The following is the first of all five segments of a debate between presidential candidates Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman and Rev. Peter Morales that took place at Eliot Chapel at the Boston headquarters of the UUA on January 15, 2009.
The full transcript is taken from their site http://www.uua.org/aboutus/governance/elections/president/128768.shtml which also hosts the linked audio versions; the full transcript is also available here.
UUA board secretary Paul Rickter introduced the event explaining that from 33 questions brought up by board members five subjects had been selected for this 90 minute event. (Read his full introduction in the original transcript).
Link to original audio at UUA.org: Segment 1: Policy Governance
SEGMENT ONE – Policy Governance Transition
John Blevins: Thank you, Paul. And welcome. Glad to have you with us.
Blevins: Well, obviously, you know, at this point, we’re deep into a transition to policy governance, a big change, a cultural change for the organization. From your perspective, what are the opportunities that you see in front of us in this transition? Even what excites you, perhaps, about the opportunities that lay before us? And I don’t know — how do we want to do this? Who wants to go first?
Hallman: I’ll go first.
Blevins: Laurel, OK.
Hallman: Having made this transition, having spent several years at making this transition and working in policy governance, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not a train. [laughter] The opportunities are quite wonderful in this process. It may be hard to see it when you’re in the middle, but what I’ve experienced is that the people — first of all, your responsibilities are very defined. So you know what it is you should do and what are, how you can find out if you are doing it. The responsibilities and accountabilities are very clear. It clears a lot of the muddiness that I think we’ve been experiencing lately. That will settle.
It also frees people up to spread out the leadership and the responsibility. So one group of people doesn’t have to know everything all the time. It’s hard to let go of sometimes, but it opens up the leadership to broadly understood and carried, so there will be fewer people with all of the responsibility, more people with some of it, but they’ll all be aligned.
And, thirdly, there is a structure of trust that builds in this process that’s quite important. It’s the faith side of this process. We learned, because you have accountabilities that are built in, you evaluate on the basis of what you’ve already decided to evaluate on; you can then build the trust relationships that you need to build between and among the people. There are many more liberating things about it, but I think that’s a start.
Blevins: Thank you. Peter.
Morales: I think the core advantage is the opportunity to be much more effective in achieving those ends that we’ve agreed upon. I believe that we’re a religious culture luckily, thankfully, that does not have deep disagreements about ends. I mean, I sometimes joke that we have no faction arguing for shrinking our faith and for becoming increasingly irrelevant in the world. [laughter]
I mean, and we don’t have, and nor do we have, these awful things that divide other people. There is really broad, and I think we’ve seen it in the last couple days, that what is good if we use the tool well is that we can focus, we can have clarity, we can have a level of accountability and measurement that we’ve never seen before in our operations. But all of those are a means toward accomplishing those things we want to do about growing our faith and becoming much more effective in affecting the world around us.
Blevins: Thank you. Well, we’ve only had a chance to talk briefly about the actual transition that will be happening as one of you joins us this summer. On top of that transition that we’ll be in the midst of, what do you … where does your uneasiness lie in this transition? Where do we need to be paying attention with you to get through rough spots that you might anticipate from your experience?
Hallman: There are two, I would point out two things, places, where we might run into some issues. One would be getting lost in the weeds. [laughter] Forgetting the goals, forgetting the larger picture in the process of making ends language. And it’s easy. You can, today, we struggled with that, don’t get lost in the weeds and, yet, you’ve got to form the language. That’s one difficulty that I could see.
The second would be not fully implementing but doing a kind of pseudo-policy governance and not taking the final leap of trust to figure out that we won’t know everything all the time and that we will have to put on paper what we want and figure out ways to find out whether that’s happening. That won’t be quite so easy. And that we’ll have some fear and won’t fully implement. That I would be worried about.
And I have another one, and that is that we won’t connect our expectations with our evaluations so that, and I’ve seen this happen, where we’ll come in behind and say “oh, you shouldn’t have done that” when, in fact, it was never said that you shouldn’t, that wasn’t made a limitation. So that our, we have alignment of what we’re expecting and what is being done. That, when that gets out of kilter, it causes problems.
Blevins: Thank you. Peter.
Morales: Let me talk about concerns in two areas. One is from the side of the Board and the other one is from the side of the President. I think the Board needs to steer between what I call pure poetry and meddling. [laughter] On the one level, ends can be so vague and poetic that they’re hard to translate into something that’s practical. And yet, just as you were a couple of hours ago discussing, the other side is that if they get too detailed and too prescriptive they become a constraint rather than something that releases energy. That’s the danger that I think the Board has to steer between.
On the other side, one of the ones, during the transition as opposed to the longer-term implementation, I think there’s a danger that the reporting can get so cumbersome and so detailed that it ends up sucking energy away from accomplishing the ends because you’re spending so much energy in preparing elaborate and detailed reports to wow the Board and who is doing the evaluation. So there has to be expectations that are clear around what is enough information, what’s enough detail. And that gets, the administrative part of that is making it really clear down through the organization about what’s needed in terms of that evaluation. And a little piece of that is there’s always a danger that we will measure what’s easy to measure instead of measuring what’s important. Because certain kinds of measures that are statistical that you get, you can fall in love with, even though they’re not particularly powerful indicators of anything. Or you … public education is a wonderful example of this. Of course, kids should to learn to read and do algorithms, but if you focus on that so much you corrupt the curriculum. You start sucking energy away from those things that are much more difficult to evaluate around creativity and critical thinking skills. I don’t want that kind of pattern to move into the association.
Hallman: Can I just respond just to one thing?
Blevins: Oh, sure. Yeah.
Hallman: Just to respond to that. One of the difficulties, I realized when Peter was speaking, is one of the difficulties is the use of metaphor. Because we are a religious organization we speak metaphorically. And one of the difficulties is interpreting whether a metaphor is actually carrying deep truth or is too abstract. And we … it’s a constant issue that I think we have to attend to… we are somewhat metaphor-shy because often traditional religious language is metaphorical. And so we’re a little shy about some of the metaphors that are in common usage. Using metaphorical language as in an end statement is very important, and we have to be very clear about the depth dimension of the metaphorical language in our end statements and how we can possibly measure that. It’s a difficulty in this particular system.
Blevins: I must ask, is this something you were able to accomplish in your Dallas congregation, to build that metaphorical language in? I’m not, I’d love to see an example, but can you …
Hallman: Yeah, and I would love to be able to give you one. [laughter] We work at it. When you talk about the life of with the holy that you’re being metaphorical. You do it all the time.
Hallman: And you’ve done it all the time here.
Hallman: It’s just that, it’s just to speak to the fact that we are dealing in metaphors and they have the potential for being too abstract, but they also have the potential for carrying deep truth and we just need to be aware of that.
Blevins: To know the difference, OK. Thanks.
I’m going to dive into policy governance a bit and almost metaphorically. [laughter] Not really, but John Carver and his principles, for example, raises the question should you have, what kind of a committee should you have? And, in particular, do you need a finance committee? Is that taking away the ability of the Board to speak with one voice, as is called for in the principles, to have a committee such as the finance committee? We have one. Our current thinking is we’ll continue that for a while as we learn more. I would appreciate your insights in thinking about the role of a committee such as the finance committee in this model we’re moving into. And, Peter, I’ll let you tackle this one first.
Morales: I’ll tackle it, and it’s similar, because a lot of these things are going to come up, and they do all the time. I’ve become a great believer in that it’s very difficult to anticipate that in any detail, in any nuance. So what you do is you launch in and make corrections along the way. In other words, I don’t know how well having a finance committee is going to work, whether it’s going to seem cumbersome, or out of synch. But, if it does, you don’t keep doing it forever. You don’t keep doing it for three or four years after you realize it’s not effective. So it’s going to be important, and I want to be careful here because that’s really the Board’s and not the President’s, for the Board to evaluate its own processes in an ongoing way and just take that pulse, you know, are we OK with that? What is another alternative to look at other possibilities and explore those?
