Regardless of your calling, it is my guess that you want to have a positive impact on those within your stewardship. And, it is also my guess that having such a positive impact on those in your stewardship involves trying to create certain outcomes. Such outcomes likely include or relate to:
- Enhanced activity and participation
- Strengthened testimonies
- Greater willingness to serve and magnify callings
How do we create these outcomes?
How do most church leaders try to create these outcomes? From my experience (both as a leader and as a follower within the church), most church leaders try to create the outcomes by focusing on the outcomes.
For example, as a ward mission leader, I wanted to enhance the activity of members of my ward. In doing so, I primarily focused on their activity in two ways: (1) I invited them to come to church and activities, and (2) measured and assessed the degree to which they attended church and activities.
Here is what this looks like:
But, a question we should ask ourselves is: is focusing on the outcome we want to create the best thing to focus on to see progress in that outcome?
It is not. In fact, it is better to “work the angles.”
To explain what I mean by “working the angles,” let me step outside the church context. Consider the following outcomes people and organizations may want to create in their lives and work:
- Managers are often evaluated on the performance of their team, thus they want to ensure high levels of team performance
- People often want to improve their financial position
- Organizations often want to improve their customer service
When these people and organizations focus on the outcome, here is what naturally and commonly happens, respectively:
- Managers start to micromanage employees to ensure they are performing up to expectations (are they hitting the numbers?)
- People focus on getting a promotion or adding more work to their plate
- Organizations systematize how their employees interact with customers
While these people/organizations have the right intentions, and these efforts seem to make sense, such efforts are not likely to result in the outcomes they want to create, or if they do, it won’t happen in an effective way. High levels of team performance do not come about through micromanagement. Improved financial position does not necessarily come through promotions or doing more work. And, systematizing customer interactions may prevent poor customer service, it never produces high-quality customer service.
Thus, what is much more successful is to “work the angles.” This means that rather than focus on the outcome, we focus on what drives the outcome.
“Working the angles” reveals and produces much more productive courses of action, respectively:
- Rather than focus on the performance of their employees, managers should improve the work environment and morale of employees, which will bring out their natural intrinsic motivation
- Rather than focusing on getting a promotion or adding more work, people should focus on adding more value to their current employer or to the customers they serve (if they can do that, they will naturally receive pay raises or promotions)
- Rather than systematizing what employees say to customers, organizations should train their employees on how to provide individualized solutions
“Working the Angles” in Church Leadership
If we want, (1) enhanced activity and participation, (2) strengthened testimonies, and/or (3) greater willingness to serve and magnify callings, this “working the angles” idea suggests that we shouldn’t focus on those outcomes. Rather, we should focus on what DRIVES those outcomes.
Thus, the question we should be asking ourselves is: What drives those outcomes?
Initially, we might naturally be inclined to say “spirituality” or “conversion.” While these aren’t bad answers, they (1) are difficult to define and therefore difficult to assess or evaluate, and (2) we may even need to “work the angles” on these. Is there something that drives both: spirituality/conversion and activity/strengthened testimonies/magnify callings?
While there may be several, I want to suggest and focus on one primary factor: engagement.
What is Engagement?
Traditionally, as a way to “work the angles,” organizations have focused on employee satisfaction. The general idea is that employees who are satisfied will work better and work harder. But, an immense amount of research has found that “satisfaction” is a very rational attitude, and as such, has its limitations as a driver of important outcomes.
More recently, researchers and practitioners have found that a much better way to “work the angles,” is to focus on employee engagement. This is better than satisfaction because it involves individuals’ emotional connection to their job and organization and not just a rationale attitude.
Formally defined, engagement is an emotional attachment to one’s job and organization that is characterized by vigor (desire to invest oneself into something), dedication (meaningful pursuit), and absorption (full concentration).
What researchers have found is that if employees are engaged, or emotionally connected, to their job and organization, they produce better outcomes than if they are just satisfied, or rationally connected to their job and organization. In fact, research has found that engagement is a strong driver of organizational profitability, employee productivity, low absenteeism, low turnover, and higher customer service, among other important outcomes.
Why is Engagement Important for Driving Important Church Outcomes?
I want to answer this question by asking two sets of questions.
First, what percentage of your stake, ward, or Sunday class are “engaged?” meaning that they are vigorous, dedicated, and absorbed in their church responsibilities and calling? And, if you were to increase the percentage of people who are vigorous, dedicated, and absorbed in their church responsibilities and callings, what difference would that make?
Second, do you think individuals in your stake, ward, or class will be able to enhance their spirituality, conversion, activity, testimonies, or willingness to serve without increasing their engagement? Stated differently, do you think that if you could improve the engagement of the members of your stake, ward, or class that the natural consequences would include increased spirituality, conversion, activity, testimonies, or willingness to serve?
Stated this way, it is hard to argue against the importance of engagement in driving key church-related outcomes.
