loren Eric Swanson: The power of Ops and Systems

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The power of Ops and Systems

A couple of nights ago, Liz and I went out for coffee with Bob and Barbara Francis...two of the very best people with Campus Crusade. Bob served as the National Director of Staffed Campus Ministries since 1999. Under his leadership, the number of students involved with Campus Crusade doubled. He's a passionate and very effective leader. Recently Bob was asked to step away from the Staffed Campus job and take over as National Director of Operations. Operations?!? What's that all about? Let's think about it for a moment.

The power of capacity is found in operations even more than strategy. When the right systems are put in place they provide the back end operations that allow multiple strategies and tactics to be more effective. Remember Moses' dilemma in Exodus 18 that he reviews in Numbers 1. He was totally exhausted yet prayed that God would multiply the Israelites a thousand times. It was his Mideanite father-in-law that advised him correctly regarding the selection, training and empowerment of leaders. No amount of talent, drive and hard work can overcome a bad operational systems. Bad systems are those where even the best people are reduced to mediocrity. On the other hand good systems allow everybody to function at their maximum capacity and ability. Because Moses was freed up from much of his sun-up to sun-down responsibilities, he had time to do that which he needed to do...write the Pentatuch!

Now think about Acts 6, when the widows were being overlooked in the serving of the food. Rather than taking a behavioral approach, the church leaders took an operational approach by creating the office of diaconate--to oversea the physical needs of the church. Nearly two milennia later we are the benefits of their decision.

Good systems cause good things to happen even if no one is paying attention to them. If you have automatic withdrawal from your checking account to pay your regularly scheduled bills you understand the power of a good system. Operational systems wedge between your vision of what you want to see happen and what actually is happening. If the behaviors or outcomes are not aligned with the vision, the problem most likely lies in operational systems. Like an iceberg, the behavior is what you see on the surface but what's under the surface is what leaders need to pay attention to. Systems drive behavior. What do I mean?

Steve Douglas, president of Campus Crusdae has a "stand-up" desk. That is, there is no chair at this desk. Any desk work that he has to do, he does while standing. He has no other option. Now if you can't sit at a desk you probably only are able to stand for so long. Douglas determined that his was not a desk job. He had to be close to the field to really understand what is going on. So he put a system in place to help determine the outcomes he wanted. This frees him up to meet students weekly on campus in Orlando. Imagine that!

Steve Sellers, vice-president of the Americas for Crusade takes the system one step further. He doesn't have a desk at all! Visiting him in his cubicle there is a chair and a small loveseat and a small table with a lamp and family pictures. "I find that if I don't have a desk, people can't drop work off on my desk--'Steve, I put something on your desk I'd like you to take a look at.' 'Steve, I've written a draft and put it on your desk. Would you mind...'" Without a flat surface to set stuff on people just walk away.

The restructuring of the Campus Ministry in the 90's is another good example of how structures determined behaviors and ultimately growth of the ministry. By creating and staffing the Catalytic, WSN, and Ethnic Student Ministry, by definition, these created the strategies and tactics to win, build and send thousands more students. The ministry grew exponentially beyond anything we'd ever seen. The mindset that "ministry is where the students are, not just where the staff are" drove many innovations. In a good system the good get better and the beginners get braver.

St. Patrick had a system for evangelizing Ireland and he stuck to it. After attaining a critical mass of converts, Patrick left two of his leaders in the village and took two new converts with him. This way he always had an inexhaustible supply of leaders. In his 27 years of ministry he planted over 750 churches and ordained over a thousand priests!

Real leverage (getting better results with less effort) is always found in operations and systems...even more than tactics and strategies.

Is Bob Francis the right person for the job? Absolutely. We wish you the best Bob.


At Monday, August 08, 2005 9:45:00 PM, Blogger Shane Deike said...

Eric - did Bob read this. Very well said. If you find me worthy, link me up. www.movementseverywhererant.blogspot.com

At Tuesday, August 16, 2005 11:51:00 AM, Blogger Pete Kelly said...

Eric, great article. You need to write one about Human Rescources too.

Pete Kelly
HR Director
Red River Region

At Thursday, August 18, 2005 9:14:00 AM, Blogger Pete Kelly said...

By the way, I'd love to have your participation in a blog I just started called "Leaders and Laborers."



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