Does your parish council regularly ask, "How do we get more people to come and get involved?"
Anna Caraveli suggests turning the question outside-in and ask instead, "How can we understand and connect to what matters most to people? How can we attend to the struggles of our people and serve them?"
Learn more about Anna's research in organizational health and how it applies to churches with respect to:
Check out The Demand Perspective: Leading from the Outside In by Anna Caraveli, PhD
Read the full episode transcript.
Hollie Benton 0:01
You are listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian,. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. Anna Caraveli, author of the Demand Perspective: Leading From the Outside In, joins me today on this podcast episode. Anna is managing partner of the Demand Networks LLC of research consulting, leadership, customer and organizational development firm specializing in deep and sustainable customer engagement and organizational change. Prior to consulting she held various management positions and the membership and education divisions of the Smithsonian and Brookings Institutions. Anna also serves on the board at St Mary's Orthodox Church of the Romanian episcopate of the OCA in Falls Church, Virginia. Welcome Anna, I'm so pleased to be talking with you today.
Anna Caraveli 1:08
Thank you very much Hollie for having me. And you made me sound so much better than I make myself sound.
Hollie Benton 1:15
I wanted to interview you Anna after we had some really wonderful and engaging conversations about empathy, as it relates to the parish leadership and mentoring programs we're developing through the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. You were so generous and you shared your book with me "The Demand Perspective, Leading From the Outside In. Even though your research didn't focus on parish health specifically you uncovered many critical components that are necessary to the health of any organization including churches. So Ana tell us what you mean by your title? What is a demand perspective?
Anna Caraveli 1:52
A demand perspective, simply put, is the perspective of the people that you serve the perspective that guides your decisions and perspective that should be central to the way that your organization thinks, and I should tell you that it all starts because I noticed how many of the nonprofit membership organizations such as Association, but also universities, how they struggle with engaging people who struggled with attrition, they struggle with a slow decline of relevance, and I wanted to understand what it was that made the difference. What made an organization capable of engaging and inspire being relevant to its member, as opposed to go through a slow death. I was also influenced by the work of Ranjay Gulati who looked for a similar pattern in the For Profit organizations, and I found what he found. I found that the organizations that focused on themselves, their own glory, their own preoccupations their own agendas, their own perspective, rather than members were the ones that decline, very rapidly, and their organizations that put customers at the center, not just of the business, the center of the heart. They're the ones that thrive.
Hollie Benton 3:28
And so then this other part of the title, leading from the outside in, how does one lead from the outside in?
Anna Caraveli 3:36
That's the hardest thing of all. And by the way I wanted to say that churches like any other human organizations face the same situation, in that they begin with fervor here the the startup phase, without commitment to your clients, your members your faithful, without whom you wouldn't even exist. And over time, as the focus on self becomes stronger stronger stronger, you lose that connection with the people you serve, and you become increasingly irrelevant in their lives. How do you lead from the outside in? I found, and I struggled so much with the client organizations and the organizations that I work with. I found that when it comes to change, if there's an impulse to do something great immediately, it's to have a big survey to come up with a big strategic plan and state goals and come up with, you know, written descriptions of promises and aspirations or improve your website, or hire new people. But they're all external things, they're all things that involve the matter, and lots of people. My conclusion is that the harder change which needs to take place, is to really change the way you think and the way you do things, which is the toughest change of all. I work with a big membership organization that claimed that they wanted to be unified, they wanted to create a team-oriented environment, they wanted to share the same vision for growth, the same aspirations, and they had countless of staff meetings and retreats to find out the way. But, for example, I noticed the different units, created separate budget, there was no shared budget, that was shared objective so that one department could contribute to this and other one could... we got the individual budgets so that the units competed with each other, and lost sight of the great big goals that they had articulated in the reports. Or I've worked with organizations that claimed are customer centric, and yet, they start looking at the customer as disruptions. The fathers talk about the passions taking over starting with a mere thought, that becomes embedded in our thinking, and then embedded in our habits. This is the same pattern for organizations, they become wedded to the way things are. One ambition leads to another ambition, one agenda leads to more agenda and they become preoccupied with themselves, so that customers are a disruption. I don't know how many times do you hear maybe organizations you've worked with, you know, talk about "oh customers don't understand us." The lack of humility that takes place, you think you know it all, it's not driven by curiosity, so you may say that that you are, and everybody says that. Nobody says I'm not customer-centric, everybody, you know, says "yes, I'm customer-centric" but their actions say the opposite because they never spend time talking about customers, they never take time to listen to the frontline people, the people who answer phones. to ask them what they learn. This is the toughest thing. This is where the rubber hits the road is when you actually have to do things differently.