What Drives Engagement?
So, if engagement is a great way to “work the angles” and drive key church-related outcomes, how then do we enhance the engagement of those in our wards, stakes, and classes?
To answer this question, I am going to provide some answers at the 10,000-foot level, 2,000-foot level, and some additional answers at the 500-foot level.
First, it is important to point out that engagement is not something that can be forced, pushed, or pulled. Trying to do so is a form of extrinsic motivation. But, emotional attachment characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption is not easily extrinsically motivated. Thus, if engagement is going to be developed, it has to be cultivated within a nourishing environment, which is the ideal way to enhance intrinsic motivation.
Second, if creating a nourishing environment is necessary for the growth and development of engagement, who is responsible for such an environment within the church? Ultimately, stake, ward, and auxiliary leaders are responsible for this. In fact, Gallup has found that within a workplace setting, 70% of an employee’s engagement is contingent upon the actions and behaviors of their managers.
Ok, so if local church leaders are responsible for shaping the environment that nourishes engagement, how then do they go about doing this? Let me present three core ideas:
First, in order for people to feel engaged, they need to feel as though they can contribute and that their voice, opinions, and ideas are heard. This is not to say local church leaders need to do or follow what everyone says, but it does mean that church members need to feel like they can express their ideas and opinions and that their ideas and opinions will be validated by church leaders. This is crucial because to us and to all members: voice equals value. There is nothing more disengaging to a member than when they present an idea to a leader for improvement, and the leader sweeps the idea under the table. Because that member’s voice was not adequately heard and validated, they are going to feel like they do not have value and are going to be much less likely to operate with vigor, dedication, and absorption moving forward. Thus, local church leaders need to create environments where members can express their voices and have those voices be heard.
Side note: During my time as a Gallup engagement consultant, I found that if employees can “strongly agree” that their opinions count at work, 92% of those employees are engaged. So ask yourself, are the voices of those within your stewardship being heard? It is my guess is that there are some voices who are being heard and some whose voices are not being heard. Any guesses on who is engaged and who is not?
Second, people need to feel as though someone at church cares about them as a person. This is not new to members of the church. But, what might be new is just how important this is. Again, in my data analyses while at Gallup, I found that if employees do not “strongly agree” that someone at work cares about their well-being, their likelihood of being engaged is only 12%. Thus, local church leaders need to create environments where relationships can be developed, and where everyone feels like someone at church cares about them.
Third, members need to feel enabled in their callings. This means a couple different things. First, it means that they are put into a position that makes good use of their skills and abilities (and hopefully it even challenges them a little). Second, it means that the conditions associated with their calling allow them to be as productive as they can be (i.e., free from barriers). At least part of this means that they feel like they have the necessary resources to fulfill their calling with little frustration. Together, local church leaders need to ensure that people are serving in capacities that involve their skills and abilities and that they are making efforts to provide the necessary resources for them to operate effectively.
Now, bringing this down to a very applicable level, let me leave you with four specific suggestions that should help local leaders enhance the engagement of the members they lead and therefore bring about the outcomes that they desire.
- If someone that serves under your stewardship comes up with an idea to improve what is going on under their stewardship, ensure that you understand where they are coming from (validate their ideas), and do your best to let them run with it. Too often we think about what could go wrong, and not enough about what could go right, let alone the engagement of that particular person.
- As a bishop or auxiliary leader, when people ask to serve in a certain capacity or when auxiliary leaders ask for someone to serve in a certain capacity within their auxiliary, try your best to accommodate that request, regardless of the costs to you.
- Bishops and auxiliary leaders need to ensure that everyone under their stewardship has someone who is personally concerned and devoted to their welfare.
- Bishops and auxiliary leaders need to have a pulse on how much pain people are feeling in their callings and do everything in their power to minimize that pain.
As a leader in the church, you undoubtedly want to have a positive influence on those you serve. And, tied into this desire are outcomes that you want to create in the lives of others, which likely involves enhancing activity and participation, strengthening testimonies, and helping others serve in and magnify their callings.
It is not uncommon for leaders to focus directly on these outcomes. But unfortunately, focusing directly on these outcomes is not likely to result in the effective generation of these outcomes. A better and more effective approach is to “work the angles.” This means focusing, not on the outcomes of interest, but on the driver(s) of those outcomes.
A primary key driver of the outcomes you are trying to create is engagement. Engagement is an emotional connection to something that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption. If church leaders can better engage those they serve, they are going to be much more effective in creating the outcomes they desire.
To better engage those you serve, it is essential that you:
- Create an environment where engagement is nourished, and
- Make sure the members under your stewardship:
- Feel their voices are heard (voice = value)
- Have someone that cares about them as a person
- Are enabled to perform in their callings effectively (provide resources and remove obstacles)
What has worked for you? Have you found success engaging those in your auxiliary?