Category Archives: Management

Where We Work

I recently launched a new business venture at RedReynolds.com wherein I spend 25% of my time building websites for small-businesses and individuals, 25% of my time consulting with startup companies on Information Technology, Web, and Software strategy, and 50% of my time developing my own products and services to sell on the internet. What an adventure! One reflection I have had is on the fact that where we work becomes wrapped in with our identities really quickly.

Working for a ministry in your vocation, it is easy to start to feel pretty good about yourself because you get up every day and roll into a church to a cushy office where you are surrounded by people who support you (typically). You begin to feel more righteous and justified simply by the location where you work. This comfortable identification with the place where you work creeps up on you before you realize it and it impacts your thinking.

How I realized this was making the change to go out on my own and work remotely after 9 years working in ministry. Work remotely? Yep, that means every coffee shop and open wifi space within 5 square miles of my home has become my office at some point. Interestingly, this change has brought a lot of freedom and also a lot of reflections on where I find my worth, where my trust comes from, and what is required to feel comfortable.

What I am learning is that who we are needs to be more about who God has made us to be then the material & earthly artifacts we start to trust in if we are not careful.

Fallen But Not Forgotten

In the decision to move to Florida to work for Christ Fellowship, I had to deal with some feelings of unworthiness that I had not faced in a long time. When God tees up a sweet shot for you, it is sometimes tough to think you are the right person to take the swing. In my case, I felt unworthy because of my falleness. I am very familiar these days with my weakness because it rears its head daily in my life in the little things. You know, parenting, finances, relationships, and work. So in the midst of working out if the move to Florida was right for us, I just felt this overwhelming fear that God could not possibly use me for a work as significant as what seems to await me in West Palm Beach.

During the week I was thinking these things, Christ Fellowships #2 guy delivered a message (view the video) which put me at ease. The first ten minutes are especially worthy of your time, as he walks through the great men of Hebrews and recounts their fallen sides. It’s a brilliant reminder that just because we are fallen doesn’t mean the Lord has forgotten us. Jesus still has a plan for each of us that takes into account our screw-ups and disabilities. We still need to pray every morning for God to have His way with us, but we can have a confidence that Jesus does not forget us when he is ready to do a work. Just because we are fallen does not mean we are forgotten.

A New Job and Neighborhood

Word is starting to get out a bit that I have resigned my position with Stonebriar Community Church this week and accepted a position with the 30th largest church in the US. We wanted to let all of you know this as early in the process as possible, but also had some details to work out before I could make things official. I have been away from consistent blogging for awhile so that I could get this life decision made.

Where is this?

Christ Fellowship in West Palm Beach, Florida offered me a CIO type role that was just too awesome to not consider. After a rapid, yet extensive interview process, Ashley and I came to the same conclusion as Christ Fellowship that God had created an amazing fit between what they need in a technology leader and what God has made me to do. I will initially manage a department of 6-8 folks doing everything from programming to helpdesk to data warehousing. The team is pretty junior, but very talented none the less. Really a good group to be able to mentor.

What will you be doing, exactly?

For some of the more technology challenged readers, I will try to boil this down for you. I will manage a team of people who keep the email working, the files storing, the computers healthy, the data safe, the website updated, the member contact information reportable, the videos playing, the telephones working, etc.

In addition to these regular Church IT duties, I will be helping the church navigate the technology waters to a place of understanding how technology can be leveraged to improve the way they do the Christian life together. Whether this is through a better website that connects people with each other, systems that help improve the discipleship of church members, or an intranet for better communication within the staff, the goal of the position will be to partner with the other executives to champion technology projects that are sponsored internally. I am a change agent for technology within a church who already loves change and technology. What could be more fun?

Are You Moving?

Well yes we are. Believe it or not, God’s call on our life in this case was so strong it is making us give up our Texas residence. Leaving our friends, family, and this great State of Texas (Long live the Republic) were about the only downsides of this ministry move. We are seriously grieving moving to the beach. Some of our friends are just laughing in our pitiful faces and saying, “There are a lot worse places to serve the Lord. It could be Africa or a Peanut Farm!” Thank you Jesus it isn’t both! And they are right, West Palm Beach is about the most affluent place you can be a church worker. Living in constant good weather and around nice things shouldn’t be such a pain. We just love what we have here. We are comfortable. We are fully supported.
Some scripture came to mind in this that haunted us a bit:

Mathew 16: 24Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 27For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.

Mark 1: 16As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17“Come, follow me,” Jesus said. 18 At once they left their nets and followed him. 19When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

When is this happening?

My last day of work at Stonebriar is August 10th and my first day of work with Christ Fellowship is August 13th. I will work remotely for three weeks. We will move over Labor Day weekend, with my first day on site being September 3rd. “There is a lot left to do” is an understatement of understatements.