Hollie Benton 7:26
So, you suggested as a way to ground our podcast listeners into a scriptural foundation for this approach leading from the outside in, that we read Mark chapter 10 verses 43 through 45 Let me read that now: "But it shall not be so among you, but whosoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all for the Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." In your book you compare and contrast an inside out, bureaucratic organization to an outside in or customer-centric organization, and outside in organization is one that doesn't expect to be served but to serve. So when I read in your book on that inside out bureaucratic organizations tend to ask, how do we increase attendance and increase engagement, I couldn't help but think of how often we spend those same questions in parish council meetings where the same question gets asked a lot how do we get more people involved in what the church is doing. And what I love is that you suggest rather as an outside in organization, as an organization that would rather serve, and to be served, it's better to ask, "How can we understand and connect to what matters the most to our parish members?" So give us some examples of how we can change the focus from self to others?
Anna Caraveli 8:57
Good question. First of all, Christianity is such an amazing religion. People think of it as, you know passe, irrelevant, old fashioned, but the truths are evident in business as well. Christianity is revolutionary. The chapter that you read that humility, through humility, you ascend to God. Through emptying yourself, you fill yourself with God, through dying for God, you're renewed. These truths are also... you find them in business. People see through marketing hype and promises in word, and nominal gestures, in which they're treated more as commodities, as sources of income, rather than as human beings to whom you're committed to help. In business it's true too that the more you empty yourself, the more you focus, that the the more you humble yourself... because if you're an inside-out organization, you know, you don't really feel that you have anything to learn from your members. They're characterized by lack of curiosity, they do as little as it can to get to know members. they consider it a waste of time. Whereas the outside-in organization, they use every opportunity to engage members and conversations to get to understand not just yes or no answers, but what matters to them outside the organization. The humbler an organization is, the more aware of their own limitations of knowledge, and the more curious they are about the members, the more engaged the members are.
I want to bring in an example that is in my book. The Veterinary Information Network... the usual way for associations is you begin with an organizational model, with a structure, you come up with processes with a governing body with products and services that you think, you know, people will buy, and then you try to push your products and your review on other people. So it's a command and control thing, it's a top down thing. So associations, for example, will offer discounts, insurance, a set of programs. They ask what programs we should have but they don't say, should we even have products. Maybe there's something else that members want.
So, Veterinary Information Network started empty, so to speak, they didn't set up a top heavy organization, they followed, they understood members. They had long conversations with them, they visited a place of work, they were independent veterinarians, not parts of this huge practices. They understood that these people felt isolated, they needed community. They understood that they didn't have the time and the resources. If, say in the course of conducting an operation, surgery, they needed a quick answer from a specialist, they couldn't reach the specialist so there's no reason, no point in the association assemblying a huge library. If people could not access it when they needed it. So they created, in essence, a network rather than a list of products, a network that became the largest virtual practice in the world, and it gave them immediate access to specialists, they gave them immediate access to a state of the art database, research database, as they work. It gave them the ability to contribute to the database by putting their own experiences, successful cases. This network, in a way like Amazon, that didn't say "I'm a bookstore", and they keep morphing. They don't put the structure and the products of the organization, first. They're not attached to it, and they keep morphing into all kinds of different infusion center, into collective marketplace where people exchange ideas, and the churches are no different. Every church has to have, you know, whatever. Ladies Guild and a parish council, and a rummage sale and whenever things start with the members to say what truly matters to them. And then, rethink products and services.
