Thursday, April 29, 2010

Landlords of the UUA

Fifth in a series of posts about the April 2010 UUA Board meeting

I find most of the Carver style "ends" established by congregations, districts, and the UUA Board (that's me) rather "fluffy" -- who could disagree with "our congregations are intentionally multi-generational and multi-cultural"?

It took me awhile to realize they are supposed to be that high-level -- it is the President/CEO who makes them "real" by coming up with an operational definition that you can touch and feel. It is part of the latitude given to the President -- as long as this definition is "reasonable", it is good to go, even if it wasn't precisely what the Board thought it would be.

That's why I was disappointed in the operational definitions provided to the Board at the last meeting. Saying the ends were too interrelated to interpret separately, the board was given a strategic plan that appears to have little if any foundation in ends. It is not necessarily a bad plan, just one that makes it very difficult for the board to say "yes, we are moving toward these goals, and holding the president accountable to them on behalf of those who are the source of the Board's authority." For example, how exactly does the President operationalize "multi-generational" (a sore point around youth leadership, and the only place where this is addressed in the ends) and what programs is he providing that will insure we get there? The resulting conversation between the board and staff on these issues was pretty direct, and resulted in the president requesting more ongoing collaboration with the Board to get a greater meeting of the minds. The Board appoint three people to do this -- Nancy Barlett from Mid-South, Donna Harrison from the Southwestern Conference, and me.

Is this just about format, or something deeper? Since I often do my best thinking by analogy, I tried it in terms of a landlord/tenant relationship. Assume I have a house you want to rent, and we decide to express the rental relationship in Carver terms. I have certain values in play around the property: insure the value of the property is maintained, the neighbors are not disturbed by the you the renter, and the rent is paid on time. I could make sure all these happen by direct inspection (walk through the house annually, check with the neighbors) but what if that is not an option? What would I need to know from you to be comfortable that my values were not being violated, to insure what I thought was good renter behavior? So we start with operational definitions: rather than me providing a long list of dos and don'ts, you could tell me what you are willing to do to maintain the property value (for example), and I can decide if it is reasonable to me. I may find you are willing to do improvements to the property that never occurred me, that give you better living space and me a more valuable asset.

What would not be acceptable is a list of all the good work you are doing, and not tying it back to my values-based list. I don't need a list of the parties you have thrown, but rather the precautions you have in place to insure they do not get out of hand, and a good word or two thrown in by the neighbors.

There is a paradigm shift between classic staff reporting and Policy Governance modeling reports that can be subtle and exasperating. A classic report gives a litany of all the things that have been done to address a certain issue -- a monitoring report asks "what systems do you have in place to know if what you are doing is working?" We are not monitoring the activities -- we are monitoring the accountability of the President, and how he knows something is or is not working. I am not suggesting this is easy, or that any of us have all the answers. But I do believe it is worth working through to really allow the staff the latitude that comes with the accountability. We need both.

[Please note there will not be any more posts until next week after the Pacific Central District Assembly.]


OD/HR Min said...


Thanks for this. I sometimes struggle w/ the Carver model--suspecting I'm not alone in this--and this post provides needed clarity.

Rev. Earl W. Koteen

Anonymous said...

Dear Linda,

First off, the UUA Board ENDS were never voted upon by the member congregations, so their legitimacy in many eyes is questionable. Second, any UUA END telling a congregation how they should act, the expecting the President to somehow encourage or enforce that is contary to our polity. Third, Rev Morales report points to a dramatic situation. The membership decline in New England overwhelms the growth in the rest of the USA. (This is comfirmed by Fair Share statistics collected by the District Presidents Association). Yet our UUA Board is so self-involved in their pursuit of this Policy Governance idol that you focus on format and not on substance. Our movement needs a Board that can focus on how to support our President, not nit pick him to death. Our movement is in serious trouble and our Board is just too self-involved in their theory of governance to even acknowledge this fact.

Linda Laskowski said...

While I respect (and share) your concern about what is happening with membership in our member congregations, I find the idea that a larger elected body should not hold a president accountable because we are in a crisis somewhat scary. We are asking for a clear link between the short term plans of the UUA president and the long terms goals established in a process that he was part of creating (and agrees with).

Anonymous said...

And Rev Morales quite clearly told the Board that his plan does address the ENDS. What it would not do is repeat these over and over again. I have read the ENDS and agree. But I guess the Board will straighten this out and then, when the reports are numbered correctly and itemized, you may actually read the substance of the report and maybe offer some constructive suggestions to the situation. But apparently that is a lower priority than numbering and lettering and making sure the ts are crossed.