Planning Horizon

Life is too busy. I continue to hear this from many people and it is especially true for the ones leading organizations. The leader often relays that they are so stuck in the day-to-day management of the business they cannot spend any time on the vision and direction. There are many techniques that help this, and I think one is getting clear on your planning horizon. What time frame should you be spending most of your time thinking about?

You have people for that

Let’s use the founder of the church as an example. Ten years ago he planted the church, and it has grown now to about 1000 people attending services on the weekend. In the beginning, he had to do nearly everything on his own, including dreaming about the long-term future and preparing for next Sunday. That works ok when an organization is very small because there aren’t that many details or moving parts to worry about. It is still a lot to think about and do. Now, he has staff and volunteers helping to run everything, but he is still in contact with each and every detail.

Do you trust people enough to guide and let go? If there are performance issues, then you can coach and train most people to get better over time. However, if there are trust issues where you can’t let go, that is usually a leadership challenge. Think about the worst thing that could (realistically) happen if you let them go on their own? If that risk is acceptable (and it usually is), then practice letting go.

Visualize your planning horizon

If you have a way to see your planning horizon, the time frame that should consume most of your thinking, then you can communicate effectively to others about your role and theirs.

What most people do as the organization grows and their leadership role expands is shown below. Note how they might be the founding pastor with visionary responsibilities, but they are still operating in the near term.

Common Planning Horizon

What I recommend is to shift the planning horizon rather than expand it. We all have to do a little bit of thinking about today and this week so we remember to get up in the morning, attend the staff meeting, or buy groceries. The question is where most of your time is focused at work.

Preferred Planning Horizon

Your Next Move

The next time you are too busy to think about the vision and direction of your church, consider drawing out your planning horizon, and do the same for those around you. If there is too much overlap, or you see gaps, then you have work to do so each of you can be working on the right stuff.

Go Ask For Money

Right now, many pastors are asking how to increase giving this year. They have set their annual budgets, have planned for staff and expenses, and are anxiously watching the stock market and political news.

I have seen many strategies to increase giving in churches, and the most common has ‘hope and prayer’ as a central tenet. While I am a fan of hope and I think prayer is essential, there are also things we can do as leaders to increase revenue. I believe the two most powerful methods are to tell stories about the impact a giver’s money will or has had, and to simply ask.

Why Not?

When I talk with church leaders, there is a lot of resistance to discussing money with the congregation. There appear to be two primary reasons. First, they feel awkward or guilty about asking people for money that goes directly into their pocket. That seems selfish and greedy. Second, they don’t have good tools or language to talk about giving in a productive way.

I have worked in some version of sales for many years now and I know every sale impacts my pocket. Maybe I get a commission, or maybe I just promote my company, but even that makes my employment more stable. As a result of that, I have learned to be comfortable asking people to buy stuff I sell, as long as I believe it is in their best interest.

So let’s talk about how to ask for money. What are the steps?

Create an Invitation

Any time you are asking people to give, I recommend you follow this six-step process to create a well-formed invitation. Invitation is different than cajoling or begging because an invitation honors the human dignity in both you (the asker) and them (the giver). Without preserving human dignity and their right to choose, guilt and frustration sets in on both sides of the conversation.

  • State what you want. Creating an informed choice is critical to an invitation, and that starts with them being well informed. I recommend very direct language here. “I would like to see each and every one of you tithe 10% of your income to this church for a year.”
  • Describe the benefit to you. Do you feel that personal guilt rise up in your gut? In this area, you should focus on the benefit to the church, but don’t neglect that you are a beneficiary. Transparency is key to eliminating the gossip and inferences created by an unclear message. “If you decide to do this, our church ministry could grow tenfold. We can increase the salary and health benefits of our staff, which I know I would enjoy, and we can finally fix that air conditioner. Imagine the homeless outreach opportunities!” (This is also where you can share those stories we mentioned earlier.)
  • Show the benefit to them. Do they really get a benefit from giving their hard-earned money to you? I believe they do. I have found that regular giving is a form of discipleship and faith that has yielded great benefits in my life and my marriage. Think deeply about your own theology and attitude here. “I think the benefit to you is a sense of satisfaction that you are moving the kingdom of God forward. In addition, I believe following God’s commands reaps great rewards in your life.”
  • Explicitly give them the right to decline. It is very tempting to leave this part out. They already know they can decline to give, right? They must know that, they aren’t giving now! Something very powerful happens when you explicitly say it out loud (and mean it). You have handed all the power in the conversation over to them, increasing your credibility and honoring their personal dignity and decision-making skills. If you are nervous or hesitant about this step, do it twice. “Of course, this is your decision and I understand if you choose not to give. And that is OK. Please know God still loves you and you are still welcome here.”
  • Describe the consequences if they decline. The second part of making an informed choice is knowing what will happen if I decline. Since you just told me declining was fine to do, it is only fair that you share what will be the natural consequence of that decision. “We operate this church on your tithes and offerings. Without them, we would have to reduce our facilities maintenance and our staff.”
  • Inquire and wait. Make the ask. Close the deal. Make the sale. Once you have presented the other elements, and made your case, then clearly put the monkey on their back. Once you have done this, stop talking. No really, let the silence invade. It is not a pressure tactic; it is giving them space to process their own thoughts. In the moment that might be 10 to 15 seconds of dead air. In church calendars, it might take people weeks to decide. “Would you be willing to commit to this? Please let us know.”

