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Putting Complainers to Work

I am a firm believer in open-book management—the practice of openly communicating financial details broadly across organizations. When I took over an intact department, I sought help in establishing a good approach to open-book management from a good friend and expert in the topic, Chuck Kremer. Chuck recommended an approach for sharing success stories, setting goals, and tracking actions along with in-depth review of the financial statements. These steps consumed nearly an hour a month—taking over the agenda for one of our weekly meetings. But I was dedicated to the approach and was seeing many benefits.

About six months into the process, I sought feedback and was surprised at what I heard. Although they saw value in the process, several people expressed it took too long and involved too many steps. When I took a poll, others agreed. So I asked those most vocal to take on a project to improve the process. I gave the team a few boundaries and sent them off. The results were wonderful. The process was streamlined and allowed for other topics during those staff meetings. Also, the team had gathered broad input across the department, so everyone was committed to the new process, and we gained even more benefits.

The situation reminded me of this passage. Early in the building of the Christian church, shortly after Jesus' resurrection and ascension, the people also had a complaint:

Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a murmuring against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word." And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.

—Acts 6:1–6

The leaders properly resisted the trap of jumping in to address the problem or direct the details of the answer. Instead, they identified a plan and delegated the execution details to the people with the complaint. Notice the leaders established boundaries for the proper answer, which in this case was the characteristics of the candidates for the job. The leaders were also involved in approving the selections made, which is another form of boundary. This answer resolved the problem quickly, and even the people with the complaint were pleased.

Turns out, involvement and delegation are wonderful techniques for addressing complaints. You may be amazed at how well—and how fast—they work in ministry!

Interested in giving it a go? Here's what I suggest:

-Ask questions to further your understanding of the complaint.

-Resist the urge to become defensive if the complaint involves you or any of your previous decisions.

-Determine how you can assign the issue to others—especially the people who have raised the complaint.

-Remember it is vital to identify appropriate boundaries and requirements for the final solution: the criteria by which you will accept the solution offered.

-Review and approve the final decision

How might this process help you deal with complaining staff or volunteers?

November03, 2009 at 5:23 PM

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