The first thing to do is get to know members in a different way. Deep inside, empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes. It's not simply finding out yes and no, do they like the choir, or do they want more what you have less of what you have. We tried this at my church St Mary's. We were about to embark on a capital development project an expansion of our facilities. Our first thought is to start from the inside, to get together to come up with a plan to come up with an objective, and then at some point, further down the road, run a survey. But instead of that, we took a team of 20 people. We run them through a workshop for how to conduct ethnographic research, how to get inside someone's heart and soul and see the world the way they see, to understand it. Then, each of these 20 people interviewed maybe 10-15 people in a way that didn't just ask questions based on what we already had, you know like, "Would you like more programs of the kind that we have?" We ask the things that involve the whole life like what matters.
Hollie Benton 15:22
Right, what keeps you up at night?
Anna Caraveli 15:27
What keeps you up at night? Exactly. Why this church? Why do you come to this church? What connects you? What links you? Which by the way is the key to engagement, to find out where the sweet spot is, where is the maximum point of true connection with the people that you serve. And we found out incredible things. We found out, for example, that in Parker that's where there's a large number of converts, that people wanted spiritual growth. They wanted other people who were serious about it, they wanted discussion, they wanted debate, they wanted the church to be more than once a week, they wanted it expanded with things like you know movie night, online learning. So, it just completely changed what we thought.
Hollie Benton 16:15
They wanted more connection and which doesn't necessarily mean building.
Anna Caraveli 16:21
Exactly, it doesn't mean building, it means we're given the reason for building, it's not the building, it's that they want to do certain things that would require a building.
Hollie Benton 16:34
This is a really wonderful way to imagine engagement through a demand perspective leading from the outside in. Our listeners can find your book on amazon.com. And I would encourage everyone to read it, even your example of the veterinary institution, you know, you mentioned that these are independent veterinarians, which really remind me of our priests in our parishes that tend to be at times isolated and siloed, and I think some of the examples that you give in your book can really be rendered towards leadership and the situation that we find our parishes in, and especially in thinking leading from the outside in, with those questions that promote empathy and connection, and really getting at the heart of what matters to the people that we're serving.
Anna Caraveli 17:21
Ask yourself about the church, is this a place where people come once a week, or is this a community that helps them address the inner struggles, the problems, the need for community, what is the role the church plays in your parishioners life? How central, is it to their lives?
Hollie Benton 17:46
Right, a framework for their lives for helping them set the priorities of their lives. That's what we hope it to be and that's, you know, how the liturgy has served as a way to feed us so that we can go out and serve others.
Anna Caraveli 17:58
I have been invited to help organizations who love my ideas, love the big vision of connectivity with clients, have counted for something in their lives of transformation. And that was great. That was fine, but when it came to doing everyday things differently which is where it resides. It's not a big objective to articulate is in the daily routines, the way you do little things, that when they found it impossible for many of them to move. There is a disconnect this type of human being that there is the fragmentation between who we say we are, would like to be who we want people to think we are, and what we actually do, what our actions do.
Hollie Benton 18:50
Right. It takes hard work. Even the example that you were talking about the way that we look the website, the products that we put out there, the image that we're creating I mean so much so even as an individual Christian how much easier it is to put on a headscarf or grow a beard or, or wear a cross, or even do the fast but to actually have the habit of checking the criticisms or the gossip or the things that come out of your mouth that offend. What kind of habits do we have and how difficult they are to break.
Anna Caraveli 19:26
Look at most churches how we talk about love in Christ, right this the center of our religion is love. And yet our parish councils, our different committees are anything but loving environments. There is contention, there are divisions, that have personal agendas, and we can so easily be overwhelmed by the passion, so easily lose sight of what is good or evil, and mistake evil for good. So, vigilance is important, and discipline. How do we allow love for Christ to be manifest in our lives, in our parishes life, as love for other people. How can we create engaging loving parish councils that are free from attachments to their own agendas and antiquated processes and habits of mind and empty ourselves. And then, to let love for others come in.
Hollie Benton 20:28
Oh, I'm so excited to be talking with you. This approach to empathetic questions and curiosity is just so helpful for any clergymen or parish leader in cultivating the vision and their own parishes to address the people that they're serving with empathy and with curiosity and seeking to understand in humility. Thank you so much for this conversation and I hope our listeners will check out your book "The Demand Perspective: Leading From the Outside In."
Anna Caraveli 21:00
Thank you very much having me.
So happy to have you Anna. Thank you.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai