ALL organisations like to claim that they are "unique". The
Church of England is no exception. But how unique is the Church
compared with other public organisations that work for the public
My experience is with large-scale-change programmes in the
public sector, such as the NHS and the Ministry of Defence, and the
part I am playing currently is to bring about the dissolution of
three dioceses in West Yorkshire, and create a new entity.
I am no theologian, but my experience across many public and
not-for-profit organisations does qualify me to consider how the
Church, with its Christian outlets in every community, its many
staff (paid and unpaid), and budgets of many millions of pounds,
contrasts with similar bodies.
My approach is to assess the "fitness" of the Church to thrive
in the 21st century, by holding up three "mirrors" that represent
the hallmarks of a modern agile organisation.
Mirror One: A compelling vision with clear goals which are
UNDOUBTEDLY, there are plenty of national aspirations - the
current goals of spiritual and numerical growth being promoted by
the Archbishops and General Synod are among them - but arguably
there is no overarching vision or Church-wide strategy to deliver
outcomes that are increasingly the norm of other organisations.
Does this matter? If the Church is happy for its total output to
be the sum of what each diocese achieves on its own, then, perhaps,
no. Looking at what the Church is achieving now, the trends on
indicators such as congregation sizes and levels of giving are
static or downwards. Public demand for what the Church currently
offers is a very different picture from the ever-growing demand
for, say, NHS and local-authority services. This may seem an unfair
comparison, but how an organisation's outputs are sought, whatever
their nature, says much about their relevance.
Mirror Two: A simple structure with clear lines of accountability,
and responsibility at all levels
THE structure of the Church, with its 44 dioceses linked to a
"centre" of General Synod, Archbishops' Council, et al., seems
straightforward. But add other central Church House departments,
Lambeth and Bishopthorpe Palaces, and the autonomous nature of a
diocese, and understanding just who is responsible for what becomes
Within a diocese, the massof committees, boards, and
sub-committees, coupled with the synodical structure at diocesan
and deanery levels, makes it especially challenging to identify
where responsibility and accountability actually lie.
In such situations, decision-making will "float" from one level
to another, making for bureaucratic, slow processes that are a far
cry from any modern norm of best practice. There is also a risk
that the valuable resources donated by the public are supporting
inefficient organisations, and are not being used to best
Mirror Three: The culture and values that drive
DECISION-MAKING processes within the Church show three prominent
characteristics. The first is representation. Every part of the
Church has a say in key decisions, through elected representatives,
whether at synods or in the many diocesan boards and committees,
often enshrined in Church Measures, but this makes for numerically
very large, and potentially unwieldy bodies.
The second is a strong desire for consensus - doing everything
possible to ensure that everyone agrees.
The third is historical heritage and maintaining continuity -
only stopping something as a final resort. (Here, the Church is
similar to the NHS, which still agonises over stopping ongoing
health-care in order to reinvest elsewhere.)
THESE characteristics can re-sult in high levels of commitment
when decisions are finally made. But decision-making can be
time-consuming, and inherently opposed to radical change. In
comparison with other organisations, two characteristics are
noticeably less apparent.
First, ensuring that relevant skills and expertise are available
to address complex issues, and that competency is as important as
representation. Second, the use of evidence from research or
performance-management pro-cesses to inform decision-making. There
are signs of this emerging, but the Church has a long way to go in
catching up with contemporary counterparts.
The evidence of the three mirrors, taken together, suggests that
the Church has significant issues to address that are of a
system-wide nature, and affect all parts of the Church.
Is restructuring - changing boundaries and the numbers of
bodies, so often favoured by organisations - the solution? My
experience is that restructuring only has real benefits when it
enables people to do things in new ways, to achieve new
Restructuring for the sake of it is like rearranging deck chairs
on the Titanic, and many restructurings in the public
sector failed because they were responses to short-term financial,
or political, pressures, without new goals or ways of working.
If restructuring is not the answer, then we enter the realms of
significant organisational transformation, whereby the entire
"system" of the Church is overhauled and renewed.
This is what is happening in West Yorkshire, where the complete
dissolution of three dioceses is, in effect, a letting-go of the
past and outdated practices as far as is possible, in order to
allow a rebuilding and reinvention of how a diocese works.
A TRANSFORMATION agenda for the Church as a whole would focus on
1. Constructing a meaningful vision for the Church, using
tan-gible measurable outcomes, and success factors that demonstrate
progress and what change is being achieved.
2. Deciding the critical processes that the Church wishes to use
in achieving its vision; and in this, being radical, and going
be-yond "simplifying" into reinvention.
3. Designing a system that supports and enables, with clear
accountabilities and responsibilities, with all parts working
together so the output is greater than the sum of its parts.
Transformation on this scale for a complete system is rarely
undertaken, and must be carefully planned, and the implications
thought through. This requires expertise the Church does not have,
yet would have to be acquired and paid for.
This is not work for well-meaning amateurs. Also, any change
must be driven from the top, with the commitment of all at the top.
Anything less only results in subterfuge and dissension -
Furthermore, radical change affects everyone. No one can stand
aside and say, "This is not for me". Finally, transformation needs
confidence to move forward without knowing all the answers in
advance - with a willingness to enjoy confusion as being the source
of new thinking.
SOME organisations wait for an external event, like a change of
government or financial crisis, to precipitate major change. This
is high risk, as the event is often more draconian than was ever
imagined or wanted. In this case, organisations are left running to
catch up, no longer in charge of their own destiny.
Successful organisations initiate radical change themselves,
while they are still on the up". They recognise that there is aways
a need for revitalisation, and re-invention, and that to carry on
as before while expecting a different outcome is organisational
The Church may not be on the "up" but - if it is not to be
dictated to by events, or governments - it needs to start planning
major radical change sooner, not later. Time is running out. The
real question is not whether such change should be adopted, but can
the Church afford not to?
How unique does the Church want to be? It can claim that it is
so different from other organisations that their experience can be
ignored, and it can carry on as before.
Or else the Church can show the world how unique it really is,
by having the courage, the confidence, and the faith to take
organisational transformation way beyond what many others do - and
explore new ways in which it professes the Christian faith.
John Tuckett is programme manager for the emerging West
Yorkshire & the Dales diocese. Previously, he led
transformation programmes for the Ministry of Defence, and the
Prison and Probation Services. Before that, he was a CEO of health