With this having happened this week, I have heaps more to say about this, but it will have to wait cause I am out of time for today. We’ll write more soon.

From Bubble Graphs to Mind Maps

Bubble Graphs

I can honestly say there are almost no learning techniques from Jr. High that I have carried forward through my short academic life into business. However, there is one gift that a now nameless, faceless teacher once gave me. That gift was the ability to put my thoughts on paper first, and then dork with them and refine them. She (I think it was a “she”) called them “Bubble Graphs”, but the point was to brainstorm about a topic for a speech, a paper, or an argument and document things. Then go back and do the organization and structuring of those thoughts, with a final output being an outline.

Those of you who have conversed with me for more than a few moments know that my brain multi-threads pretty well when thinking, speaking, and typing. It doesn’t do so well with multi-tasking actual work, but it is highly optimized for thinking. This becomes problematic when my environment puts certain constraints on me, like for instance time, energy, and sleep. So, in time I developed a method of getting my rapid, fluid thoughts out of my brain and onto one of these “Bubble Graphs”.

I started using them in Junior High in Extemporaneous Speaking contests, and then used them at Baylor on almost every paper I wrote and every speech I gave as a Speech Communications major. This approach even helped when I entered the business world as I created Powerpoints, training documentation, technology proposals, project plans, and conducted audits of companies. For me, it was simply the best way to get the unstructured data that flowed rampantly in my brain onto paper, and then decide how the concepts were related, what was worth keeping, and how the final deliverable would be structured. I now know this method to be the same as a concept map.

Mind Maps

About four years ago I stumbled on some software that would allow me to do “mind mapping”. The differences between a mind map and a concept map are subtle. Basically a mind map tends to be more structured in format and there is typically no direct grouping of concepts other than by what the structure and hierarchy of the mind map document provides. That said, the process for creating a mind map and a concept are essentially the same.

Mind mapping software enables a person or persons to quickly document ideas on a screen with almost no technical difficulties that would hamper the creative process. And yet, these ideas can be restructured very speedily by simply dragging and dropping an idea underneath another idea. This creates a very agile approach to document individual or group ideation, whether it be mission statements, business plan outlines, venture capital pitches, or things as abstract as meal recipe organization. It can even help with brainstorming about lengthy blog posts (see my mind map for this post below).

FreeMind Mind Mapping Software

After trying many different mind mapping software products over the last four years, I have finally settled on one that I can’t get enough of. FreeMind is the tool I have recommended recently to a number of other internet professionals. Regardless of the varying ways they think, they almost always come back and say “the more I use this, the more I use this”. Once you really “get” this process and this kind of tool, you begin to find heaps of other ways in which it will help you.

I recently used FreeMind on a consulting engagement where I was asked to make recommendations about how to turn their business around. I took notes of each stakeholder conversation in individual text documents, but then used the mind map to tie all the concepts, problem spaces, and solutions together. This aided me in understanding a large, complex problem at a single glance. It came in handy when it was time to draft the deliverable document of my recommendations.

Also, recently, I used FreeMind on a 150+ page web project to develop the navigation scheme (Information Architecture) that will easily expand in the future to more than 500 pages. The two freelance designers I was working with were able to collaborate on my work by simply opening my file and changing things up. On this same large project, 15 of us used FreeMind during a series of meetings to create a massive mind map that profiles our eight core audience member types. We included each of those profiles characteristics, needs, and the many ways we felt we could meet their needs based on what resources we have available to our organization. This was an invaluable tool in not only understanding our audience, but in helping us as a team to decide which of the 8 types of people coming to our website would be our core focus, which would be of secondary focus, and who we would try to serve as we could.

Why I Love FreeMind

  • Free to use(yep, it’s open source)
  • Cross platform
  • Scalable for very large maps
  • Easily installed and updated
  • Has numerous export options (images, PDFs, outlines in various file types)
  • Built with Java and XML

There seems to exist a little online community around the FreeMind software, which is maybe best illustrated in this online list of mind maps that you can explore for ideas on how to do your own. I am especially fond of this start on Calvinist “Sects”.

Mind Map for This Blog Post

FreeMind Mind Map

The Return of the Tent Maker – The Unconference Scheduled for May 4th

Rex Miller, who I am meeting for lunch tomorrow for a little chat, has announced the Return of the Tent Maker – The Unconference. Details are forthcoming, but what we do know is A) he is calling this an unconference, B) it is being hosted at Irving Bible Church, and C) it is scheduled for May 4th.

An “Unconference” is a loosely-coupled, attendee-led grouping of talks that are highly interactive. Typically, everyone arrives at the conference and posts up a talk topic on a white board (which has time slots for various discussions) that they are interested in giving or moderating. Others who are interested in the same discussion may ask to help lead the gathering, or may just show up ready to dialog on the topic. Others may lurk in the back of the room waiting to see if something develops which is interesting to them. One of the common rules of these discussions is that if you are bored, get out and find something that interests you. This leads to some roaming between talks which is kind of interesting.