Other than the last one — the waiting part — the order of these steps or elements is not important. I recommend starting with this order as it is easy to remember and create in your script. However, once you master the structure, feel free to change it up a bit.

A note on execution here: prepare. Take the time to think through each element and be confident in each statement. If you are feeling a bit wishy-washy on any part of this, it will come through in your communication and reduce your effectiveness. This can expose some personal views and attitudes that might be holding you back and need attention.

Your Next Move

Consider what is holding you back from being more deliberate when you ask for giving. If it is a personal hang-up, get some help from friends who are good at it. Start with your favorite salesman, then find a successful pastor and ask them to help you craft this invitation and work through the resistance.

If your challenge is the language and structure, go try out a well-formed invitation. Maybe with a congregant on the fence, or in a video announcement. Work your way up to sharing on stage and see how it goes.

Get Flexible

Last month I wrote about how the meaning of your communication is the response you get, measured by the other person’s behavior. In that post, I mentioned that communication gaps can be prevented if the communicator is more flexible to meet the needs of the listener. This is so important to successful communication that I wanted to dig deep on one specific way to improve your communication.

Four Communication Channels

Imagine you are strolling down the streets of Paris and want directions. You can hear the locals chatting away, so you stop at a coffee shop and ask for help. Do you ask in English or French? If English is the only language you know, then that will be your preference, and will likely meet with only limited success.

What if you were flexible and skilled enough to switch languages on the fly to meet their needs? While many of us do not have the time, inclination, or need to learn a new language, how we structure our communication in our own language can create a similar effect.

There are four main communication channels to consider when crafting your message:

  • Visual: People operating in this channel prefer images and pictures to help them fully receive the message. This could entail standing at the white board and animating the idea in your head, or even helping them to see the images in their own mind’s eye. Imagine a bright, sunny day with rich blue skies and fluffy white clouds occasionally shading the sun during your afternoon walk.
  • Auditory: Folks here want to listen to the words, tone, and stories you have to offer. Consider mimicking the sounds of the thing you are describing, whether it be a crash or a boom or a soothing wave. Listen to the birds chirp and sing as the water bubbles in the stream. You hear your heartbeat slowing down and your footprints whispering in the grass.
  • Kinesthetic: How does it feel? Your message here can draw on emotions or a tactile experience to provide awareness. Consider that passionate analogy that connects our hearts together. Lift your face to feel the warmth of the sun as the blades of grass slip between your toes. Sip that ice-cold drink and relax for the first time in days.
  • Digital: This communication channel is devoid of the senses and is very logical. Often list-based, this mode involves thinking things through to arrive at the best conclusion or processing the facts and figures until a decision can be made. In addition, Digital thinking will move step by step in a predictable and repeatable sequence. I have decided to walk 10,000 steps per day to increase my health and I am currently 2/3 of the way through that today.

Does one of these four resonate with you more than others? Can you see these patterns in others around you? Does one of these snippets feel more right, or does one make more sense than the others?

Your Next Move

The first step in gaining flexibility is knowing your natural preferences and learning to expand to use other channels. As you increase your flexibility to communicate in just the way your listener prefers, watch how quickly rapport deepens and communication improves.

Communication Gaps

Good communication is so critical there have been mountains of books written on the subject and countless seminars delivered. If communication is so important, then why do we struggle with it so much. I believe one reason is we lose sight of the core purpose.

As leaders, the most common purpose of our communication is to change behavior. This might be delivering a rousing sermon on Sunday to encourage discipleship, or coaching a staff member to learn a new skill. If we measure the quality of our communication by the resulting behavior, it changes our perspective.

The meaning of your communication is the response you get.

They Just Don’t Get It

Too often as leaders, we put the burden of understanding on the receiver. It is their job to understand our thoughts, dreams, biases, and personality. If they would take the time to understand me better, then they would surely grasp the message and do what I asked.

As you might imagine, this line of thinking often takes us down the path of judging others for their inability to get with the program, because they are not smart enough, talented enough, or bought-in enough. If we go further, it might lead us to believe they are even being malicious because they won’t get on board.

