Recently on the Leading Saints Helpers Facebook Page, a bishop asked the group, “What type of questions/language does the executive secretary use to find out the nature of the visit?” This is an important question that can easily be overlooked. If the executive secretary doesn’t ask any questions, a bishop’s calendar can quickly be filled with less-effective appointments that could have been delegated or even avoided altogether. So a few quick questions, without making the member feel uncomfortable, can save hours of time for the bishop to focus on those matters only he needs to address. If they are the wrong questions, it can make the member feel awkward and possibly avoid setting the appointment at all.
When I was bishop and trained a new executive secretary, I would ask them to follow this general script when setting up an appointment:
In order to help you and the bishop have the best appointment possible, I want to make sure he has the appointment classified on his calendar correctly. Is the appointment related to a temple recommend renewal, something financial, or a personal appointment?
If the member said, “recommend,” he would then ask how long they had been in the ward. If they had been in the ward less than a year, the executive secretary would set the appointment with the bishop (per Handbook 1 – 3.3.3). If they lived in the ward longer than a year, he would set the appointment with one of the bishop’s counselors.
If the member said it was financial-related, the executive secretary would then explain the assessment process and set the appointment with the welfare specialist. I’ve discussed more of this process in the article 5 Tips for Administering Church Welfare. In wards with little welfare, the bishop may want to consider meeting with all financial requests first in a short 5 to 10 minute appointment so the members don’t feel slighted by being pushed into an arbitrary “welfare process.” If he determines there is more of an assessment needed, he can then explain the process to the member and encourage them to meet with the welfare specialist before meeting. In my ward, we had such a high welfare load that many of the people asking for financial assistance were not familiar to me and the welfare process helped save a lot of time.
If the member said it was a personal appointment, the executive secretary would set it on the calendar and be done. Following this process, I never had a member feel violated with how the executive secretary handled it, and it gave me, the bishop, a heads up as to what to expect before each appointment.
So what has worked for other bishops? How has your executive secretary set appointments to help you serve as a better leader?