The whole unconference (pdf) idea is not new, being birthed in the late 70’s/early 80’s, but it has only recently been applied to technology conferences. “Return of the Tent Maker” *may* be the first ministry focused unconference, though I can’t say for sure. Does anyone else know?

Perhaps the most blogged unconference was foocamp ’04. The barcamps are pretty popular too though.

It would be cool to do some SpeedGeeking at this Return of the Tentmaker unconference. I love hearing what others are working on and toward. A wiki would be a pretty sweet addition too (the others all have it)! In fact, Rex, if you can get movement for this idea and it really is an “unconference”, I will pitch-in by having my freelance company contribute the Team version of Stikipad. Let me know if you like the idea.

Why Netflix Gets It and Blockbuster Does Not

So I attempted to cancel my Blockbuster.com subscription a few moments ago because of a bad experience, and had to fill out a survey to get it done. There was a comment field where they asked “How Can We Improve? Would you mind taking a minute to explain why you’ve decided to cancel your account?” So, I was willing to help out and wrote the following in my very sick state (the flu or a cold maybe). Upon submission of the survey, a form error was returned on the comment field which reads: “Please type in 255 characters or less for your comments.”

Apparently, Blockbuster doesn’t want all of my comments or a true discussion with their would-be customers. So, I am posting this to my blog for the world to see and adding the link to the comment field in the Blockbuster.com subscription cancellation field (I doubt they will read it). The first amendment has never been so sweet, has it?

Basically, you guys don’t understand the value of a life-time customer. I went into the store as a Netflix customer who was having a lonely weekend, with not enough movies to entertain me. The wife and I had decided to rent three movies. I saw your TV ad earlier in the day, which communicated to me that I could sign-up for your service and pick up/drop off movies either in the store or online. So, I went to the store to sign up and get three movies.

The high-school aged kid that was there communicated that I would even get a third-movie free tonight with a special coupon they had there. So, I signed up while in the store with him by my side. Filled out the preferences, all my account info (which you already had because I have been a customer for over 10 years), and entered my credit card detals.

I then took my three movies to the counter, where the kid gave me a total of $9.94. I said, “What are you talking about…. I just put in my credit card information in for the monthly service, now I am ready for my movies”. He informed me that the service was only for movies that come through the mail… and that when I return movies at the store that I receive through the mail, then I can get coupons for movies through the store while I wait for more movies to arrive through the mail. I was shocked and confused. I simply said, “But *I am* waiting for my movies to come through the mail”. All he was empowered to do was blink I think, cause he didn’t even call over the manager.

Not being one to quit easily, I communicated that part of the reason I had signed up in store and was willing to move away from Netflix was because it seemed like I could get get the benefit today of Netflix plus in-store pickup. He could not clearly communicate to me the reason why picking up a movie in-store is different than getting it through the mail. From my perspective, I signed up for a Blockbuster service that allowed me to have X number of movies out at any given time, and return in store or via the mail. All I wanted was three movies so I could snuggle up with my wife.

So, Blockbuster, If you really want me as a life-time customer, give me the benefit of what I have paid for NOW. Keep the details of your inventory system, your cost centers, your work-flow, your finances, etc. out of my way and out of sight. Customers don’t care about your pain and are apt to forget you if your pain in getting products to market gets in our way… which is why I am sitting home with the flu today, unwilling to drive down the street and rent from blockbuster.

Thankfully my single Netflix movie came last night… and guess what, they sent it to me when my list was empty, anticipating the type of movie I would enjoy. And it looks like they got it right. They understand that to keep a customer you have to lower the barriers that get in the way of the customer relationship. Blockbuster, you could learn a lesson there.

Now, to all you other companies out there, if you care for me as the customer and want me to evangelize your products, you will empower me to do so as early as you can… with no hassle or waiting, or uninformed high-school kids.

Netflix Gift Certificate I Can Send to Friends

Refreshing Interviews

Rarely in an interview with a potential employer do you have a discussion and it goes well.

By “discussion”, I mean that you feel valued and encouraged to continue on in who you are, and the potential employer walks away with something they didn’t have before. Some piece of wisdom or an idea which they had not conceived just yet. This makes the time equitable for both sides. A discussion interview is a dialogue between equal parties. It has elements of the sweet talk of a guy courting a girl, but also elements of an online compatibility test wherein the data is the data and the fit is the fit.

nowhiring.jpgBy “well”, I don’t mean that you come off as the best person for the job, or that you were completely impressive, or that you get to the next step. “Well” for me means that both parties are equally candid and transparent… being authentic about what they are looking for, their weaknesses, and what they are doing to improve. Whether an interview becomes a discussion or not is completely based on the interviewer’s approach and mentality. The most healthy/well interviews are those where both parties are secure and confident of their person and mission.