When they just don’t get it, there is a gap between your intent and their behavior.

Mind the Gap

I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant. – Alan Greenspan

In any simple exchange between two people, there is a chain of translation and the message can get lost anywhere along the way.

  1. I have an idea in my head, made up of pictures, feelings, words.
  2. I translate the je ne sais quoi of that mélange into concrete words and pictures to share.
  3. You hear most of those words and probably lose a few.
  4. The words you hear have a different meaning and significance for you, potentially triggering a response that is very different than I hoped for.
  5. You then create your behavior to match the internal response (more pictures, feelings, and words) generated in this exchange.

With all those potential gaps in communication, it is a miracle we get anything done! With all that signal loss, how to we communicate in a way to close those gaps?

  • Stop Talking and Listen. At each of those transition points, stop and ask how they are receiving. It is important to ask what they received, not just “are you keeping up?”. Most of the time, people are not lost in the discussion, they are translating incorrectly. For practical suggestions on how to actively listen to someone, I recommend this blog and video by Greg Salciccioli at CoachWell.
  • Get Flexible. Each person is going to respond better to different language structures or examples of the point you are making. As a leader, the burden is on you to be the most flexible communicator in the exchange. If you naturally draw pictures, can you learn to tell stories, or share a heartfelt emotion effectively? If you were born in the city, can you learn to share a rural example? The more flexible you are as a thinker and communicator, the more likely you will elicit the response you are seeking.

Your Next Move

Think of the last time you shared a message and didn’t get the response you anticipated. Identify where the communication broke down and use your flexibility to close that gap.

Navigating Your Vision

In addition to my role on the leadership team at Church Community Builder, I have a somewhat unique set of skills. For most of my life, from childhood till today, I have been involved in ballooning. I am a hot air balloon pilot and spend much of my free time flying and participating in ballooning events. On the surface, the experience of flying balloons may seem unrelated to my day job … but in reality, it has helped me be a better leader. When we launch the balloon, we frequently have the intention of landing in a specific place. Unfortunately, balloons don’t have steering wheels, so we have to use the winds available to navigate to a landing. Much like leading people or implementing system change, there are some variables that a balloon pilot can control and many circumstances they cannot. I have learned how to plan for the things that I can control and respond to the forces that I cannot, while still aiming at specific target. Here are three lessons leaders can learn from piloting a balloon.

Make a plan, but keep it fluid

Prior to any flight, there is a plan. You don’t want to get in the air and then just ‘figure it out’. We could plot a path on a map and use a ruler to draw that line, but our actual journey won’t work out that way. There are obstacles along the way we have to go around, and there are well-worn paths we can use to move a little faster or a little more easily, even if they are not perfectly on track to our destination.

Flight Path 2014_10_06

Look at the path above. I started in the top left corner of the map on that flight, and landed within five feet of where I wanted, after 40 minutes and 5 miles. Something interesting to note about this path: If you look closely at my launch, it initially took me backwards from the goal. This is common in ministry as well. There are times we have to close down a ministry and shrink before we can grow in the right direction to achieve our vision. Planning is important — it is a must. But even in the best plans, there will be things that come up that were not anticipated. We don’t know what we don’t know. Planning is not something that is done once and complete. There are always in-flight adjustments that must be made.

You can’t always head straight for the target

When we see our vision, or our landing place, we usually cannot just go straight there. You can’t tackle every problem straight on. You may notice that the first half of the flight was very straight, but not in the right direction. If we had continued in that direction, we would have missed our target by a long shot. That path was not direct, but it was setting us up for the last half of the journey. I recently worked with a church that was growing a teaching team to reduce the dependence on the senior pastor. The quality of the preaching went down for a time, but it set them up in just the right way to really thrive.

When you divert, it is easy to get distracted

I remember this flight. After I had crossed the river and was in the wide open spaces again, I almost gave up on the vision. There were many great landing places that would have been ‘just fine’. I had to keep my mind fixed on the destination. Specifically, I had special guests on board and I wanted to show them a great picture opportunity.

As you approach your target, you may be tempted to let down. It has been a hard and long journey getting here and you may find yourself asking if this is close enough. This ‘good enough’ syndrome is tempting for all of us, but should be resisted. If I had landed somewhere else, my guests would have had a great day. They would likely not have known what they missed out on. But by pushing on to the target landing spot, they had much more than great day. They had a spectacular experience that was awe-inspiring. Even when your path twists and turns, you have to keep your eye on the prize and go the whole distance.

MuseumReflection

Your Next Move

You have a vision; now plot a path. That path will have diversions and convenient stopping points, but you can ensure your path gets you to the goal. Identify those distraction points as best you can so that you can remind yourself and your team there is a bigger destination in mind, even though this one seems nice enough.

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