligned with the vision, the problem most likely lies in operational systems. Like an iceberg, the behavior is what you see on the surface but what's under the surface is what leaders need to pay attention to. Systems drive behavior. What do I mean?

You can read the rest here. He has two interesting anecdotes about two Campus Crusade leaders, one I had heard, one I had not! (Hint: both have a first name "Steve")

I love the Biblical examples. I also like how he points out that operations systems will enable our behaviors and outcomes to line up with the vision we have: reaching the campus today, the world tomorrow.

What do you think? Have you found operations to be key in achieving your vision? Personally? With your ministry?


  1. So you jumped into the blogosphere! This hit home for me: "Bad systems are those where even the best people are reduced to mediocrity." Glad you're going to help turn this around...

  2. "Operations: helping people avoid mediocrity one system at a time." Not sure that's the mission statement we're going for, but certainly truth in that statement! Thanks for commenting, Jennifer. I look forward to reading your blog in the near future. ;)