Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mistakes and Candidates

I like people who can admit to mistakes. I'm a believer in the old saw about how if you're not making any mistakes, it means you're not taking enough risks. And I also believe that saying "I was wrong," is another way of saying, "I'm smarter today than I was yesterday."

Cuz, you know, I make mistakes.

Anyway, on the UUA Election email list, this part of a debate was recently discussed. I found good stuff in both answers. Thought I'd share it here, in case you're not on the list. It came from HERE.

REV. GIBBONS: I'm going to try to get in two quick questions before we go to our closing statements. And that may take us just a little bit past the 11:30 mark, but I am hopeful that it will not be much beyond that. I'm reminded that once upon a long time ago when Ted Kennedy ran for president and was asked personal questions, he objected to them as couch questions. And this, perhaps, verges on being a couch question but it is this: “In the past, how have you responded to, evaluated and learned from mistakes, your own or those of your team?” Laurel?

REV. HALLMAN: Oh, I get to go first.


REV. HALLMAN: Thank you.

REV. MORALES: I get more time to think about mistakes.

REV. HALLMAN: [LAUGHTER] Mistakes. Oh, I'm running through them here. I'm picking one. I know that, and it's important for me to speak to this because I know it's out there in some ways, and that is the project that I was very much a part of, the Pathways Church Project in the Metroplex, Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. And what I think is my mistake may surprise you, so let me tell you a little bit of the story.

We, the ministers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, began to talk about places where we needed congregations and also about ways to help the congregations that already existed, what were the next steps? And as part of this conversation we began to talk about the fact that the ministry of the Horizon Unitarian Church in one of the suburbs had been, had come to Dallas at exactly the same time as I had, and we had started, First Church had been part of the starting of Horizon Church with 32 members, and the church now has 300 members. It's actually been one of the most healthy and important start-ups by the extension department of that time. And Denis Hamilton has been the minister of the church during his whole career, and he has done a magnificent job, a phenomenal job of moving from 32 to 100 to 150 and to 200 and then building, being in a storefront and building. But that is a lifetime, a minister's lifetime.

And so I began to work on the problem of how do we start new congregations, which we need to do, but fast start. I'm going to need more than 30 seconds, OK? How do we fast start congregations? And so the Pathways Project came out of that yearning, so that we would not have that slow, painful, inch by inch up to 100 where we stop and stay and stay and stay until we can do something else.

Now, if we fast-forward, we called the minister. I raised about three-quarters of the money in the Dallas church, and the rest of the money came from Boston and also some of the money from our district, our North Texas NTAUUS, which gives grants. And we called a dynamic, wonderful, fabulous minister, and we spent money, some of that money, a significant amount training in fast start.

Now, I clarify we were not creating a mega church. We never intended to create a mega church. We intended to create a fast start church. My mistake was not in any of that. It was well-conceived the people who were the donors were very excited. We knew it was an experiment. We went off. The initial sessions and planning seemed very promising, but the benchmarks which the plan had set, and we did have benchmarks, the benchmarks which we had set almost from the onset were not met. And by that time I had let go of the project, and that was my mistake.

I firmly believe that had we kept the management of the project local, that we would have changed the benchmarks as we saw the project not performing at the level that we had originally anticipated, which was we now know somewhat grandiose. So the money was spent out, and then rather abruptly stopped, so when all the staff that we had to be fired except for a part-time minister, so the church really took a hit.

Now just to say a little bit about the end of that, that church exists. The minister who, Anthony David, who was called, is now the senior minister. He’s been called to be senior minister of our large church in Atlanta, Georgia. I expect him to use all of those skills to make that church take off in a new and wonderful way. Pathways, people say how, why did it fail? Pathways is alive, it’s growing, they’ve called a new minister. It has the DNA which we wanted to put in it, which was dynamic, it still continues. But my mistake was letting go of it and I’m going to encourage people who have local projects to keep the management of them close.

REV. GIBBONS: Learning from mistakes, Peter.

REV. MORALES: Oh golly. I’ll just give you a recent one and it’s, happily it’s smaller than that. But I wanted to talk about the way that the mistake was designed, implemented, and then I’m done. We’ve been a fast growing church, and we did an addition and remodel, which was completed four years ago and our growth continued, and we were past that kind of 75, 80% crowding level at both of our services.

And scratched our heads about what to do, we were not able to accommodate, RE was overflowing, our parking lot was full. And in looking at alternatives it looked like making better use of our existing -- there are no possibilities for expansion where we are of our existing location -- would be the best alternative. So we went to having three services on Sunday morning, 8:30, 10:00 and 11:30.

And the sad fact is, especially time went on, it became the perfect Goldilocks problem. We had one service that was too early. People tried it but trust me, you could not consistently get UUs to an 8:30 service, at least in Colorado you can’t do it. They try it and they move to 10, a bunch, as it spread out, people decided that 11:30 was too late, it ran into lunch, and it made 10 o’clock horrific. So we had two services that had decent attendance but not very high, and we were overflowing at 10.

The important thing is we stopped it, and it wasn’t easy to say “Hey guys, this didn’t work.” We planned it, we looked at it, we gave it a good run, and we stopped it. We didn’t keep pouring enormous amounts of energy into something that was a failed model.

Many of you have seen the membership videos that we did for the first UU University in Saint Louis. And one of the things that gets me now is it’s used in training, is like, “we don’t do that anymore,” on part of it.

Because what I want to emphasize here is a culture of taking risks and trying things, but having in place ways to evaluate whether they’re working, and admitting that something doesn’t work, and stopping it. It’s very hard for us to do, but one of the things I will bring in as president, is that sense that nothing significant gets implemented without an evaluation plan at the beginning, not at the end, but designed at the beginning, not being evaluated by the person who’s implementing it. None of us wants to say that our child is not beautiful and smart. So that we develop that culture of being able to first take risks and try new things, but two, stop the ones that aren’t working so that we can put our resources into those that are successful.


Robin Edgar said...

Since when is a colossal failure aka a fiasco just a "mistake"? I hate to have to say so, but the overall impression that I get here is of Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman rather opportunistically responding to the question about ow the candidates have responded to, evaluated and learned from their mistakes, by trying to cover her ass insofar as her involvement in the Pathways fiasco goes. Rev. Hallman seems to be rather earnestly doing her best to present a rather sour U*U "lemon" as actually being lemonade. . .

Lizard Eater said...

Robin, I appreciate your interest in the the UUA presidential race and think that you have some valid concerns, but I want to keep a certain tone to the comments. One candidate will win and we who are involved with the UUA will all need to work together. On my blog, I do not wish to call into debate the integrity of Rev. Hallman or Rev. Morales.

Robin Edgar said...

So essentially what you are saying is that even if there is clear evidence that one or both UUA Presidential candidates is being shall we say "less than honest" in what they say, that you do not want anyone to point that out on your blog. Fine. I will do it on mine.