Let’s face it, interviewing is hard work. Even when you are under no pressure to “land the job”, it can be tough. Ministry interviews are surprisingly harder than corporate positions. The ministry many times approaches you with suspicion that you are out to weasel your way in without the proper credentials… to go on and injure the ministries’ reputation. The HR hiring process supports this “guilty until proven worthy” of the job mentality, with upfront background checks and lengthy applications. Unfortunately, this leaves candidates in a place where they feel like they must put up a facade of perfection. Interview prep times become focused on what the company might want you to say instead of who you are as an individual; what your passionate about and can/can’t bring to the position.

The result of unwell/unhealthy interviews? In my estimation it is unhappy employees (who end up in roles they aren’t made for) and dissatisfied employers who don’t get what they feel they bought. It is candidates who aren’t totally sold on the ministry they go to work for or the contribution they can make. It is managers who extend their suspicions of incompetence from the interview process into the first 90 days of employment. It is skeletons in closets which weren’t revealed beforehand. An example from one church is a recent interview with a youth minister candidate who revealed he had struggled with and overcome a battle with the sin of online pornography. He was working to be transparent and completely honest with the interviewer. Ignoring the fact that the vast majority of pastors have accessed explicit material online in the last 6 months and that every man at some point struggles with the temptation of lust, the church immediately took this qualified candidate off their A-list because of his past struggle. The 60 year old hiring manager literally said, “who would say something like that in an interview, we don’t want to know about that”. There was a generational miss-match in the basic understanding of what an interview process is for.

Thankfully, over the last two months, I have had two discussion-focused interviews with ministries that seem to want this kind of honesty. I don’t know that anything will come from either of the interviews… but I am encouraged immensely to know there are managers out there who get it. Ministry folks who understand that recruiting and retaining a post-modern requires respect and an approach that makes the candidate feel they are valued and that the contribution they could make is uninhibited. Post-moderns want their lives to mean something; they want to serve something they believe in. The process is as important as the result for them… and it is unbelievably refreshing to see ministries approach the interview process with a candor, transparency, and openness which fits who we ought to be as a Christian community anyway.

YouTube – Day of the Longtail

Day of the Longtail – This video gives a bit of an overview of the struggles the media and entertainment giants are having with the community of bloggers. The “Longtail” itself as a term has been around awhile and the statistical phenom probably since the beginning of time.

Wikipedia Has this:

The phrase The Long Tail, as a proper noun, was first coined by Chris Anderson. The concept drew in part from an influential essay by Clay Shirky, “Power Laws, Weblogs and Inequality” that noted that a relative handful of weblogs have many links going into them but “the long tail” of millions of weblogs may have only a handful of links going into them. Beginning in a series of speeches in early 2004 and culminating with the publication of a Wired magazine article in October 2004, Anderson described the effects of the long tail on current and future business models. Anderson later extended it into the book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More (2006).

Anderson argued that products that are in low demand or have low sales volume can collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters, if the store or distribution channel is large enough. Examples of such mega-stores include the online retailer Amazon.com and the online video rental service Netflix. The Long Tail is a potential market and, as the examples illustrate, successfully tapping in to that long tail market is often enabled by the distribution and sales channel opportunities the Internet creates.

49 Simple Strategies for Better Blogging

Tony Morgan has a great little list of 49 ways to blog better. In my view, these kinds of lists are great for newbies like me, as well as old hats who have been doing this for awhile.

Now recently, at the church where I work, we have had a request to set-up pastors to blog. Everyone, including Rick Warren is doing it, right? Now, my first instinct is to utter an exuberant YES! But when you start realizing these folks know nothing about blogging, or the web in general. They are content consumers, not authors. We struggle to get them to write a newsletter article. But now, they see their ministry friends blogging and they want in. So, if we do it (and we should), then this will require some training and some guidance. Note that these guys don’t just want individual blogs where they reflect and muse on ministry. They want the blogs to be the format by which they engage the constituent/member/attendee online. I may post later on all the options we are considering.

Thankfully, some others have forged ahead of us. Kem Meyer has her blogging policies/guidelines which she adapted off of Fellowship Church and IBM, Yahoo, & Sun policies. My impression is that each organization is different and desires to control the message at different levels. I mostly agree with Kem that lesser is more. I think we should have organizations where we reign folks in through real conversations where love and grace are the theme and “the rule-book” is a last resort that HR uses when all else fails. At the same time, traditional communications strategies and workflow strongly demand to control the message… so some compromise will have to be made or the blogging pastors are bound to get discouraged.

One other bright and shining resource is the future book “The Blogging Church” It has an accompanying blog which is a little helpful as well. I suspect the conversation will heat up there after the release of the book. Their blog also has a nice list of blogging churches and blogging pastors that you can check out to get a feel for how ministers are using.