Opportunity Knocks, Does It? (So, you better eat your OATS)
And it keeps on knocking, and knocking and knocking. In fact, in most organizations, there are so many opportunities to do something, anything, that people frequently don’t know where to start. In the business world, companies often go through a “SWOT” (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) exercise to determine where to put resources behind this or that product or service in the hopes of exploiting opportunities and minimizing threats. Often, but not always in the business environment, the limits of time and budget co-opt or even preclude the pursuit of various opportunities. And in a world where many businesses are driven by hard metrics – return-on-investment, break-even point, gross margin, net profitability, etc. – many ideas and opportunities just fizzle because people are already busy pursuing today’s business objectives. In other words, there’s often enough to do…when you’ve got a job to do.
But then, take your average church. While some churches are large or sophisticated enough to have clearly defined weekly, monthly, and annual objectives, many have a somewhat more informal approach to getting things done. Certainly, there’s plenty on the plates of staff members, and much of it gets done every week, month, and year. But hard objectives are sometimes hard to come by…to say nothing of having the time to pursue new opportunities. At the same time, organizations that seek, cultivate and rely on the well-meaning (and varyingly accountable) volunteers – i.e. churches – can abound with ideas and opportunities, many of which try the attention span and other resources of the church.
What to do?
Having seen many churches struggle to make order out of the chaos of open-ended opportunity, I’ve often suggested a process called “Eating your O.A.T.S.” which is really a clever way of saying you ought to have periodic (I suggest twice a year) Opportunity Analysis Tool Sessions. The Opportunity Analysis Tool is something I encountered under its fuller name, the Perceived Opportunity Analysis Tool (POAT), taught to me by Barry Wolfson, a management consultant at that time with an organization called the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning.
There are many reasons for using the POAT, including the fact that “authority” – beyond the position of pastor, especially – can be a nebulous and delicate thing in a volunteer-reliant organization. Another reason is that churches – like a lot of organizations – are always facing the challenge of balancing the need for inclusion and buy-in with the need to get things done. In the meantime, having spent countless hours engendering the participation or the engagement of a group of worshippers who each bring a wealth of ideas and life experience to the table…but realizing the finite nature of time and resources…what do you do to sort out which opportunities are worth pursuing…and perhaps even more importantly…how do you communicate this to the congregation? With respect to Mr. Wolfson – and incorporating a few tweaks of my own – here’s what I suggest churches do to determine which opportunities are worth pursuing. (Important: Choose a solid, polite, facilitator to move through this process.)
- Define the opportunities
- Score the opportunities
- Rank based on scoring (preliminary indication)
- Evaluate by anticipated chance of success for one year
- Evaluate level of management effort
- Evaluate by downside exposure
- Choose those elements that scored high, had 60% or better chance of success (75% even better), low to medium management effort, low downside exposure.
Define the Opportunities – In this stage of the POAT, all participants, all stakeholders in a group (and I suggest making the groups “workable” for this exercise – perhaps 10-15 persons, tops) brainstorm to suggest initiatives or opportunities. These can be limited within the realm of communication activities (“Should we have a Twitter account?” “What about streaming our services?”) or they can involve many other facets of church and/or school life (“How should we use the money bequeathed by our dearly departed brother, Herman” or “I think it’s time to blacktop the parking lot”) It doesn’t matter who wants what, at this point. The idea is to get the opportunities out. Now, a helpful bit of homework that can be done in advance of this stage is to define (that is, make concrete and limit) whatever the opportunity is. In other words, it’s a lot easier to evaluate opportunities such as “I think we should do four 8-page color newsletters to the entire congregation each year” than “I think a pot-luck would be good.” Have the participants write on an index card their visions for their opportunities, but of course, have them keep it short-and-sweet…enough to understand the scope of a project.
This may take some time, and it may be that you limit each stakeholder (each staff member? Elder? other congregant?) to one contribution or opportunity submittal for consideration, depending on the size of the group. But once you have the list, you then award each participant 100 points for the purpose of scoring the opportunities.
Up next, in Part 2 of this article on Opportunities: Scoring, Effort and the Downside.