In Part 1 of our article “Opportunity Knocks, Does it?” I discussed the eating your oats (holding periodic “Opportunity Analysis Tool Sessions) – I recommend 1-2 times per year. These sessions are based on something called the Perceived Opportunity Analysis Tool, taught to me by Barry Wolfson, then of the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning. In Part 2, we pick up the POAT…with Scoring, Effort and the Downside. Enjoy!
Scoring – This is important because it allows individuals to weight their considerations and those of others. Rather than do a simple prioritization of opportunities (item 1, item 2, item 3 and so forth), any person can award some or all of his/her points to one opportunity. It’s not likely, and you may even insist that there be some simple, reasonable guidelines for scoring (i.e. you must vote on at least three of the opportunities, or you can’t give the same score to all ten opportunities, etc.) What happens with this kind of scoring is that people really “put their money where their mouth is.” If they think a playground is THE most important thing the church should undertake, then by gum, they can give it 50 or 60 points. Then, if their other handful of concerns are maybe 10 or 15 points each, you realize (perhaps for that person, though as you will see…you don’t really “see” in this exercise) just HOW important something is. Everybody weights their concerns by dividing their 100 points over the listed, defined opportunities. Important: Do this by secret ballot. (helpful hint: have someone who’s very quick at tabulating nearby).
Ranking – Once all the points from every participant have been recorded for all of the suggested opportunities, you will usually quickly begin to see a concentration of scoring around perhaps three-to-five opportunities. It’s not that the others are unimportant at this point, but you will see what the GROUP thinks is important, with individual concerns not ignored, but having been given some due by virtue of weighting. From this point, the group can agree to include all of the scored, ranked items for further consideration in the Perceived Opportunity Analysis Tool…or you can shorten the list around those ideas which have garnered the lion’s share of points.
Chance of Success – Next, you’ll begin to discuss in broad terms the “chance of success” that any initiative still on the list is achievable. This is where those thoughtful definitions come into play. That is, you ask the group questions like, “Okay, we had a suggestion to do four eight-page newsletters each year, one per quarter, to everyone in the congregation. Is this something we can pull off?” What the facilitator is looking for now is some consensus around percentages. “How many think we have a 50/50 chance of achieving this opportunity or initiative?” Does anybody think it’s higher? Lower?” The facilitator is looking for differences of 20 or 30 points or more. If someone says “90%” chance of success and someone else says “30%,” there’s a pretty good chance the definition needs some work. Once the group settles into a range of percentages, the facilitator puts that number (or even a range, like “50-60%” next to that opportunity. Then (s)he moves onto the next opportunity and asks the same question, “What is our chance of success at achieving this?” Complete the percentages for each item.
Management Effort – This is one of the harder areas, for a variety of reasons. “Management Effort” can really break down into a handful of important components: Time, Money…oh, let’s just leave it at that. The reality is, “effort” is contingent on physical, financial and personal resources. The goal of this section of the exercise is not perfect precision, but rather, a gut sense – based on history and habit and available resources and bandwidth – of whether an opportunity or initiative will take a lot of effort (“high”), little effort (“low”), or somewhere in-between (“medium”). Note: I strongly suggest that top leadership do what’s called a personal time budget analysis prior to engaging in the POAT. It is very easy to be caught up in the myth of “infinite capacity.” Big initiatives, strategic initiatives and opportunities take time and concentration. If, by the time leadership has accounted for routine weekly obligations, meetings, training, reviews, and all the rest and has only 1-2% of their hours available for new opportunities, the POAT exercise may prove frustrating. That’s not to say that leadership has lots of time on its hands. It is to say, simply, have a realistic idea of where your time goes, so that designations such as “high,” “medium,” and “low” have meaning.
Downside Exposure – Ah, that road…is, well…paved with… It is very important that during this exercise the group understands the concept of exposure. For fairly innocuous efforts such as “should we have a youth service?” or “should we re-carpet the gathering apace?” exposure means one thing. But let’s say that an opportunity involves children, or that a unchecked communication practice or policy results in political commentary on your church Facebook page (yes, it happens; yes, it can risk your 501c3 status)…now you’re talking about “downside exposure.” This isn’t included here to paralyze everyone with thoughts of rampant litigation. But it is a worthy check-and-balance to “well, it was a great idea at the time.” (By the way, if you don’t have a social media policy for your staff and church, get one. Write one.) So then, in like fashion as with the Management Effort exercise, each item in the list should be marked with either “high,” “medium,” or “low” downside exposure. If you accidentally have some hybrid “medium-high-ish” answers here, no biggie. You’re almost done.
When all of these steps have been taken in the POAT…the definition of opportunities, the chance of success percentages, the degree of management effort, and the downside exposure, you should have a much better understanding of what to pursue over the next six months to a year. In short, you’ll want opportunities that have:
- Scored high for the group
- Have a better than even chance of success (70% is a good place to start),
- Have a low-to-medium degree of management effort, and
- Have a low-to-medium degree of downside exposure
Sounds simple, right? You would be amazed at how the POAT exercise distills down what is achievable within realistic timeframes, given the resources of most churches. This isn’t to say churches shouldn’t ever try bigger things and riskier initiatives. God and faith trump the POAT most of the time. But for a practical way to get ideas out on the table in a fair, public way and then work through them in a thorough fashion, the Perceived Opportunity Analysis Tool – or as I said in my last presentation “eating your OATS” – is hard to beat.