Accountability is a recurring theme in section 107 in the Doctrine and Covenants, regarding priesthood responsibilities and governance. The final two verses admonish each priesthood holder to “learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence,” followed by a stern warning to those who fail to do so. At the same time, the Lord counsels us to be merciful, to constantly forgive others and turn the other cheek. It makes for an interesting balancing act when you have to rely on a broad group of volunteer priesthood holders to accomplish an assignment.
One of the main responsibilities that Michelle and I have is ensuring that the financial audits of the 1,000 congregations in West Africa are properly completed twice each year. As covered in an earlier post, Church financial oversight is essential to protect both the consecrated “widow’s mite,” as well as those responsible for managing those funds. For years, the Church’s requested deadline for semi-annual audit completion has been the end of March and September, though we keep pushing, even after the deadline until all the audits are in and all the noted exceptions are resolved. Last fall, we arrived in Ghana just as the mid-year audits were being completed, and we wound up with 94% of the audits submitted on-time, and finally got the final straggler audits turned in by the end of the year. This was down a bit from prior audits, largely because there was no one here to manage the process full-time for a few months before our arrival.
Starting this year, the Church announced that all audits were due by the fifteenth of March and September, so we scrambled to get the word out on the new deadline. Not surprisingly, it is not easy to modify long-standing habits, so the week before the deadline, we had less than 45% of our audits completed. That’s when our team of sixteen Assistant Area Auditors (AAAs) really went into scramble mode, working feverishly with the stake and district leaders across seven countries to get the work completed. When the clock struck midnight on the March 15, we wound up with 92% of our 1,000 audits submitted into the system. I was feeling relieved but still pretty bummed out about the drop-off. Coming from a corporate governance role, I am used to an environment where 100% is just table stakes to stay in the game.
I started feeling better when the congratulations started rolling in from Salt Lake. It turns out that with the deadline change, we weren’t the only ones fighting tradition; on-time audit completion across the Church dropped by 11% and Africa West, previously viewed by the auditors as a promising but new problem-child, suddenly leap-frogged a bunch of the traditional stalwart areas, moving into the poster-child classification. That news came as a sweet relief to most of our team who had been sweating bullets together for months. We all luxuriated for several glorious, extended minutes.
With the audits completed, it was also time to move into another facet of our responsibility here – effective team management to ensure not only audit timeliness, but quality improvement. Since all the audit work we do relies on the sixteen AAAs scattered across West Africa who manage audits within their own geography as a volunteer, unpaid Church calling; it was time to assess how each member of the team was performing to find out where we needed to shore up support, or consider some changes.
In particular, we have one AAA who promises the moon but struggles to deliver, inevitably sending us a mound of raw, un-reviewed data to input just before the deadline. He travels constantly with his work, making it very hard to reach him or get a response when questions arise. His local priesthood leaders maintain that in the environment of that country, he is probably doing as well as could be expected. We have another AAA in a different country who has a great attitude and aptitude for the calling, but who is under a lot of time stress from his employer, struggles to get all of his stake and district leaders trained and is facing criticism from some of the priesthood leaders who think he is too stringent.
The member of the Africa West Area Presidency who oversees our Area Auditing function, asked me for an assessment and recommendations for these two situations. His own background includes finance, math and stats, so he is a quant jock who resonates very well with numbers and objective, analytical reasoning, which is right in my comfort zone. This approach may sound a bit out of place in a Church calling, where revelation is supposed to be the governing principle, but I firmly believe that the Lord was serious when he asked us to use all our available resources for problem solving, then bring Him a recommendation for approval, or a gentle prod to take it back to the drawing board. My own approach to “studying it out in [my] mind,” includes seeking wisdom “out of the best books,” and that includes the books and techniques I relied on in the business world.
So I put together a high-level analysis, laying out five criteria that best measure the effectiveness of an individual AAA, (history of on-time audits, timely resolution of audit exceptions, knowledge and responsiveness, relationships with priesthood holders and effectiveness as a trainer), along with an indexed assessment of the performance of each AAA across each of those areas.
In fairness, there are also several factors beyond the control of the individual AAAs which impact the difficulties they face in completing their assignments. Earlier discussions with the team had identified four main challenge areas: the number of audit committees that each AAA was responsible for managing and training, the geographic dispersion of those committees, technology adoption levels and the historical patterns of funds misuse in each area. With some historical data, geo-mapping and proxy variables, I was able to index the “difficulty” factor faced by each of our AAAs.
It was then relatively straightforward to overlay the overall effectiveness and difficulty marks for each team member onto a scatter-plot for a quick quadrant analysis to show how each AAA is doing in terms of their overall performance in the calling, coupled with the difficulty that each of them faces in carrying out their assignment, accompanied with a few illustrating maps.
The Area Presidency member loved it; it took him all of five minutes to scan and digest it, ask a couple of questions and comment that this confirmed his own feelings about the auditing function and the individual team members. He also said that this model gave us a great framework to evaluate and strengthen the team as a whole and a method for addressing the specific personnel situations we were facing.
After we discussed those two situations for another couple of minutes; he came to the same general conclusions I had reached and (this is the critical part), noted he was comfortable that this path forward was aligned with what the Lord would have us do to best accomplish His purposes with the program, as well as to bless the lives of all individuals involved.
In the case of AAA 1 (all names and locations masked), his performance consistently trailed the rest of the team in every facet of the calling, there was no indication this was likely to change and the environment he was operating in was considerably easier than most of the rest of the team, except in the area of local technology adoption.
Now was time to make a change there, bringing someone new into the position with a fresh perspective, who was better equipped to deal with the local technology challenges, allowing the current AAA to get involved in an area better suited to his skills and other life situations.
Our struggling, but overworked AAA 5 has a great attitude, skills and generally good performance marks, except for priesthood relationships. However, his effectiveness was clearly hampered by somewhat low technology adoption in that country, the large number of audit committees he covered and the huge geographic dispersion of those committees, requiring five times more travel than the average AAA. While his relationship with priesthood leaders held his effectiveness down, nearly all of his challenges with local leaders are concentrated in one geographic area and tie back to a situation where he stood his ground, refusing to allow quiet local correction and treatment of some accounting missteps, insisting that they be reported up the chain.
This situation was clearly different in that we had an ideal person in the right job, but needed to find a way to compensate for the overwhelming difficulties inherent in that situation. While AAAs are each assigned to a Coordinating Council, which corresponds to mission boundaries, there were instances where a second AAA had been called within a Coordinating Council, splitting the auditing territory and workload to keep the calling manageable. The map of that region illustrated how we could easily split it in two and call another AAA to cover the area where AAA 5 was having challenges working with local leaders. This would quickly solve the scope, the travel mileage and the personality challenges for AAA 5 and keep him in place as an in-country expert to help train and support a newly called AAA.
It looks good on paper and it passes muster with my leader and the confirming warm feeling thing, now we just need to effectively administer the program changes and, most importantly, minister to each of the people involved in same the manner that the One we are striving to serve would use.