Friday, 13 September 2013

Measuring the Unmeasurable

In my last life, as part of the world of retail and commerce, every breath and every scintilla of an iota of anything was measured, assessed, judged and listed. League tables, charts, lines and the implicit status attached to those devices were a daily reality. 

For example, we were set turnover targets (the volume level of sales) and cash targets (the levels of payments taken against orders made). Beyond that there were the good old Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which varied from business to business. On one hand, the business would be measured on its sales expressed in pounds per square foot of shop as a way of assessing the right product blend and placement. Alternatively, we could be measured on our UPT (units per transaction), ATV (average transaction value), gross and net margin per order or across the store, the penetration (in the flooring world) of underlay within sales, or else of the added extras like stain treatments or insurances. These KPIs would, by the manager, require driving and improving, and all the while,and the blessed chart or league would be the aide memoire in this. Not only would we fight against our own targets but be placed in direct competition with other stores so that you not only worked to exceed your targets, but that you were chart-topping types too. Lines, graphs and charts. Each measurable has its own chart, its own line, its own graph - and these would be expressed in terms of figures per week (WTD), per period - PTD (a given month), a quarter - QTD (a period of thirteen weeks), YTD (year to date) and LFL (like for like when compared to like periods a year prior). And so on ... 

Fortunately, I seem to have been born with a mind that, in a Russell Crowe-esque kind of way, can determine patterns within numbers on an instinctive level without a calculator. Give me ten minutes in front of thirteen pages of reports and I would be able to tell you who, why and indeed when, the weak link was so that the Buzzards could descend and Performance Manage them out of existence. 

Then I got myself ordained. 

What you discover in the ordained life is that you are exactly the same person pre-collar. you bring your own autisms and gifts, your own baggage and silage. You think like you previously thought and see the world through the same eyes in the self-same way. The ontological change may well be internal, but it doesn't grant you an whole-body transfiguration. So, take a man whose world is bounded by KPIs and put him into a place without them, and see what happens (forgive the exclusive language, but I am (I think) male). 

Curacy is a blessing because the boss in many ways replaces the edges formed by figure-work and the charts. Direction is given and feedback received and in the end, the week is completed. There is a due sense of achievement and of "hitting target" which is a compelling and positive feeling for those of us familiar with it. Such feelings are also addictive so that when one's curacy ends and we move to a place where there is a distinct lack of training-incumbent, the lack of edges and devices for measuring forms not freedom, but precipitous edges over which one could, and indeed does, fall. 

The joys of priesthood are many and varied and I wouldn't do or be anywhere else. Sadly, it is entirely free of measurables except the pathological need to increase numbers of bums on pews. The other one is paying the bills, but that is about it. This is a world that for some would be refreshingly free and I can appreciate that, but for target-intuitive people, it means that there is no line to inform us when the job is (if ever) done. So, if you are like me, you carry on working, striving towards a line that will never appear, working towards a target that was never set. There be danger here. Some people need edges and some people need to have edges removed or lowered. I need edges and so wonder how I might find them. 

Oddly, for one like me (and I am not alone), the pursuit of the ellusive target corrodes the one measurable that always gets corroded by people like me. Me. The measurable that is my health and well-being is sacrificed to the unmeasurable and non-quantifiable, and after a very positive ministerial review, have established my own self as a KPI in the little world of Cloake Priesthood and Ministry Plc. So, at 1.15pm on a Friday in September, I am going to stop work, have some lunch and do no more work today. I feel a slob-out session coming on. 


  1. Nurture your inner slob David. We all need to do that from time to time.
    As for how you measure up, even in an unmeasurable way of life, you will soon be made aware if you fail.
    If nothing is said (neither praise nor censure) just assume you are doing well.
    From what I know of you, there is little to fear.

  2. Hari Om good a day as any to rest! YAM xx

  3. The ex-Churchwarden13 September 2013 at 17:31

    So what were you doing blogging seven whole minutes after close of business?

    If you really need KPIs you could always do the people thing and have a customer satisfaction survey complete with focus groups....?

    Or maybe not...?

  4. I'm with Ray. The priesthood is definitely different, and I find even as an associate, that I struggle with over-working at times. But I'm much better now than I was a few years ago, especially since I realized that if I am not fed (with leisure and fun and other non-workey stuff) I don't have much to give anyone else.

  5. I'm confidently amazed by how much pressure that clergy are placed under in just doing their job.

    I'm not sure how the transformation from a busy commercial role to a Priestly one doesn't change the essential 'you' because it must have in some way, made the worldly priorities that a commercial role reflects into those mission led priorities which Jesus gave us all.

    Essentially it seems to me to be to go and make disciples. With the supplementary ones from the Ordinal of ministry of word and sacrament and the implied ones of ministering to the sick, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry and visiting prisoners. All given to us all in Jesus' words, but held in tension by the Parish Priest as the publicly selected, trained, equipped and deployed to lead the people of God in his mission.

    That's a big ask in today's commercial, financially driven, consumerist society. As well as priestly roles. Today the priest is required to be as much a business man, human resources professional, a collaborative leader, managing director of the Parochial Church Council.. They need to be up to speed with safeguarding and social justice issues in their community. They are seen as a social worker, confidential counselor and even odd job man. In fact, there are probably 100 other roles that I can't even imagine.

    All of this is about managing the expectations of people, whether church, congregation or wider public. The priest is 'all things to all men' and needs to be pure as the driven snow, thoroughly grounded in theology, liturgy and pastoral care and be capable of the self examination needed to know when it's all getting on top of him or her.

    So, to balance all of these the church provides a couple of years of theological education and formation for ministry, followed by hopefully a joyful, busy curacy for 'on the job learning' than casts the priest out into the wilderness to fulfill all of the above roles, in the vague hope that the discernment, selection, training and formation provided will allow them to function.

    In some sense, a priest must be capable of sharing that load with the laity, because if they are unable to do so, ministry, must be a pretty lonely, environment, with a great deal of stress and pressure.

    Prayers for you and I reflect on my own escape from such a life when the NOT was given at BAP.



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