Hallman: I feel strongly that we should not have a finance committee. My experience is we do not have a finance committee. I know this is a different thing we’re doing here. And I would also say what, let’s write down exactly what the functions of the finance committee are and see where those functions would go between administration and the President’s staff side. But, in the end, I believe that we … that the finance committee is considered a monitoring committee. That’s really what we’re trying to do is get a handle on what’s really happening. And, if our monitors … monitoring goals and processes are well done, I don’t believe we’d need a finance committee. I can say more about that in some of the processes that are handled by the finance committee, but basically that would be my answer.
Blevins: I suspect the finance committee would love to have a deeper conversation about that because we’re wrestling with it, too. But –
Hallman: Yeah, I would like to have that conversation.
Blevins: Moving on, there’s this process of the Board writing the ends. The President then interpreting those to turn them into “What does that mean to me, how do I act on it and how do I report to the Board?” Talk to me about how you see that process, how you would approach that, how do we make it work most successfully to build that trust relationship? And who would like to take this one first.
Hallman: I’ll go ahead.
Hallman: The Board work is the Board work and the work of the President and the staff is the work of the President and the staff, and there is one line between them and, if you look at an org chart in this kind of governance. And so I want to be clear that I understand that. And, at the same time, all of my career I’ve been collaborative. And so I wouldn’t expect that the Board would come up with ends that were a big surprise to me. If it were handed to me it would be a big surprise. I would expect that there would be back and forth discussion and understanding among us so that the ends language and then the implementation of it would be pretty much known. That’s what the collaborative part is. That there is an informative process that goes on that helps us talk to each other about what we’re doing and figure out where the bumps are before we solidify them or pass them into stone. So the process is collaborative, the lines of accountability are very, very clear.
Blevins: OK. Thanks.
Morales: In terms of the interpretation, I think several things would need to be done. It’s important that that go fairly deep into the organization in the response. That, for example, if we’re talking about being more multicultural, it is critical within the UUA as an organization, the staff, that input on that come from different places, especially IDBM, for example.
That accomplishes several things. You very quickly communicate, well, all through the organization that the description and response to these things is important and people know what they are so they get tuned in right away. And then those are vetted, refined, along the way. So that’s that part. And then later on it’s a process of dialogue.
I really worry much more not about ending up with those statements because, in fact, I really believe, as I look at these and having worked at the senior staff level, you know, just the work that’s been done already, the ends that you’re creating now, to the extent that you’ve created them, would have been the same four years ago or six or seven years ago with very little difference because they’re very consistent, what we want as an organization. I think that our real challenge is about being effective in realizing those. That’s what critical for us. We’ve wanted to be, to grow and to be more diverse and to have more of an impact in the world and social justice forever. Our challenge is really to get our act together and to release the idealism and the passion that is there in our movement and to remove barriers.
Blevins: So I think that I’m hearing that you see this process of interpretation, formerly called, and driving that deep down into the staff will let us get much crisper about expectations.
Morales: Well, especially when those are linked with measurements, sure.
Morales: And milestones. That’s what makes an organization move.
Hallman: Let me –
Morales: And when there are consequences along the way.
Hallman: Let me add that when there’s clarity of a relationship between the Board and the administration, parenthesis, President, when there is alignment that releases a great deal of energy, and so you would get a lot more energy and clarity all the way down the system if the alignment between the Board and the President was clear and crisp.
Morales: I don’t want to make too much of this, I don’t want to be artificial, but I think there’s a distinction here that I do want to draw attention to, that that alignment is necessary but not sufficient. You still need the administrative and management acumen to turn that into effective action and to measure whether that’s getting done. I mean I know congregations that are using congregational polity that are thriving and others that are using it that are struggling. It is not, it can be a very important tool but it doesn’t, it’s not automatic. That clarity about the ends doesn’t accomplish the ends.
Hallman: I would agree.
Rickter: Thank you, John, for moderating that. That was a wonderful segment.