Did you come to this wondering if I was about to reveal that I am about to receive a change in appointment? If so, I wonder if you've just emphasised the point I'm hoping to make here. That being, that I think the current system of appointing Officers needs to be discarded as it no longer remains best practice. In fact, the current system actually promotes gossip and voyeurism more than it does our mission objectives.
I'll come back to that momentarily.
In a recent post over at Boundless Salvation, Captain Jason Davies-Kildea questioned the place of "expertise" within The Salvation Army. This is actually a big problem that he highlights across the board. Generalists Officers are, generally speaking (pardon the pun), considered of greater long-term value to the purposes of the Army than specialists.
This may, in fact, be correct. I don't think it is, but I'm allowing for the possibility that I could be wrong. That happens quite frequently.
My problem is with the way the appointment system is used to create these generalist Officers. For those who are unaware, the current system employed is that Officers (through their Officers covenant and Officer undertakings) agrees to go wherever they are appointed to. Territorial Commanders (TC) are given the responsibility of deciding upon those appointments. Most often they delegate the actual organisation of this to a Personnel Secretary, but in the end it's the decision of the TC as to whether an Officer needs to move, where they will be moved to, and who will replace them. Most often Officers will spend 3-5 years in any given appointment, and over the course of their Officership be sent to a variety of roles. That produces generalists, and actually limits the possibility of specialisation.
It wasn't our own system. In fact, we appropriated it as a part of our adoption of Military metaphors and structures. But, I think it's time for a complete overhaul of this system, though.
There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, it creates a great deal of pain and anxiety for Officers. I know, as an Officer myself, that this is the nature of the system, but I've seen this anxiety and pain in the faces of a number of very close friends. This is exacerbated by the necessary requirement for "silence" until the announcement is made. Many Officers are told they are moving, which can cause a great deal of pain for them, and then told to keep it to themselves, sometimes for months at a time. I suggest this places "the system" above "the people" and simply makes me ask "Is there a better way?". Frankly, I think there is.
Secondly, this system promotes, and even causes gossip and voyeurism. From my own observations (indeed, this includes self-reflection here) I've seen how the Army world effectively "stops" on field change day. Particularly around the college as cadets find out their first appointments there is a sense of excitement in the air. Let me be perfectly honest and say that I know that I get excited when I see that "Appointment Announcement" email come through... but is that more about voyeurism than genuine concern for the mission of The Salvation Army? If I'm honest, it's probably the first more than the second.
Thirdly, we have created, by virtue of the fact that only Officers are appointed, two completely separate leadership structures, all based on whether one wears red epauletes or not. Officers are appointed to roles of leadership, sometimes with little to no expertise in that particular field, whilst employee positions are advertised and they have to apply for roles as they become available. This has practical implications in that employees, and particularly long-serving employees, have a "glass ceiling" above them resulting in the fact that they are highly unlikely to be able to be promoted to a role that has historically been occupied by an Officer. More than that, this is a theological issue as well. If we truly espouse an understanding of the "Priesthood of All Believers" that says there is no ontological difference between "lay" and "clergy", then this is one practical area where we need to apply such a theology. Otherwise, we're preaching one thing and doing another.
My suggestion here is to completely overhaul the appointment system. In its place I suggest a system structured in the same way as the employee system. Positions are advertised, Officers apply for them, they are interviewed and accepted or rejected for the position. This could include provision for short-term appointments of say 3-5 years, but with the opportunity for renewal at the end. Importantly, anyone is able to apply for any role, including senior leadership positions. For example, why couldn't a soldier occupy a cabinet position?
In conjunction with this is the need for an appropriate performance management system for all Officers and employees. This currently occurs for employees. For Officers it's "on the way" (at least in my territory).
For the purposes of transparency, I must state that this wasn't my own idea, but something a fellow Officer suggested in conversation. What I've proposed here are, though, my thoughts as to why I think the idea has merit.
I think it provides some possible solutions to the problems highlighted above. Firstly, Officers would know when their term is coming to an end and would be actively involved in the renewal process, or the application process for a new appointment. This would eliminate some of the anxiety (perhaps re-creating it in a new form!!!), but importantly treating them as persons interested in their own self-development. Secondly, gossip and voyeurism is reduced (but admittedly never entirely eliminated) as transparency would need to be built into the system. Roles and opportunities would need to be advertised, and everyone would know that a given position is up for renewal. Officers could state to their friends and colleagues that they are applying for a particular role, taking away the "watercooler whispers". Finally, we are much closer to applying our theology of the priesthood of all believers in practical terms. If Harold Hill's assessment is correct, this is something we've been failing at for some time.
Coming back to the original problem of "specialisation" and "generalisation", this proposal allows for the possibility that an Officer could be in one location for 3, 5, 10, 20 years, even. Developing them into a specialist in their particular ministry area.
I know this suggestion is not perfect. I know it would be messy, particularly in the early years of implementing such a system, and it's just easier to just accept what is the status quo. But since when has settling with the status quo ever been good enough?
We must always ask "Is there a better way?". On this particular point, I think there is.
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